Netanyahu bars ministers from talking about Pollard

PM likely trying to avoid a spat with Obama, who declined to commute the sentence of the about-to-be released Israeli-American spy

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Jonathan Pollard, pictured December 17, 1997, at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina. (AP Photo/Ayala Bar)
Jonathan Pollard, pictured December 17, 1997, at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina. (AP Photo/Ayala Bar)

Ahead of the Friday release of American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barred his ministers from publicly discussing the parole, government sources told Hebrew-language media on Wednesday.

Noting that Pollard’s parole from a US federal prison after 30 years would likely attract a significant media buzz in Israel, the prime minister explicitly instructed ministers to stay away from the topic in any upcoming public appearances or during radio and television interviews, the Walla news site reported.

Sources close to Netanyahu said the prime minister considered the matter to be a “very sensitive issue,” and the directive was an effort to prevent a spat with US President Barack Obama for not commuting Pollard’s life sentence.

According to the report, several unidentified ministers were outraged by the order, and called Netanyahu’s move an attempt to impose “internal censorship” on cabinet members.

Pollard, a former civilian Navy analyst, was given a life sentence in 1987 for espionage for Israel.The Justice Department has not yet revealed the terms of his release; Pollard’s lawyers have suggested terms will be negotiated up to the eve of his release.

It is believed that he will be required to stay in the United States for at least a year. Pollard has expressed a willingness to to renounce his US citizenship in order to immigrate to Israel upon his release.

While Pollard’s attorney had expressed hope that the president would use his executive powers to let his client leave the US, administration officials said last week that Obama would not intervene.

The White House said that Obama had no intention of altering Pollard’s terms of parole. Pollard had committed “very serious crimes” and would serve his sentence under the law, the White House said.

Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship 20 years ago.

The US has repeatedly barred Pollard’s release from prison. However when he came up for parole in July this year after serving 30 years of his sentence, the Justice Department did not object.

“The decision to grant parole was made unanimously by the three members of the [US] Parole Commission, who make their decisions independently of any other US government agency,” Pollard’s lawyers said in a statement earlier this year. “The decision is not connected to recent developments in the Middle East.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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