Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther. (Courtesy) (Courtesy)
Jonathan Pollard


Israeli protesters demand Pollard’s release. (AP/Oded Balilty)

Jews worldwide were overjoyed by the news that Jonathan Pollard will be released after 30 prolonged years of incarceration in the US.  

Jonathan Pollard, the former US Naval intelligence analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel, has been granted parole and will be released from prison in November after 30 years of incarceration in US prisons.

The decision to free Pollard from his life sentence, announced Tuesday by his lawyers and then confirmed by the Justice Department, caps decades of legal and diplomatic wrangling.

Pollard is due to be released on November 21, three decades after he was arrested while trying to gain asylum at the Israeli embassy in Washington.

White House officials strongly denied that the release was in any way tied to the Iran nuclear deal, or that it was intended as a concession to Israel. Secretary of State John Kerry, who testified before Congress on the nuclear agreement on Tuesday, told reporters Pollard’s parole was “not at all” connected.

The US had previously dangled the prospect of his release, including during Israel-Palestinian talks last year, when the Obama administration considered the possibility of freeing Pollard early as part of a package of incentives for Israel. The negotiations subsequently collapsed and nothing came of the proposal.

The Justice Department noted that federal sentencing rules in place at the time of Pollard’s prosecution entitled him to parole after 30 years of his life sentence. Department lawyers did not contest his parole bid, which was granted following a hearing this month before the Parole Commission.

Obama Has Power of Clemency

President Barack Obama.

US President Barack Obama. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Though parolees are required for five years after their release to get government permission for foreign travel, Pollard’s lawyers say they intend to ask President Barack Obama to grant him clemency as well as authority to leave the United States and move to Israel immediately, where he will be hailed as a hero by much of the Israeli public. “We respectfully urge the president to exercise his clemency power in this manner,” Pollard’s lawyers stated on his behalf.

The White House quickly shot down that prospect, saying Pollard had committed “very serious crimes” and will serve his sentence under the law. “The president has no intention of altering the terms of Mr. Pollard’s parole,” said Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council.

Israelis Overjoyed by the News

“Immense joy,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked wrote on her Facebook page in Hebrew, adding that “30 years of suffering will come to an end this November.” She was also the one to break the news on Twitter.

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, a former head of the Knesset’s Pollard Caucus, welcomed the news with a blessing of gratitude to God. “After 30 years too many, I bless Jonathan and his family on his upcoming release,” Ariel said. “We are waiting, with much love, for him to land here.”

Many other Israeli politicians and public figures expressed joy and welcomed the news of Pollard’s release.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations welcomed the news. “We have long sought this decision and we believe this action is long overdue with Pollard serving a longer sentence than anyone charged with a comparable crime,” the Jewish umbrella group said in a statement. They also underscored that Pollard’s release had nothing to do with the Iran deal. “We are grateful that he will soon have the opportunity to rebuild his life with his wife and address his medical concerns.”

Speaking to IDF radio, Pollard’s sister Carol encountered difficulty in describing her feelings. She felt relief, together with sorrow, that her parents were not alive to witness the release. She said she did not believe this day would ever come and had lost hope. She also expressed the wish that Obama will allow Pollard to come to Israel.

Thankful for Grassroots Support

Pollard, 60, has faced severe health problems in recent years.

Netanyahu Pollard

PM Netanyahu meets with Esther Pollard. (Haim Zach/GPO)

His lawyers, Elliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, said in a statement that they have secured housing and a job for him in New York once he is released. “We are grateful and delighted that our client will soon be released,” they said. “We look forward to seeing our client on the outside in less than four months.”

They, too, stressed that the decision to release Pollard was not connected to “recent developments in the Middle East.” Had parole been denied, Pollard would have been required to serve an additional 15 years in prison, they explained.

Speaking on behalf of Pollard, they said he was “looking forward to being reunited with his beloved wife, Esther.”

They also expressed Pollard’s gratitude to all those who have worked on his behalf over three decades decades. “Mr. Pollard would like to thank the many thousands of well-wishers in the United States, in Israel and throughout the world who provided grassroots support by attending rallies, sending letters, making phone calls to elected officials and saying prayers for his welfare. He is deeply appreciative of every gesture, large or small.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday evening with Esther Pollard following the announcement of her husband’s parole. “After decades of effort, Jonathan Pollard will finally be released. Throughout his time in prison, I consistently raised the issue of his release in my meetings and conversations with the leadership of successive US administrations. We are looking forward to his release,” he told her.

Punishment Disproportionate to the Crime

Israelis and Americans have long campaigned for Pollard’s freedom.

The Israeli government has recognized him as an Israeli agent and granted him citizenship.

Esther Pollard

Esther Pollard seen during a protest calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

Advocates for his release have argued that he was punished excessively given that he spied for a US ally. In the cases of other American spies, many served much shorter terms, even after causing deaths of other Americans or when spying for an enemy country. They also maintained that Pollard provided information critical to Israel’s security interests at a time when the Jewish state was under threat from its Middle East neighbors. Pollard is the only American ever to have received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally.

Eight former leading US security officials and statesmen sent a letter of protest to Obama last November in which they blasted the “unjust denial of parole” for Pollard and criticized the “deeply flawed” process.

In recent years, numerous former US government officials, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz and former US Vice President Dan Quayle, have called for Pollard’s release, saying his punishment was disproportionate to the crime he committed.

Lawrence Korb, who served as Assistant Secretary of Defense at the time of Pollard’s arrested, said Tuesday that he should have been released long ago. “This should have been done a decade ago, but thank God we have at last arrived at the point we were supposed to arrive at.”