Jonathan and Esther Pollard.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
American Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard will be returning to court next week for the first time since President Donald Trump’s election, with new hope his 30-year legal saga could soon come to an end.
Oral arguments in New York’s Second Circuit Court will take place starting Wednesday on Pollard’s appeal of US District Judge Katherine Forrest’s decision to keep in place restrictive parole conditions. Those conditions were imposed when Pollard was released from prison on November 20, 2015, after the former US Navy analyst served 30 years of a life sentence for spying for Israel.
Pollard’s lawyer Eliot Lauer submitted an appeal in November in an effort to remove conditions that prevent Pollard from leaving his New York home after 7 p.m. or before 7 a.m., force him to submit any computer he uses for inspection, and require him to wear a GPS monitoring device that forces him to violate the Sabbath.
Forrest ruled that Pollard’s parole commission had a rational basis for imposing the conditions, including his expressed desire to leave the United States for Israel. But Lauer argued that the parole conditions were arbitrarily imposed and harm Pollard’s ability to work and rehabilitate himself.
“I believe our appeal has substantial merit,” Lauer told The Jerusalem Post. “I am always hopeful of good results.”
National Council of Young Israel executive vice president emeritus Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Pollard’s rabbi and confidant, said how the court deals with the case will speak volumes about whether or not there has been a fundamental change in Washington toward Israel since the Trump administration took office.
“For 30 years, the courts have routinely ignored the facts and circumstances of the Pollard case in order to follow an extra-legal agenda driven by elements in Washington hostile to Israel,” Lerner said. “The Pollard case has been routinely used by these hostile officials as a dagger pointed at the heart of the US-Israel special relationship and as an explicit warning to the American Jewish community. Unfortunately the courts have studiously avoided doing anything that would insulate their proceedings from this political agenda.”
Lerner said the parole restrictions were unduly harsh and served no other purpose other than being politically driven, punitive and vindictive, following 30 years in prison for a life sentence that he called Draconian and a travesty of justice.
“If indeed there has been a sea change toward Israel and the American Jewish community with the advent of the Trump administration, then it will be reflected in the ability of the Second Circuit to respond freely and honestly to the facts and the circumstances of the case, and to cut the Gordian knot that keeps Pollard chained in America unfairly and unjustly,” Lerner said.
Lerner said he was skeptical because the case “has been so egregiously politicized for decades,” but he was cautiously optimistic that “with a new administration in place, a change for the better is possible.”
Asked whether Pollard would return to his previous approach of seeking presidential commutation of his life sentence if the appeal failed, Lerner said he did not know, but in his answer, he indicated that rejecting the appeal could prove that turning to the president directly might be necessary.
He said that if the court failed to rectify the injustice of Pollard’s situation and chose instead to affirm the government’s imposition of the parole restrictions, then Pollard and his confidants will know that change may have come to Washington, but it has not filtered down to the security establishment and the courts in any meaningful way.
“To date, the US Department of Justice, the parole commission and the intelligence community have not demonstrated any willingness to depoliticize the Pollard case,” Lerner said. “Their gross misrepresentations and lies continue unabated in order to serve other purposes, entirely political.
It is time for the courts to depoliticize the case and to rule on the merits of Pollard’s appeal.”
Figures close to Pollard have spoken with advisers to Trump about allowing him to move to Israel and fulfill his dream of living in the Jewish state, sources close to Pollard said in November.
“We have been in touch,” a source close to Pollard said.
“Now we wait and pray.”