Pro-Pollard protest in 2005
Right-wing activists demonstrate outside the prime minister's residence and the American consulate holding Pollard placards in Jerusalem on Wed., Nov. 23, 2005. Photo by BauBau
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Who is Jonathan Pollard?

Jonathan Jay Pollard was born on August 7, 1954 in Galveston, Texas to Jewish parents.

Pollard first visited Israel as a student in 1970, as part of a science program with the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.

On September 19, 1979 he was hired as an intelligence analyst with the Navy Field Operational Intelligence Office's Anti-Terrorist Alert Center.

He was recruited by Israel in 1984, after meeting Israel Air Force veteran Aviam Sella, telling him the U.S. was withholding information from Israel and volunteered himself as a spy.

Why is Jonathan Pollard in jail?

Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985 after the conclusion of an investigation into suspicion he was spying for Israel. He was convicted in 1987 to a life sentence for one count of espionage.

Pollard is the only person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally and the only American citizen convicted of such a crime to be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.

Because his crime occurred prior to November 1, 1987, he is eligible for parole after 30 years in prison provided he continues to maintain a clean record, and may be released on November 21, 2015.

Israel granted Pollard Israeli citizenship at his lawyer's request in 1995, and only admitted publicly to his spying in 1998.

Why does Israel want Pollard free?

Pollard is considered by many in Israel and the American Jewish community to be a national hero.

Supporters of his release argue that his sentencing was disproportionately harsh. They also echo Pollard's claims that he was acting out of loyalty to Israel, not mal-intent against the U.S., and that the documents he handed over to Israel were about Arab countries and the Soviet Union, not U.S. intelligence methods.

Every single Israeli prime minister has lobbied for his release since admitting he spied in 1998.

Why is the U.S. reluctant to free Pollard?

U.S. officials claim the damage done by Pollard's spying is far worse than people realize.

In an interview with Foreign Policy, retired Adm. Thomas Brooks, the former director of naval intelligence, said Pollard's actions have been "exceeded only by Edward Snowden," the NSA whistleblower.

When Israel lobbied for Pollard's release during the Clinton presidency in 1998, then CIA chief George Tenet threatened to resign.

In 1999 Seymour Hersh wrote an article for the New Yorker that argued Pollard's information may have ended up with Soviet Union and according to reporting in the Washington Post based on interviews with former naval intelligence officers, the sheer volume of documents leaked by Pollard warrants his continued imprisonment.

Why is Pollard relevant now?

With the U.S. desperate to salvage renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks, whose nine-month deadline ends April 29, the White House is now considering releasing Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions - including a freeze on most settlement construction and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners including 14 Israeli Arabs jailed since before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.

Israeli supporters of Pollard's release stepped up pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu last March, ahead of President Obama's visit to Israel. A petition with over 100,000 signatures was signed, newspapers recruited, the Facebook page of U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro filled with calls to free Pollard and politicians published notices of support.

Last December, former captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit wrote in an open letter that all Israelis should demand Pollard's release. 

In February, some 1,000 people, including several Knesset members and public figures, gathered outside the American embassy in Tel Aviv and called for his release.