(photo credit: Courtesy)
In July, the US Parole Commission, in a unanimous 3-0 decision, decided to grant Jonathan Pollard parole and announced that he would be released on November 20, 2015.
Today, after spending 30 years in prison for a crime that did not deserve such a harsh punishment, the 61-year-old Pollard will leave the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, and take the first delicate steps toward continuing with his life. He will at last be able to celebrate this coming Shabbat outside prison walls.
Pollard is expected to be welcomed by his wife, Esther, and his attorney, Eliot Lauer. They – and Pollard himself – have said that it is his dream to make aliya.
“I am looking forward to being reunited with my beloved wife Esther,” Pollard has said via 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 grassroots 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 is the only American citizen sentenced to life in prison for passing classified information to a US ally – in this case Israel. He has been behind bars since his arrest in 1985, even though he was convicted two years later. After finally giving him official recognition as an agent, Israel granted him citizenship 20 years ago, on November 22, 1995.
Pollard’s parole restrictions require him to remain in the US under some harsh restrictions for the next five years, although the parole board has the discretion to lift these at any time. Under the terms of his release, Pollard will be restricted to the residential area of New York for three years, cannot give media interviews and must report to a probation officer for at least a year.
Whatever the reasons for his three-decade incarceration, the campaign to free Pollard has scored an important victory with his release today. But the struggle is not completely over – it has just switched gears.
Now that Pollard is on his way to becoming a free man, the next objective is to fly him home to Israel. Pollard’s legal team has urged US President Barack Obama to give him the green light to come to Israel after his release from prison.
A number of prominent pro-Pollard activists have already begun working to bring him to Israel. On Monday, two Jewish congressmen from New York – Reps. Eliot Engel and Jerrold Nadler, both Democrats – wrote to US Attorney- General Loretta Lynch, saying Pollard is ready to give up his US citizenship so that he would be allowed to travel immediately to Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly urged Obama to allow Pollard to come to Israel, and brought up the issue with Obama during his visit to Washington last week.
Netanyahu has, meanwhile, instructed Israeli officials to keep low-key about Pollard’s release, according to Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett. Asked by Army Radio if ministers had received instructions from the prime minister regarding Pollard’s release, Bennett said: “We were asked not to speak expansively.”
“The people of Israel embrace him,” Bennett said. “Pollard was an emissary of the State of Israel for good and bad.
He did not do it for himself but for the people of Israel. And we are happy he will finally be released.”
The heads of the official Free Pollard campaign released a statement calling on the public to send letters of encouragement to email@example.com. The letters, which can include pictures of pro-Pollard activities around the world, will be printed out for him so he can see them.
“You can directly send a hug that will help him and his wife Esther deal with the challenges ahead that will not be simple,” a campaign spokesman told The Jerusalem Post’s political correspondent Gil Hoffman. “Send anything that is in your heart. Tell him about your prayers and yours efforts [for him] over the years.”
We second that call. Pollard has served his sentence. He has paid his debt to American society and then some. It is time for him to come home – to Israel.