The weekend’s revelation of active US spying on Israeli leaders led several senior Israeli officials on Sunday to call on America to release Israeli-American spy Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard was convicted in 1987 on charges of passing classified information to Israel while he worked as an intelligence analyst for the US Navy. He was given a life sentence for the crime, launching decades of activism for his release by Jewish groups, and, more recently, some high-profile US and Israeli officials.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the Sunday cabinet meeting with a promise that Israel would continue working for Pollard’s release.
“We don’t need a special incident to work for the release of Jonathan Pollard,” Netanyahu said. “I have dealt with this [issue] with every US president [I have met], including President Obama, at all periods, including at this time. I hope the circumstances allow us to bring Jonathan home.”
“Now the secret is out: the United States spies systematically on the Israeli political and defense leadership,” said Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud).
“This is how friends behave?” asked Katz in a Sunday morning statement. “Pollard was arrested for far less” than the alleged espionage acts revealed in recent days, Katz charged. “I intend to recommend that the government demand an American commitment to end the surveillance and immediately release Pollard,” he said.
The linkage of the espionage revelations to the fate of Pollard crossed ideological and political lines.
The revelations of “the years-long active surveillance the US committed against Israel’s leadership clarify at long last one painful point – that the punishment given to Jonathan Pollard crossed the line of reasonability long ago,” opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) said in a statement Sunday.
“These reports strengthen the argument that it’s simply unjust to continue to punish him, since we now know that the United States worked in a variety of ways to surveil and collect intelligence on an ally as close as Israel,” Herzog added.
“In my last visit to Washington I raised the issue of Jonathan Pollard and explained that on this issue there is no coalition and opposition in Israel. It’s clear that it is now time to act quietly through the right channels to end this episode and bring about Jonathan’s speedy release home to the State of Israel,” Herzog concluded.
Other party leaders were more succinct.
“Release Pollard,” former Shas chairman and cabinet minister MK Eli Yishai wrote on his Facebook page.
“The continued incarceration of Pollard at this point is absurd and morally embarrassing,” charged Jewish Home Knesset faction chair MK Ayelet Shaked.
“Israel’s silence is embarrassing and disappointing,” said MK Nachman Shai (Labor), a former IDF spokesman and brigadier general. “How can we just move on after such revelation? Just like other countries such as Brazil and Germany, it’s appropriate that Israel get from the US explanations, clarifications, and, most importantly, a formal statement that these activities have ended,” Shai said.”
MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), a longtime chairman of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, called the American surveillance “a classic act of espionage, one for which Pollard has sat [in prison] for almost 30 years. It’s not an identical analogy, of course, but if [the allegations are] true, it means that Pollard’s cell door must be opened immediately and he should be allowed to go home. That should have happened long ago, but how much more so now.”