'We’re still fighting to get home; with God's help we will'

Ex-spy Pollard accuses Israel of not caring about ‘getting us home’

In rare interview, former Navy analyst restricted from moving to Israel under terms of parole complains Jerusalem prioritizing other matters over lobbying for him

Jonathan Pollard speaks to Channel 12 news, May 21, 2019 (Channel 12 screenshot)
Jonathan Pollard speaks to Channel 12 news, May 21, 2019 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Former spy Jonathan Pollard told an Israeli TV channel that Jerusalem has not done enough to help him immigrate to the country after his release from prison over three years ago, in a rare interview aired Tuesday.

Pollard, who spent 30 years in jail in the United States and is still restricted under his parole agreement, strongly criticized the Israeli leadership for not caring about him and said the government had missed several opportunities to come to his aid.

Pollard has been prevented from moving to the Jewish state with his wife Esther since his November 2015 release from prison. He will be eligible to leave the US in 2020.

“If I didn’t believe in Hashem I’d be very depressed right now,” he told Channel 12 news, using another name for God.

Asked if he was disappointed by Israel’s efforts on his behalf, he said: “To be disappointed you have to expect more and my expectation level is so low that I’m not surprised… The government’s indifference toward getting us home would be crushing if I didn’t know that our faith in Hashem and our love of the land and the people is so strong and it will eventually see us home.”

Pollard, a former civilian US Navy analyst, was given a life sentence in 1987 for passing secrets to Israel. He became a cause célèbre as Israeli and US Jewish community leaders lobbied for his release for decades.

The comments were the first substantive statements he has given to the media in years and reflected the angry tone of some of the letters he sent during his time in jail accusing the Israeli government of not doing enough to secure his release.

Pollard told Channel 12 that no Israeli official had been in contact with him and said Israel appeared to put other matters before lobbying for him to be released from his parole conditions.

“It’s a question of priorities; there always seems to be something else,” he said. “To make me a priority would mean that the government actually cared about me enough to say ‘This is what we want, he’s done his time, it’s time for him to come home,’ in a forthright manner. And that simply hasn’t been done.”

Pollard said he was very concerned about “what that suggests as far as the political establishment’s commitment… If you don’t care about someone like myself, who spent 30 years in prison on behalf of the land and people of Israel, then how much concern can you actually show or exhibit or feel towards anybody in the country, from our soldiers to our civilians?”

“If you don’t show this kind of commitment to one individual it suggests you don’t really have that kind of commitment to the rest of the people in the land and the country. That’s where the test is. Are you willing to actually fight for one,” he stated.

“We’re still fighting to get home, and with the help of God we will get home,” he added.

The Prime Minister’s Office responded that “Israel remains committed to returning Jonathan Pollard to Israel. Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu has raised the matter many times with the US president and will continue doing so until he is returned.”

In November, Channel 12 reported that the US Justice Department had refused a formal Israeli request to allow Pollard to move to Israel. Netanyahu was said last year to have asked US President Donald Trump to allow Pollard to emigrate.

The report added that Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, was copied on the response to the Israeli request, and that efforts regarding Pollard were continuing through other channels.

As part of the request, Netanyahu promised the White House that if it agreed to allow Pollard to emigrate, he would continue to be subject to the same restrictions imposed by the American court upon his release, the report said.

US Vice President Mike Pence meets with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, Pool)

Pollard’s imprisonment had been a longtime point of tension in Israeli-US relations, with Israeli leaders petitioning their US counterparts for years in order to secure his release.

After Netanyahu met with US Vice President Mike Pence in February 2017, the latter reportedly agreed to consider the issue of Pollard being allowed to move to Israel, and it was decided that Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer would personally take it on.

In May that year, a US federal appeals court rejected Pollard’s request to lift restrictive parole conditions that were established following his release.

The parole terms require 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.

Pollard, 64, also must remain in the US for five years, despite his desire to move to Israel.

Pollard pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage in connection with providing Israeli contacts with hundreds of classified documents he had obtained as a civilian intelligence specialist for the US Navy.

The interview appeared to be only his second since he gave an impromptu interview to an Israeli reporter on the street in 2016. Pollard told Channel 1 in that interview that he feels the support of the people of Israel but not necessarily of their government.

The Channel 12 interview also appeared to be unplanned, taking place in a busy cafe somewhere near his home in New York.

Interviews Pollard granted to the Jerusalem Post and CBS shortly before his sentencing were thought to have contributed to his long prison term, and he has only rarely spoken to the press since.

However, he was outspoken in criticizing the Israeli government for what he saw was a lack of commitment to his case.

In 2001, Pollard wrote an open letter to then-president Moshe Katsav regarding a Katsav meeting with then-US president George Bush, saying that “even if you were to bring up the issue of my release with Bush yourself, as you claim, your past record on my case leaves no room for doubt that you would not do so in a serious or effective manner. Rather just so that you can return to Israel and claim that you brought it up but were unsuccessful.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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