Knesset committee slams Netanyahu over failure to release Pollard

Knesset committee slams Netanyahu over failure to release Pollard

PMO rejects criticism, says the subject comes up in all communications with the White House but shouldn't be discussed publicly

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Youth activists protest for Pollard's release outside US Consulate in Israel, July 2011 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Youth activists protest for Pollard's release outside US Consulate in Israel, July 2011 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The chairman of the Knesset’s State Control Committee on Tuesday slammed the government over its handling of efforts to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. MK Uri Ariel threatened to issue a legal order forcing officials from the Prime Minister’s Office to appear before the committee to justify themselves over what he called the failure evidenced by Pollard’s ongoing imprisonment in the US.

“It’s not true that the state has done everything possible,” Ariel (National Union) said at a committee session devoted to Pollard. “What’s even more serious is that the prime minister’s advisers, who coordinate the government’s action on this matter, evade accountability for their actions.”

Ariel said he has been trying for months to get Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior political adviser, Ron Dermer, to attend a State Control Committee meeting on Pollard and that he is considering issuing a legal order that would require them to do so.

“No other spy has been incarcerated for so many years. Even the heads of US intelligence organizations agree that 26 years in prison is completely out of proportion,” Ariel said.

The PMO rejected Ariel’s criticism, saying it continuously raises the issue in its contacts with the American administration. “Last year, the prime minister sent a special letter to President Barack Obama asking him to release Pollard for humanitarian reasons,” a PMO official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “The charge that the government of Israel has not been acting on this issue is simply untrue. What is true is that up until now our efforts have been unsuccessful. The Pollard issue is on the agenda whenever Israeli officials meet US officials — on all levels, from the very highest to the working level.”

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that communications with foreign governments, especially with Israel’s most important ally, should not be discussed in the State Control Committee, whose meetings are open to media coverage. “Maybe a more appropriate forum for such a discussion would be the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which routinely deals with confidential material.”

Jonathan Pollard's U.S. Navy head shot (photo credit: United States Navy)
Jonathan Pollard’s US Navy head shot (photo credit: United States Navy)

In 1987, the Texas-born Pollard, now 57, received a life sentence for spying for Israel. In 1995, while incarcerated, he received Israeli citizenship. Seven years later, Benjamin Netanyahu visited him in his North Carolina prison.

In recent months, more and more former US officials — including former state secretaries Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and former CIA director James Woolsey — have called on the White House to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served. President Shimon Peres brought up the issue during a recent White House meeting with Obama as well. However, at a press conference in Jerusalem earlier this month, Hillary Clinton, the current secretary of state, said Pollard is serving a life sentence and that “there is no expectation this is going to change.”


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