The U.S. Parole Commission has ruled that Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer convicted of spying for Israel, will be released from prison on November 21.
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Pollard, who will complete a 30-year sentence despite efforts by successive Israeli governments to secure his early release, will be required to remain in the United States for five years under the terms of his parole, his attorney said in a statement.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Pollard's release is not related to the Iran nuclear deal.
"I haven't even had a conversation about it [during the negotiations]. No, not at all," Kerry told reporters as he left a House of Representatives committee hearing on the nuclear agreement.
Israel's leaders have strongly objected to the nuclear deal and there has been speculation that Pollard's release was arranged to help warm U.S. ties to Israel despite that disagreement.
Politicians from both the coalition and opposition hailed Pollard's upcoming release. "After tens of years of efforts, finally Jonathan Pollard will be released from prison," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement published by the Prime Minister's Office, which also noted that the prime minister spoke with his wife Esther Pollard. "We are waiting to see Jonathan Pollard leaving prison," the statement added.
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), head of the Knesset lobby on Pollard's behalf, said, "For 30 years I've been following this sad, ugly affair. Finally it's coming to an end. For the last two years there's been a huge campaign for his release. I hope to see him come down from the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport in good health. I'll be waiting there for him."
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, a former head the Knesset lobby for Pollard, recited the brief Jewish prayer thanking God for "allowing us to live to see this day. Thirty years later than it should have come, the moment we wished for is at hand. I offer my blessings to Jonathan and his family on his upcoming release, and am waiting with great anticipation for his arrival in Israel. We will be waiting for him with so much love." Ariel once accused United States governments of keeping Pollard in prison out of "anti-Semitic" motives.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, meanwhile, welcomed the news. "We have long sought this decision and we believe this action is long overdue with Pollard serving a longer sentence than anyone charged with a comparable crime," the group said in a statement. They stressed that his release had nothing to do with the Iran deal. "The parole date was set at the time of his sentencing and the current parole process proceeded the negotiations with Iran."
"Mr. Pollard would like to thank the many thousands of well-wishers in the United States, in Israel, and throughout the world, who provided grass roots support by attending rallies, sending letters, making phone calls to elected officials, and saying prayers for his welfare," a statement published on Tuesday by Pollard's attorneys said.
Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal cited senior American officials who said the Obama administration was preparing to release Pollard. Last week, Haaretz reported that informed sources had expressed optimism that he could be released from prison on November 21. The sources said “there are indications” that the U.S. Department of Justice will not object to the release.
November 21 will mark 30 years since Pollard was first jailed, and for years has been listed as his release date.
He was arrested after the conclusion of an investigation into suspicions he was spying for Israel. He was convicted in 1987 and sentenced to life imprisonment on 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.
Israel granted Pollard Israeli citizenship at his lawyer's request in 1995, and only admitted publicly to his spying in 1998.
There have been reports in the past that the Obama administration would release Pollard early to smooth relations with Israel. The White House has denied these reports.