Jonathan and Esther Pollard.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On November 15, 2015, Jonathan Pollard was released on parole after serving 30 years of a life sentence for spying on the United States on Israel’s behalf. He is the only American in US history to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally, and the only one to serve more than 10 years in prison for the crime.
Despite a decades-long campaign to achieve his freedom, Pollard has not been living in freedom for the past year, but rather on parole terms that make a mockery of the word.
What is a typical day in the life of this parolee? According to media reports, since his release from prison Jonathan and his wife, Esther, have been living in a one-room apartment in central Manhattan – a fifth-floor walk-up. Because of the curfew imposed on him by the court, his day begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m., during which time he may walk freely on the streets of Manhattan, but is barred from visiting his religious community in Brooklyn.
Because of the curfew, he cannot attend morning or evening prayers at a synagogue, and so must pray in isolation. A further restriction of his religious practice as an observant Jew is that he cannot attend a synagogue even on Sabbath mornings, because the electronic monitoring bracelet permanently attached to his ankle cannot last the distance to his synagogue without being recharged, which he cannot do on Shabbat.
Besides being unemployable as an analyst – because the terms of his release make an employer’s computer subject to federal monitoring – Pollard is not even allowed to have a smartphone.
“Jonathan is a Stanford graduate, a very smart and educated man, but he’s not young and not very healthy,” one associate told Ynetnews. “He can’t work as a salesperson at a convenience store. It’s also not fair that it is decided for him what job he could do in America.”
Pollard’s lawyers called his parole conditions “onerous and oppressive” in announcing their unsuccessful legal challenge in a federal court in New York last year.
“There is no basis whatsoever to treat Mr. Pollard in that manner, and doing so is vindictive and cruel, as well as unlawful,” lawyers Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman said.
The Free Pollard campaign decided not to hold any public celebration of his release, and asked Knesset members and other Israeli public figures not to meet him when he was freed. Activists feared US authorities might use such actions as an excuse to worsen his parole terms, which also include a five-year ban on his leaving the United States for Israel.
Lawrence Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense when Pollard was arrested in 1985, told Army Radio that letting Pollard move to Israel would be the right thing to do. He said Pollard’s sentence should have been commuted long ago, and former US presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush erred by not doing so. President Barack Obama would be compounding this grievous error by not granting Pollard clemency.
Pollard’s parole in itself has been linked by the US administration to issues having nothing at all to do with espionage. In March 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly offered to release Pollard as an incentive to Israel to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Could there be a more sinister aspect behind the US refusal to really free Pollard? Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer, told The New York Times recently that he would have kept Pollard behind bars for the rest of his life. But he added: “With some folks, the emotional intensity of the Pollard issue unquestionably springs from a fairly serious anti-Israeli sentiment. Some of those are anchored in antisemitism.”
Whatever the reason, MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), who heads the Knesset caucus that lobbied for Pollard’s release, vowed to keep pressing his case. “We will not rest,” he wrote in a letter to Pollard, “until you are free to depart the United States for any destination of your choosing, first and foremost Israel.”
We join his call. Mr. President, you have pardoned or commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 convicted criminals this year. It is time to add clemency for Jonathan Pollard’s parole terms to your Christmas gift list.