US won’t let Pollard move to Israel for five years, official says

Noting severity of crimes, spokesman says White House has no intention of altering parole terms for convicted spy after planned November release

A demonstration for the release of Jonathan Pollard in Jerusalem in 2012. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A demonstration for the release of Jonathan Pollard in Jerusalem in 2012. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Jonathan Pollard, the former civilian analyst for the US Navy convicted of spying for Israel, will be required to remain in the US for five years after being released from prison in November, a US official indicated late Tuesday.

Pollard, an American granted Israeli citizenship after being jailed for spying for the country, is set to be released on November 20, after 30 years in jail, the US Justice Department said Tuesday.

Despite being a highly-regarded figure in Israel, which has lobbied for his release for decades, Pollard will have to remain in the US for five years, a White House official said.

“The president has no intention of altering the terms of Mr. Pollard’s parole,” said Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council.

The White House said Pollard had committed “very serious crimes” and would serve his sentence under the law.

His lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, have asked US President Barack Obama to intervene and allow Pollard to leave the country and relocate to Israel, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“We respectfully urge the president to exercise his clemency power in this manner,” the lawyers said.

His lawyers said they have secured housing and a job for Pollard in the New York area. Parolees are required for five years after their release to get government permission for foreign travel.

Pollard was formally eligible for parole on November 21, but will be freed a day earlier — Friday the 20th — as the 21st is a Saturday.

The 61-year-old Pollard is serving a life sentence in a US federal prison for passing classified information to Israel; he was arrested in 1985 and pleaded guilty in 1987 to spying for Israel while he worked for US Navy intelligence. He was sentenced to life in prison, the only American ever to receive such a heavy sentence for passing classified information to a US ally.

Israel granted Pollard citizenship 20 years ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “looking forward” to Pollard’s release and recalled that he had long campaigned for his freedom.

“After decades of effort, Jonathan Pollard will finally be released. Throughout his time in prison, I consistently raised the issue of his release in my meetings and conversations with the leadership of successive US administrations,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We are looking forward to his release.”

Though the decision was announced just weeks after the US-Iran nuclear deal, White House officials strongly denied that Pollard’s parole had anything to do with that agreement, or that was it was intended as a concession to Israel. Officials in Israel have said that while they would welcome his release, it would not ease their opposition to the Iran agreement.

The Justice Department, for its part, noted that federal sentencing rules in place at the time of Pollard’s prosecution entitled him to parole after 30 years of his life sentence. Department lawyers did not contest his parole bid, which was granted following a hearing this month before the Parole Commission. He was presumptively entitled to parole provided he had a record of good behavior in prison and was seen as unlikely to commit future crimes once released.

Supporters have seen the former Navy intelligence analyst as a martyr who was punished excessively given that he spied for a longtime US ally. But critics, including many in the US government, have condemned the American as a traitor who exchanged secrets for money.

Pollard has faced health problems in recent years. He is being held in the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina. His lawyers said he was “looking forward to being reunited with his beloved wife, Esther.”

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