Several trials of Jewish people have become quite well known over time, not because of the nature of the crime, but because of what some say are outrageous punishments.
One of the most well-known cases is that of Jonathan Pollard, who was working as a civil intelligence analyst when he passed classified information to Israel. This information he passed on was about the nuclear, chemical and biological welfare capabilities of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Iran for use against Israel. He was sentenced to life on one count of espionage in March 1987. He is up for parole and could be released in 2015.
Rabbi Menachem Katz, director of prison and military outreach at the Aleph Institute, said it’s a miscarriage of justice that he’s still in prison. He plead guilty with the understanding he would get some bit of compassion, which did not happen, Rabbi Katz said.
“He was spying for an ally. He wasn’t spying for Russia,” Rabbi Katz said. “ … He was helping them, not with information on how to get a one-up on the United States, but with information on how they can protect their citizens from an attack by an Arab enemy state.”
Aleph and other organizations have advocated for Pollard’s release.
Another case in which Rabbi Katz and others feel the punishment does not fit the crime is that of Sholom Rubashkin.
He was the CEO of Agriprocessors, based in Postville, Iowa, which was once the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse and packing plant. He was convicted of 86 counts of financial fraud in 2009, including bank, mail and wire fraud and money laundering. He is serving a 27-year prison sentence at a federal prison in New York.
Rabbi Katz believes anti-Semitism played a role in the sentencing. While he acknowledges this was no way to run a business, he noted that Rubashkin was not pocketing the money himself.
“They pulled every trick out of the bag to make it look a lot worse than it was,” Rabbi Katz said.
In 2011, a U.S. Circuit of Appeals judge denied his bid for a new trial after attorneys argued the first trial was unfair. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in October 2012, and again attorneys argued that the first trial was unfair and that the 27-year sentence was excessive for a first-time, nonviolent offender.
The courts have also wrestled with issue of kosher food in prisons going as far back as the 1920s and still do to this day.
In 1975, a federal judge ruled that Jewish prisoners in federal prisons have a constitutional right to kosher food. The issue was brought up by Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, who was not originally provided with kosher meals when he was assigned to a federal prison. Many jurisdictions nationwide followed suit. “That’s what got the kosher ball rolling,” said Chaplian Gary Friedman, chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International.
In 2012, the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Max Moussazadeh, who is doing time for serving as a lookout in a 1993 shooting death of a man during a robbery, has a right to be served kosher food, so as not to infringe on his beliefs. He sued the State of Texas after he was moved to a facility that did not provide kosher meals free of charge to inmates, but only sold kosher food at its commissary.
Earlier this year, the Florida Department of Corrections announced it will offer kosher meals in all state prisons by the end of the year, following a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in South Florida. It was slated to begin in July at one of the larger institutions and to expand to 60 other facilities by the end of the year.