Fully free, Pollard to head ‘home’ to Israel when wife’s health allows — lawyer

Esther Pollard undergoing chemotherapy for aggressive cancer, attorney says, adding his client was not told ahead of time that his parole would be terminated Friday

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and his wife, Esther, enter federal court in New York on April 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and his wife, Esther, enter federal court in New York on April 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Jonathan Pollard plans to move to Israel as soon as his wife’s health allows it, his lawyer said, after the US Justice Department on Friday terminated the parole of the American Jew convicted of spying for Israel.

“Jonathan and Esther plan to come to Israel, but they cannot do so immediately, due to Esther’s chemotherapy treatments,” Eliot Lauer told the Kan public broadcaster.

Pollard served 30 years in prison for providing sensitive US intelligence to Israel, and was released in 2015 under strict terms of parole.

“They plan to leave for Israel as soon as her condition allows,” he added. “They plan to come home.”

Asked to describe Pollard’s reaction to news of his parole ending after five years, Lauer said it was “hard to think of any feeling other than great happiness.

“After five years of dealing with irrational [parole] restrictions, and 30 years in difficult conditions in prison, being released and being a free man and being able to travel to Israel, brings such joy for him, for Esther, and for me,” he said.

“To this day at noon, we had not heard a single word from the Department of Justice. We were optimistic, but there was no certainty about it,” Pollard’s attorney added.

Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, left, with his lawyer, Eliot Lauer, leaves federal court in New York following a hearing, Friday, July 22, 2016. (AP/Larry Neumeister)

The Friday decision brought to an end a saga that once threatened Israel’s close military cooperation with its main ally and created one of the most serious rifts between Jerusalem and Washington in recent decades.

Given the high profile nature of Pollard’s case, it is likely that the Justice Department’s decision required an okay from government higher-ups. If so, the Trump administration will have bestowed yet another gift to Israel, which has lobbied for years for Pollard to be allowed to move to the Jewish state. Previous efforts have met fierce resistance from the US justice and intelligence communities.

Still his lawyer Lauer intimated that Friday’s decision was not a direct consequence of Netanyahu government or Trump administration action. Asked directly whether the Trump administration or the Israeli government had something to do with the termination of his parole on Friday, Lauer told Channel 12: “During Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administrations, there was a tremendous effort on the part of the Israeli government. We probably would take the credit but I think the good lord wanted Jonathan to finally come home.”

News of the decision went public via a statement released from Pollard’s attorneys Jacques Semmelman and Lauer.

“Mr. Pollard is no longer subject to a curfew, is no longer prohibited from working for a company that does not have US government monitoring software on its computer systems, is no longer required to wear a wrist monitor that tracks his whereabouts, and is free to travel anywhere, including Israel, for temporary or permanent residence, as he wishes,” the statement said.

Jonathan Pollard, left, arrives at a federal courthouse in New York with his wife, Esther, to check in at a probation office just hours after he was released from prison, November 20, 2015. (Ilana Gold/WCBS-TV via AP Images/via JTA)

It also included a message from Pollard himself saying he was glad to be able to move to Israel where he will be able to care for his sick wife. He also expressed “appreciation and gratitude” to Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer “acting under the auspices of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” for their efforts on his behalf.

Pollard made a public appeal to Netanyahu last year and asked him to intervene on his behalf to urge Trump to commute his parole, so he could care for his sick wife.

He told Channel 12 news at the time that Esther Pollard had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer for the third time.

“It’s a matter of life and death, it’s a very human issue, it’s a crisis for my wife and me,” he said.

A former civilian US Navy analyst, Pollard was given a life sentence in 1987 for passing secrets to Israel. His imprisonment was a longtime point of tension in Israeli-US relations, with Israeli and Jewish leaders petitioning their US counterparts for years in order to secure his release.

Pollard’s supporters argued for years that his sentence was excessive and that others convicted for comparable crimes received lighter sentences.

Pollard’s determination to move to Israel comes despite his previous accusations that Israel had not done enough to secure his release and his bitterness over the way Israel abandoned him when he was caught.

His capture and his subsequent treatment — by Israel, which threw him out of its Washington embassy and into the arms of waiting FBI agents, and by the United States, which agreed to a plea bargain and then sentenced him with uncommon severity — left him deeply embittered.

Jonathan Pollard’s US Navy ID picture (Wikipedia)

He was caught in November 1985 and given a life sentence two years later. There was no trial. Pollard, abiding by the prosecution’s terms, cooperated with FBI investigators and pleaded guilty to one count of espionage, conspiring to deliver national defense information to a foreign government. The prosecution honored its commitment and requested a “substantial” prison term rather than life behind bars. Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr., not bound by the prosecution’s plea bargain and apparently swayed by secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger’s damage-assessment brief, nonetheless sentenced Pollard to life.

The content of Weinberger’s memo remains classified to this day.

For the first 11 years of his incarceration, Israel refused to acknowledge that Pollard had operated as an authorized spy. He was not granted Israeli citizenship until November 1995.

After his release in November 2015, Pollard was given a five-year probation period, during which he was not allowed to travel outside the United States. The parole terms also required 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.

The 66-year-old has repeatedly expressed his desire to settle in the Jewish state with his family.

In 2017, a US federal appeals court rejected Pollard’s request to lift his parole conditions.

In November 2018, Channel 12 reported the US Justice Department had refused a formal request by Israel to allow Pollard to emigrate. Netanyahu was also said to have asked Trump to let Pollard move to Israel.

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