Jonathan Pollard acted as an agent of the State of Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, in reaction to a comment from Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren that was interpreted as suggesting otherwise.
Pollard is in the 25th year of a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally. While Israel initially made a point of distancing itself from him, the government, in May 1998, during Netanyahu’s first term, formally recognized him as an Israeli agent.
Fallen major's widow pleads for Pollard, not for home
Oren appeared to backtrack from this stance in an interview with Washington radio station WTOP that was interpreted by American and Israeli media as suggesting that Pollard had been part of a rogue operation.
“Jonathan Pollard occurred in the mid-1980s,” Oren told the station. “Now, we’re talking about an event that was run by a rogue organization in the Israeli intelligence community. That was, what, 25 years ago?”
Netanyahu: Nobody denies Pollard was an Israeli agent
Following reports on Army Radio about Oren’s interview, both Netanyahu and the ambassador issued clarifications.
“Pollard worked as an agent of the State of Israel, and no one is trying to deny this,” Netanyahu said in closed conversations.
Israeli Embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled added: “Ambassador Michael Oren wishes to clarify that, in responding to a journalist’s question, he attempted to emphasize that the Pollard incident occurred over 25 years ago by a unit that no longer exists, for which Israel took full responsibility. As has been stated, Mr. Pollard worked for and on behalf of Israel, and the ambassador hopes for his earliest release.”
When asked in a meeting with Jerusalem Post reporters and editors on Monday as to whether he had visited Pollard, Oren appeared to suggest that he intended to travel to the North Carolina prison where he’s incarcerated.
“I have not yet [visited him],” Oren said. When pressed further about whether he would, he repeated, “I have not yet.”
Oren added that he was often asked about Pollard and that “he is not forgotten.”Esther Pollard: Oren's '25-year-old lie' harms Netanyahu
When Netanyahu was opposition leader in 2007, he visited Pollard in
prison and vowed to work for his release, but since he returned to
power, he has refused to meet with Pollard’s representatives.
Pollard’s attorneys briefed Oren about the details of his case before his appointment.
Pollard’s wife Esther expressed frustration with Oren’s comments to the
Washington radio station, saying Netanyahu’s credibility had been
harmed by a “25-year-old lie” uttered by his ambassador in Washington.
She said the timing of Oren’s statements had been especially
problematic because US President Barack Obama was looking to improve
his relationship with Israel and the American Jewish community.
“Michael Oren is seen as very professional, so this couldn’t have been
a slip of the tongue,” Esther Pollard said. “Now is the exact time when
Netanyahu can make clear to Obama that this gesture of releasing
Jonathan would be in order. Instead of laying the ground for that, his
ambassador is putting out lies. Congressmen have said that as long as
Israel is not asking for Pollard’s release, there is nothing they can
do. But if Israel does, they will be there.”
WTOP’s report about Oren’s statement to the radio station included
information from a letter Jonathan Pollard wrote in April 1998, before
he was recognized as an Israeli agent.
“I did not spend 13 years in prison in order to endorse a lie,” Pollard
wrote. “The truth must come out, so that I may be freed. The truth is
simple and clear: I was an Israeli agent employed by the LAKAM branch
of intelligence in an operation that was fully sanctioned by the
government of Israel. Anything less than that is a distortion of the
truth that is counterproductive to the goal of securing my release.”