(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard will be released from prison after serving 30 years of a life sentence on November 20, the US Parole Commission announced Tuesday.
The Parole Commission relayed the decision to Pollard's lawyers, Elliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was also told and broke the news on Twitter.
"I am looking forward to being reunited with my beloved wife Esther," Pollard said through his attorneys. "I 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 my welfare. I am deeply appreciative of every gesture, large or small."
Pollard's lawyers said that they are grateful and delighted that their client will be released soon. "The decision to grant parole was made unanimously by the three members of the Parole Commission, who make their decisions independently of any other US government agency. The decision is not connected to recent developments in the Middle East."
Had Pollard's parole been denied, he would have been required to serve an additional fifteen years in prison. His parole hearing took place July 7 at the Federal Correctional Center in Butner, North Carolina, where he has been incarcerated. He has been serving a sentence of life in prison for conspiracy to deliver classified information to the State of Israel.
The lawyers wrote that after Pollard's first parole hearing last July, in which parole was denied, the parole commission told them that even though a life sentence at the time of Pollard's sentencing was 45 years, a “record review” would take place to assess whether, in the commission's discretion, he should be released on parole at the two-thirds mark of the 45-year term on November 21, 2015.
In the review, the commission assessed Pollard’s record in prison, and whether there was a “reasonable probability” that he would commit any further crimes if released. The lawyers submitted documents demonstrating that Pollard had an exemplary prison record, and that there was no possibility that he would commit any further crimes if released.
The lawyers also secured employment and housing for Mr. Pollard in the New York area, and made that information available to the commission and the Department of Justice. On July 1, the Department of Justice informed the lawyers that it agreed not to urge denial of parole at the hearing six days later.
"President Obama, who has the constitutional power of executive clemency, has the authority to release Mr. Pollard before November 21, 2015, as well as the authority to allow Mr. Pollard to leave the United States and move to Israel immediately," the lawyers wrote. "We respectfully urge the President to exercise his clemency power in this manner."
Following news of Pollard's release, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Esther Pollard, the wife of Jonathan Pollard, just hours after it was announced that the Israeli agent would be released from his life sentence in US prison.
"After decades of efforts [to secure his release], finally, finally Jonathan Pollard will be freed from jail."
He added that throughout Pollard's "long period of incarceration I made sure to raise the subject of his release in all my meetings and conversations with the heads of the American government."
Shaked expressed hope that Pollard would be allowed to board a plane to Israel as soon as possible. Her Bayit Yehudi colleague, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, a former head of the Knesset's Pollard caucus, welcomed the news with the shehianu prayer that one utters on a monumental occasion.
"After 30 years too many, I bless Jonathan and his family on his upcoming release," Ariel said. "I am waiting with love for him to land here."
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations 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 Jewish umbrella group said in a statement. "We do not believe that there is any connection to the nuclear agreement with Iran. The parole date was set at the time of his sentencing and the current parole process proceeded the negotiations with Iran. These are separate and unrelated issues that should not be linked. We are grateful that he will soon have the opportunity to rebuild his life with his wife and address his medical concerns.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that Pollard's upcoming release was not tied to the nuclear agreement with Iran.
"I haven't even had a conversation about it. No, not at all," Kerry told reporters as he left a House of Representatives committee hearing on the nuclear agreement.Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report.