Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday welcomed the termination of Jonathan Pollard’s parole and said he looks forward to welcoming the former US Navy analyst convicted of spying for Israel.
“The prime minister was committed to his release for many years and worked tirelessly for his return,” read a statement from Netanyahu’s office, released nearly 24 hours after the Justice Department’s decision, which was handed down after the Sabbath began in Israel.
President Reuven Rivlin also said Israel was “waiting for him and his family at home” and wished him “a new life in health and peace.”
“We felt his pain all these years and felt a responsibility and an obligation to bring about the release of Jonathan Pollard.”
Pollard, who served 30 years in prison for providing sensitive intelligence to Israel, made a public appeal to Netanyahu last year and asked him to intervene on his behalf to urge Trump to commute his parole, so he could care for his sick wife.
Netanyahu thanked Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer “who handled the contacts responsibly and sensitively with the American administration,” the statement added.
“The prime minister looks forward to Jonathan Pollard’s arrival in Israel soon and wishes to strengthen him and [his wife] Esther, along with all Israeli citizens,” it said.
The US Justice Department’s decision was announced via a statement from Pollard’s attorneys Jacques Semmelman and Eliot Lauer.
“Mr. Pollard is no longer subject to a curfew, is no longer prohibited from working for a company that does not have US government monitoring software on its computer systems, is no longer required to wear a wrist monitor that tracks his whereabouts, and is free to travel anywhere, including Israel, for temporary or permanent residence, as he wishes,” the statement said.
It also included a message from Pollard himself saying he was glad to be able to move to Israel where he will be able to care for his wife who is sick with cancer. He also expressed “appreciation and gratitude” to Dermer “acting under the auspices of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” for their efforts on his behalf.
“Jonathan and Esther plan to come to Israel, but they cannot do so immediately, due to Esther’s chemotherapy treatments,” Lauer told Kan news. “They plan to [to do so] as soon as her condition allows,” he added. “They plan to come home.”
Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett similarly praised the news, saying in a statement that “the State of Israel owes a deep debt to Jonathan Pollard who gave us over 30 years of his life.
“We are waiting to see him settle in the Land of Israel, which is his home, as soon as possible,” he added.
The Friday decision brought to an end a saga that once threatened Israel’s close military cooperation with its main ally and created one of the most serious rifts between Jerusalem and Washington in recent decades.
Given the high profile nature of Pollard’s case, it is likely that the Justice Department’s decision required an okay from government higher-ups. In setting the ex-spy free, the Trump administration bestowed yet another gift to Israel, which has lobbied for years for Pollard to be allowed to move to the Jewish state. Previous efforts have met fierce resistance from the US justice and intelligence communities.
A former civilian US Navy analyst, Pollard was given a life sentence in 1987 for passing secrets to Israel. His imprisonment was a longtime point of tension in Israeli-US relations, with Israeli and Jewish leaders petitioning their US counterparts for years in order to secure his release.
Pollard’s supporters argued for years that his sentence was excessive and that others convicted for comparable crimes received lighter sentences.
Pollard’s determination to move to Israel comes despite his previous accusations that Israel had not done enough to secure his release and his bitterness over the way Israel abandoned him when he was caught.
His capture and his subsequent treatment — by Israel, which threw him out of its Washington embassy and into the arms of waiting FBI agents, and by the United States, which agreed to a plea bargain and then sentenced him with uncommon severity — left him deeply embittered.
He was caught in November 1985 and given a life sentence two years later. There was no trial. Pollard, abiding by the prosecution’s terms, cooperated with FBI investigators and pleaded guilty to one count of espionage, conspiring to deliver national defense information to a foreign government. The prosecution honored its commitment and requested a “substantial” prison term rather than life behind bars. Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr., not bound by the prosecution’s plea bargain and apparently swayed by secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger’s damage-assessment brief, nonetheless sentenced Pollard to life.
The content of Weinberger’s memo remains classified to this day.
For the first 11 years of his incarceration, Israel refused to acknowledge that Pollard had operated as an authorized spy. He was not granted Israeli citizenship until November 1995.
After his release in November 2015, Pollard was given a five-year probation period, during which he was not allowed to travel outside the United States. The parole terms also required him to stay in his New York home from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., to submit any computer he uses for inspection, and to wear a GPS monitoring device at all times.
The 66-year-old was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and has repeatedly expressed his desire to settle in the Jewish state with his family.
In 2017, a US federal appeals court rejected Pollard’s request to lift his parole conditions.
In November 2018, Channel 12 reported the US Justice Department had refused a formal request by Israel to allow Pollard to emigrate. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also said to have asked Trump to let Pollard move to Israel.