Jonathan Pollard is due to be released from prison on November 21, 2015, exactly 30 years after he was apprehended at the gates of Israel’s embassy in Washington. The date has been known for years. What remains unknown is whether the American government will release him early.
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Pollard received a life sentence, a harsher punishment than that agreed to by his attorneys and the prosecution. The stated reason for the excessive sentence was his behavior after being arrested, most notably the interview he granted to Wolf Blitzer, then the Washington correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and currently with CNN.
Both the United States Department of Defense and Department of Justice maintained that the interview was a violation of the sentencing agreement - and showed that Pollard did not regret his actions. Rather, they said, it indicated that Pollard intended to continue divulging national secrets after his release.
The same reason was cited by Israeli authorities, when they refused to reduce the sentence of Mordechai Vanunu for revealing secret information about the nuclear reactor in Dimona.
According to Federal sentencing guidelines, a life sentence is set at 30 years, unless the prosecution opposes the limit. There has not been any formal opposition from the Department of Justice. In fact, anyone who looks up Jonathan J. Pollard, 59, male, on the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ “prisoner finder,” will learn that he is being held in the Butner Federal Correction Complex, in North Carolina, and is set for release in just under two years.
Pollard’s early release would be largely symbolic at this point, but opinion about it in the U.S. government is nevertheless split. While there are many retired officials from the Department of Justice, the State Department and the intelligence services who have called for Pollard’s early release, there are just as many former Pentagon, CIA and FBI officials who warn that early release would harm America’s deterrence against spies and encourage supporters of Israel to betray their homeland.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often speaks about “Yonatan” Pollard, and “bringing him home,” although Pollard never lived in Israel. Responding on Sunday to Edward Snowden’s revelations that the U.S. had been spying on high-ranking Israeli officials, Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page:
“We do not need any special event in order to discuss the release of Jonathan Pollard. We are dealing with it. I am dealing with it, with all U.S. presidents, including President Obama, all the time, including now. We hope that the conditions will be created that will enable us to bring Jonathan home. This is neither conditional on, nor related to, recent events, even though we have given our opinion on these developments.”
Israeli efforts to influence the White House, the Department of Justice (headed by Attorney General Eric Holder, appointed by Obama) and various Congressmen over the past 28 years (during a quarter of which Netanyahu has been at the helm) have only made the Americans toughen their stance.
Efforts to retroactively grant Pollard Israeli citizenship and claim sovereign immunity have also led to similar results. But if there is any point in such efforts, they should be focusing on ensuring that the life sentence remains at 30 years and fighting against any Department of Justice attempts to extend it indefinitely.
It seems that the movement calling for Pollard’s release is ignoring these considerations, however. Politicians across the spectrum are again calling for Pollard’s release, in the wake of Snowden’s revelations. One of the most active Knesset members campaigning on Pollard’s behalf is Nahman Shai (Labor), who is planning on visiting Pollard in jail in early 2014.
Shai served as spokesman for then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the day in November 1985 that Pollard, his then-wife Anne Henderson and their cat Dusty showed up at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and drove their car into the underground parking lot, before being respectfully asked to turn around and walk back outside. While Pollard was backing up his red Mustang, a team of FBI and Naval Intelligence officers arrested them.
Rabin was in New York at the time, following a visit to Washington. While sitting down to dinner that evening, he received a phone call with news of Pollard’s arrest from consul Elyakim Rubenstein, who was filling in for ambassador Meir Rosen. Asked by journalists about Pollard, Shai was unable to answer; Rabin only briefed him on the affair as their plane approached Paris, after leaving the U.S.
Shai’s participation in current efforts aimed at Pollard’s release attests to their inter-party popularity. At the same time, Pollard has been mostly carried on the shoulders of the anti-American right. It wouldn’t be surprising if, upon release, he is courted by Habayit Hayehudi, Yisrael Beiteinu or Likud, who would seek to list him as a candidate for Knesset, like a modern day Anatoly Sharansky.
Pollard’s ex-wife, Anne Henderson Pollard, was listed on the Achshav party ticket for municipal elections in Ramat Gan. The party’s candidate for mayor, Arik Nodelman, serves as chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu’s international movement. Despite speaking about her arrest and questioning alongside her former husband, Henderson Pollard was not elected to city council, nor was Nodelman elected mayor.