MKs hail Pollard release; Shaked denies link to Iran deal
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MKs hail Pollard release; Shaked denies link to Iran deal

While some bemoan US failure to release convicted spy sooner, Oren calls move a 'significant milestone' in US-Israel ties

Jonathan Pollard in a December 17, 1997, photo with Israel's communications minister Limor Livnat, who visited him in prison in Butner, North Carolina (photo credit: AP/ Ayala Bar)
Jonathan Pollard in a December 17, 1997, photo with Israel's communications minister Limor Livnat, who visited him in prison in Butner, North Carolina (photo credit: AP/ Ayala Bar)

Israeli lawmakers hailed news of the expected release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard after 30 years in prison for spying for Israel, though some insisted it had arrived many years too late.

Lawyers for Pollard said Tuesday that the US has granted his parole, and he will be released on November 20, one day before the release date listed in The Federal Bureau of Prisons website.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party denied that Pollard’s planned release is in any way tied to the “destructive” Iran nuclear deal, as many have suggested.

“I hope all nations, and primarily us, enjoy many more celebrations such as this, and that we always operate according to a degree of grace and not according to the dry law,” she said, taking aim at the US and its years-long refusal to discuss an early release for Pollard.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at the annual Bar Association Conference in Eilat, May 18, 2015. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at the annual Bar Association Conference in Eilat, May 18, 2015. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Secretary of State John Kerry, who testified before Congress on the deal on Tuesday, similarly told reporters Pollard’s parole was “not at all” related to the nuclear deal. Israeli officials have said that while they would welcome Pollard’s release, it would not ease their opposition to the Iran agreement.

Several ministers Ayelet Shaked in celebrating Pollard’s “late” release, while some also condemned the US for treating him in what they claimed to be an unjust manner.

“I hope with all my heart that the news coming tonight from the US regarding the expected release of Jonathan Pollard will indeed come true,” said Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud, who in 1997 became the first Israeli minister to visit Pollard in jail.

Former Israeli ambassador to the US and current Kulanu MK Michael Oren called the news of Pollard’s release “a significant milestone in the historic alliance between Israel and the United States.”

“After 30 years, Pollard’s release wil bring an end to a painful and complicated affair that caused a rift between the nations and cast a shadow on the American Jeish community fearing allegations of dual loyalty,” Oren, who was the last Israeli official to visit Pollard in prison, said.

Evoking the Jewish “Shehecheyanu” (Who has given us life) blessing, commonly said to celebrate special occasions, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of Jewish Home congratulated Pollard and his family on the upcoming release, saying he “eagerly awaits” his arrival in Israel.

Under the terms of his parole, Pollard will not be able to leave the US for five years, Channel 2 said, although President Barack Obama can overrule this condition.

Science, Technology and Space Minister Danny Danon of Likud also chose to mark the landmark moment by referencing a Jewish text. “They will return from the land of the enemy,” Dannon quoted a biblical passage in a Facebook post. “I’m happy and excited about the release of Jonathan Polard!”

Quoting the same passage, Education Minister Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home welcomed the release of “our brother Jonathan.”

“You sacrificed your days on a mission for Israel and for its security,” he wrote.

Likud Member of Knesset Miri Regev at a political conference at Tel Aviv University, January 18, 2015 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Likud Member of Knesset Miri Regev at a political conference at Tel Aviv University, January 18, 2015 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

While joining in congratulating Pollard’s release, Culture Minister Miri Regev of the Likud also condemned the US for treating him “mercilessly and unjustly” throughout the 30 years he spent in prison.

“Our main task regarding the US is to demand they treat him with compassion and permit him to leave their borders, allowing his dream of immigrating to Israel to come true.”

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, who was the first opposition MK to comment on the news, said the decision to release Pollard “isjustice too late,” adding that the entire Jewish people is waiting for him to come home.

Pollard was arrested in November 1985 as he tried unsuccessfully to gain asylum in Israel’s Washington embassy. Since then, the case has stoked passions and divided opinions, with supporters arguing that he was punished excessively given that he spied for a country that is a US ally. Critics — including prosecutors and government officials — call him a traitor who damaged the nation by disclosing a trove of sensitive documents.

The US has previously dangled his release, including during Israel-Palestinian talks last year. His pending release could be seen as a concession to Israel, which strongly opposed the just-concluded US nuclear deal with Iran. But federal officials rejected that idea.

Pollard, 60, has battled health problems in recent years and is being held in a North Carolina prison.

Had he been denied parole, his lawyers said, Pollard would have been required to serve an additional 15 years in prison. But the Justice Department earlier this month signaled that it would not oppose Pollard’s parole bid.

The lawyers said Pollard was “looking forward to being reunited with his beloved wife Esther.”

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