Welcome to Israel, Jonathan Pollard

Pollard’s arrival in Israel will now hopefully put an end to one of the most difficult chapters in US-Israeli relations.

Jonathan Pollard (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jonathan Pollard
(photo credit: Courtesy)
First things first: Welcome home, Jonathan Pollard, your homecoming is long overdue.
Pollard, arrested in 1985 for spying for Israel in the US, and sentenced to life in prison – a sentence later commuted to 30 years – arrived in Israel in a subdued ceremony early Wednesday morning.
He was greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he disembarked, and, along with his wife, Esther, kissed the ground and recited the traditional sheheheyanu blessing of thanksgiving.
How many times when he was in solitary confinement for seven years, throughout his 30 years of imprisonment, and even during the last five years under strict parole restrictions in New York, must he have fantasized about the moment when he would finally step foot in Israel. One can only imagine his emotions.
Some might question, therefore, the muted nature of the reception he received.
Granted, he was greeted by Netanyahu, who immediately gave him his newly minted Israeli ID card. But Pollard arrived in the middle of the night, with no advance notice, no red carpet, no band playing “Hatikvah” – something that could hardly be characterized as a celebratory welcome.
Yet, considering the circumstances, this type of ceremony hit the right notes.
First, it was right for Netanyahu to be on hand when the plane arrived. Netanyahu, like those prime ministers who preceded him, has worked for Pollard’s release since his arrest outside the Israel Embassy in Washington. Every prime minister has raised his case in the White House, in Congress and in other Washington corridors of power since Pollard’s sentencing in 1987. It was fitting, after all those efforts, that Pollard be greeted upon arrival by the prime minister.
Second, it was proper that the ceremony was low-key. Israel need not give a hero’s welcome to someone viewed by the US security establishment as a traitor, and who stirs up for many American Jews their worst nightmare: that they will always be suspected of having dual loyalty.
Indeed, that was a charge flung at Pollard by a man who hounded him, then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger. Weinberger said that Pollard was more loyal to Israel than to the US.
From June 1984 to November 1985, Pollard – a Naval Intelligence analyst – provided highly sensitive US intelligence secrets to Israel, for which he was paid. This was information that Israel reportedly should have been receiving, but which Weinberger – because of animosity toward the Jewish state – wanted to be kept out of its hands.
Pollard sold secrets to a close US ally, not an enemy, but was punished more harshly than spies who worked on behalf of the Soviet Union. The usual sentence for Americans caught spying for allies – and there have been cases involving Americans spying for Egypt, Poland and elsewhere – is typically no longer than eight years.
One cannot, therefore, escape the feeling that this disproportionate sentence was the result of an anti-Jewish animus on the part of some of those involved in the case, and that Pollard’s unusually harsh treatment was an attempt to make an example of him.
Pollard’s arrival in Israel will now hopefully put an end to one of the most difficult chapters in US-Israeli relations, one that should never have been written in the first place, as Israel should never have employed an American Jew to spy on its greatest ally.
And it is precisely because this has been such a painful chapter in US-Israel ties that it was wise to keep Pollard’s arrival low-key. There is no reason to reopen old wounds by making his arrival a public spectacle, or make this into a political issue. Even more importantly, Pollard should not be used now to score partisan political points.
It is also fortunate that he arrived before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. There may have been pressure on Biden from certain influential members of the US Intelligence Community not to allow him to move to Israel, something that would have added a point of friction between Biden and Netanyahu.
Pollard is free, Pollard is in Israel. Let him and his wife live out their lives here quietly and in peace, and let us not unduly highlight a sad, sorry and contentious chapter in Israel-US ties.