Jonathan Pollard, 61, who was arrested in 1985 for selling US secrets to Israel while he worked as a civilian intelligence analyst for the American Navy, was released during the early morning of November 20 after 30 years in prison. He was originally sentenced to a life sentence.
The Justice for Jonathan Pollard organization confirmed that Pollard had been released and reunited with his wife, Esther, after he was freed from the Butner, North Carolina facility where he was serving his sentence. The organization said in a statement that after leaving the prison before dawn, the Pollards arrived at the apartment where they will spend the weekend and are grateful for those who lobbied on their behalf. The organization did not specify Pollard’s location.
Pollard has said that he would like to move to Israel after his released; however, the American authorities have denied that request, as Pollard is required to stay in the United States for the five years that he is on parole. Pollard is expected to settle in the New York area and is forbidden from traveling outside the country, including to Israel, without permission.
Under the terms of his parole, Pollard is also forbidden from giving interviews to the media, and there apparently were no rallies or other public events to be held to celebrate Pollard’s release.
Some of the other restrictions for Pollard’s release, which include an anklet for 24-hour GPS tracking and the monitoring of his and any future employer’s computers, are being appealed by Pollard’s lawyers, who say that these restrictions are illegal and that no employer would agree to have their computers watched in this way, according to Israel’s Ynet news website.
The Walla website reported that Pollard’s attorneys also say that there is reason to believe that Pollard will pass on any more classified information or commit any other crime, since the data he gleaned is outdated and he can barely remember it.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Pollard’s release, saying that he had “longer for this day.”
“The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard,” the prime minister said in a statement. “After three long and hard decades, Jonathan is finally being reunited with his family. May this Sabbath bring him much joy and peace that will continue in the years and decades ahead.”
Netanyahu is supposedly trying to keep the release as low-key as possible, and has told his cabinet to refrain from discussing the issue.
The long-awaited release was also met with well wishes from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and politicians from both sides of the aisle.
“Over the years, we’ve felt Pollard’s pain and felt responsible and obliged to bring about his release. We wish Jonathan and his family, in their reunion, long and prosperous years ahead, health and peace,” Rivlin said.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said he hoped Pollard’s first Shabbat as a free man “would symbolize a new path ahead for him,” while Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog wrote simply “Blessed is He who frees the imprisoned.”
In a letter to Pollard, the chairman of the Knesset caucus dedicated to Pollard, MK Nahman Shai wrote, “Jonathan, the Caucus will not cease its activity until we remove the limitations imposed on you upon your release. We continue to demand the removal of any restriction on your freedom of movement, communication or other violation of your rights.
“We will not rest until you are free to depart the United States for any destination of your choosing, first and foremost — Israel.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who visited Pollard twice in prison, told Army Radio that he hoped to see Pollard “whenever he chooses, whenever he is able to, here in the State of Israel.”
Edelstein said that November 20 was a “happy day filled with sadness,” and added that Pollard should have been freed a while ago. “It’s too little, too late,” he said.
Edelstein praised the low-profile release and said that “if we don’t make waves” then “it’s possible that he will be able to fulfill his dream and come here, leaving behind all the suffering he endured.”
Pollard’s continued imprisonment created a source of tension for years between successive American and Israeli administrations. Despite the fact that Pollard’s allegedly deteriorating health was cited in requests for his early release, the possibility of parole after 30 years was a part of the original sentencing rules when he was prosecuted.
Under the terms of Pollard’s parole, he is expected to stay in the United States for between two to five years. President Barack Obama could intercede to allow Pollard to emigrate to Israel, which is what Pollard supposedly hopes to do, but the White House indicated last week that Obama would not intercede on Pollard’s behalf.
On November 13, two prominent Democratic Congressmen, Jerrold Nadler and Eliot Engel, sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch that noted that “after serving 30 years in prison, it is Mr. Pollard’s wish to move to Israel with his family so he can resume his life there” and asked that the Department of Justice “give Mr. Pollard’s request the fair consideration it deserves.”
The two said that Pollard “understands that, as a condition of being permitted to move to Israel, he may need to renounce his American citizenship” and is willing to accept the “the serious consequences that may follow such a decision, including being permanently barred from returning to the United States.”
Nadler and Engel cited the Department of Justice’s own assessment that “there is no reasonable probability that [Pollard] will commit any future crimes after his release,” and argued that if the US allows Pollard to renounce his US citizenship and move to Israel, “this would become a near-certainty.”
Pollard was given Israeli citizenship 20 years ago, years after his conviction on one count of espionage against the United States.