Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard leaves a federal courthouse in New York.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Shimon Peres cannot be faulted for failure to get an early release for Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, the head of the Pollard Caucus in the Knesset, Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, said on Thursday.
Peres was prime minister at the time of Pollard’s 1985 arrest. He was aware that Pollard was operating in the US, but when the FBI decided to make an arrest, Peres did not alert staff at the Israeli Embassy in Washington to ensure he would be let in. However, he did give documents to the US with Pollard’s fingerprints that incriminated him.
In what was seen at the time as an effort to remove a lingering stain on his career, Peres met with US President Barack Obama in Washington in June 2014, six days before Pollard had a parole hearing. Peres vowed to the people of Israel to take action for Pollard ahead of the hearing, and there were hopes he could persuade Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served, enabling him to move to Israel.
“The entire nation is interested in releasing Pollard, and I am the emissary of the nation,” Peres told reporters after the meeting. “I don’t think of myself as Shimon. I am the representative of the State of Israel, and I speak in the name of its people.”
After the meeting failed to result in an early release, Peres vowed to “continue to work for Pollard’s release after I finish my term.”
In November 2015, Pollard was paroled for technical reasons after serving 30 years of a life sentence, but his life sentence continues on parole.
“Peres didn’t betray him,” said Shai, who met with Peres before he went to Washington. “He made a genuine effort to get Pollard set free when he went to Obama.”
Pollard and the campaign to bring about his release chose not to release any statement about Peres. They also declined to respond to comments made on Army Radio Thursday by Pollard’s former handler, Eitan.
“I decided to take full responsibility for the Pollard episode despite what Peres said and chose not to say,” Eitan said.