The US Justice Department on Friday declined to extend the parole of Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted of spying on America for Israel, and the 66-year-old is now free to travel to the Jewish state.
“After a review of Mr. Pollard’s case, the US Parole Commission has found that there is no evidence to conclude that he is likely to violate the law,” the Justice Department said.
The decision brings 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.”
Pollard, 66, was a US Navy intelligence analyst in the mid-1980s when he made contact with an Israeli colonel in New York and began sending US secrets to Israel in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars.
Pollard, who is Jewish, passed thousands of crucial US documents to Israel, straining relations between the two close allies.
Israel’s October 1985 raid on the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Tunis headquarters that killed around 60 people was planned with information from Pollard, according to CIA documents declassified in 2012.
He was arrested in 1985 and was sentenced to life in prison two years later, despite pleading guilty in a deal his attorneys expected would result in a more lenient sentence.
After his release in 2015, he was kept in the United States by parole rules and not allowed to travel to Israel where his wife, whom he married after he was jailed, lived.
He remained subject to a curfew, had to wear a wrist monitor, and was prohibited from working for any company that lacked US government monitoring software on its computer systems.
In addition he was restricted from traveling abroad.
The restrictions, his lawyers said, had been “insurmountable impediments on Mr. Pollard’s ability to earn a living.”
Pollard’s attorneys Jacques Semmelman and Eliot Lauer issued a statement saying the US Parole Commission had notified their client of the termination of the parole that had lasted for five years.
It released him from a raft of severe restrictions, including a ban on his longstanding request to be able to move to Israel.
Attorney Alan Dershowitz, long involved in Pollard’s affairs, told Israel’s Kan news he believed the former spy will be in Israel by Hanukkah (beginning December 10 this year).
“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.
The statement from his attorneys 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 wife who is sick with cancer. 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 President Donald 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.
איך נראים החיים של ג׳ונתן פולארד, ולמה יזם את הראיון הנרחב בביתו: הערב במהדורה pic.twitter.com/iLOYSL4Lgl
— יונה לייבזון yuna leibzon (@YunaLeibzon) August 5, 2019
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.
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 until today.
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 was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and 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. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also said to have asked Trump to let Pollard move to Israel.
According to the New York Times, in 1998, as president Bill Clinton presided over Middle East peace talks, CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign if Clinton bowed to Israeli pressure to include Pollard’s release in any peace deal.
“It’s going to be pretty damn annoying if this traitor gets a celebratory heroes welcome in Tel Aviv. If Israelis are smart, this is done very low key,” former CIA case officer Marc Polymeropoulos tweeted Friday.
AFP contributed to this report.