Netanyahu Needs One More Special Gift From Trump

Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel in the United States, has suffered more than enough for his adventurous tendencies and should be allowed to move to Israel

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
Convicted American spy Jonathan Pollard after his release in New York. November 20, 2015.
Convicted American spy Jonathan Pollard after his release in New York. November 20, 2015. Credit: Reuters
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

A possible immediate result of the election of Joe Biden as 46th U.S. president may arrive in a week and a half. On November 20, Jonathan Pollard’s five-year parole ends. The American Jewish spy who was arrested in Washington in 1985 and received a life sentence for spying for Israel was released under restrictions in 2015.

These terms include a ban on leaving certain areas of New York City, an electronic ankle bracelet that constantly monitors his location, house arrest at night, constant surveillance of his computers at home and at work, and a prohibition against making contact with the media.

Jonathan Pollard after his arrest in Washington in November 1985.Credit: © Bettmann/CORBIS

If the U.S. Justice Department and intelligence community – mainly the FBI, Naval Intelligence and Pentagon officials – who opposed Pollard’s early release and then conditioned it on tough restrictions, don’t renew the parole period, Pollard will be able to leave the United States and immigrate to Israel, as he has requested over the years.

But even if these organizations demand a renewal of the terms, outgoing President Donald Trump has the right to pardon him, especially if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a personal request.

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, January 27, 2020.Credit: Saul Loeb / AFP

If Netanyahu helped billionaire movie producer Arnon Milchan renew his U.S. residence permit for 10 years (whether or not in exchange for gifts he gave the prime minister), there’s no reason Netanyahu shouldn’t take advantage of his relationship with Trump to help someone who deserves it even more than Milchan, for his contribution to Israel’s national security. Pollard, who served three decades in prison, has suffered more than enough for his love of Israel, enthusiasm for espionage and adventurous tendencies.

In addition, the people responsible for his recruitment and handling – intelligence chief Rafi Eitan, prime ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir, and defense ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Moshe Arens – behaved foolishly and impatiently. They shouldn’t have recruited him, and when they did, they should have ensured there was a suitable escape plan. When Pollard was caught, they should have tried to have his prison term shortened.

Joe Biden, with his wife Jill, speaking to supporters in Wilmington, Delaware, November 4, 2020.Credit: Andrew Harnik / AP

Several U.S. presidents have used their prerogative to grant pardons during the lame-duck period. That’s what Bill Clinton did on his last day on the job, January 20, 2000.

He acceded to the requests of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and other Israeli VIPs to pardon businessman and philanthropist Marc Rich. Rich was a Mossad helper who fled for fear of the U.S. legal authorities after indulging in tax evasion and violating sanctions by selling oil to Iran.

Rich also contributed to Hillary Clinton when she was a New York senator, and to institutions in the city. Of course, when it comes to Trump and his unpredictable fury at the entire world, one never knows, but the release of Pollard would be poetic justice.

It could be considered another achievement of the Trump-Netanyahu duo, although clearly Biden could also leverage the issue to prove his support for Israel and his ties to the Jewish community. Some 72 percent of American Jews voted for him, with Trump doing well with Orthodox Jews and Israeli Americans.

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