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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


November 20, 2015  RSS feed
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After 30 years in prison, Jonathan Pollard is released

Jonathan Pollard, left, arrives at a federal courthouse in New York with his wife, Esther, to check in at a probation office just hours after he was released from prison, Nov. 20. 
Ilana Gold/WCBS-TV via AP Images Jonathan Pollard, left, arrives at a federal courthouse in New York with his wife, Esther, to check in at a probation office just hours after he was released from prison, Nov. 20. Ilana Gold/WCBS-TV via AP Images (JTA) – Jonathan Pollard, the former Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel, was freed from a federal prison in North Carolina.

Pollard was released on parole early Friday, Nov. 20, after serving 30 years of a life sentence for passing classified documents to Israel.

His imprisonment has long been a sore point in relations between the United States and Israel.

Successive Israeli prime ministers have raised the issue in their meetings with U.S. presidents. In recent years, support in the U.S. political establishment has grown for his release, although the security community remained adamantly opposed, saying the breadth of his spying fully merited his life sentence.

“The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

Jonathan Pollard after being released from prison on Nov. 20 with his wife, Esther. 
Photo courtesy of World Jewish Congress Jonathan Pollard after being released from prison on Nov. 20 with his wife, Esther. Photo courtesy of World Jewish Congress “As someone who raised Jonathan’s case for years with successive American presidents, I had long hoped this day would come,” he said. “After three long and difficult decades, Jonathan has been reunited with his family. May this Sabbath bring him much joy and peace that will continue in the years and decades ahead.”

Pollard will not be permitted to leave the United States for as long as five years under federal parole rules, although he has asked to immigrate to Israel, saying he would relinquish his U.S. citizenship and agree never to return to the United States as a condition.

Pollard needs the prior agreement of his probation office to leave the “district of release,” the Justice Department has said, although it has not defined the area. His lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, have said they have arranged a residence and employment for him in the New York City area.

In addition to his probation officer’s say-so, he needs the U.S. Parole Commission’s permission to travel overseas.

Israel Hayom reported Thursday, Nov. 19 that during their meeting at the White House last week, Netanyahu asked President Barack Obama to let Pollard move to Israel immediately after his release.

Obama did not say yes or no to Netanyahu’s request, leaving Israeli officials with the impression that he was considering the matter.

Pollard on Friday exited a federal prison in Butner, NC, (where he reportedly befriended Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff). His release follows three decades of intrigue that have included charges of anti-Semitism against top U.S. officials, allegations that Pollard offered his services to other countries and his becoming a card in Middle East peace talks.

Employment plans

Pollard’s lawyers said in July that they had “secured employment and housing for Mr. Pollard in the New York area.” Lauer, in an email to JTA, declined to be more specific.

More recently, Lauer told the Times of Israel that the “Orthodox or semi-Orthodox community” has been most helpful in securing employment and residence for Pollard while he is in New York.

Whatever Pollard does, it will not be too strenuous. He has endured multiple hospital visits in recent years, at times to address kidney and liver ailments, according to his supporters. (A Knesset bill under consideration would have Israel paying for his medical and residential expenses, as well as providing him with a monthly stipend, The Jerusalem Post reported earlier this month.)

His second wife

Pollard and his second wife, Esther, will enjoy freedom together for the first time. Pollard divorced his first wife, Anne, who served three years on the espionage charges, in part so she could forge a new and separate life. He married Esther, a Canadian who had been advocating for his release, in 1994, his ninth year in prison.

Not close with mainstream Jewish community leaders

Though he’s looking forward to being active in the “Jewish community,” he’ll likely steer clear of mainstream Jewish communal officials.

“During the course of this initiative, we got to know an awful lot of Jewish leaders here in the United States,” Pollard told journalist Edwin Black in an extensive 2002 interview. “And they seem to fall into one of several groups in their response to me. Some ran away from it ... others promised to do things but basically didn’t … and others did harm.”

The feeling is mutual. Pollard has alleged that his interrogators asked him to implicate a list of American Jewish leaders in his espionage; he refused to do so. The Jewish leaders told Black they believed the list was Pollard’s invention, a ploy to stir sympathy for his cause.

Competing narratives will endure

Don’t expect the competing narratives between Pollard’s defenders and accusers to be reconciled. Was Pollard a reluctant recruit driven to divulge to Israel a narrow set of data that would save Jewish lives but that the Americans, despite pledges to share such information, were keeping secret? Or was he, as his accusers have charged, greedy, delivering mountains of documents to Israel in exchange for a lavish lifestyle, and peddling his services to other nations, including apartheid South Africa? But the terms of Pollard’s parole will likely keep him quiet.

When it comes to “with us or against us,” Pollard and his defenders make George W. Bush look like a pushover. For a time, the Washington Post reported in 1998, Pollard cut off his family, despite their years of dedication to his release. He has alienated some of his most ardent supporters. And pity the journalists who stray even slightly from their narrative that Pollard is a heroic victim of a massive injustice – the recriminations come fast and furious.

Pity also David Luchins, the much-lauded longtime Orthodox Jewish activist who in 1993 organized an appeal to President Bill Clinton to commute Pollard’s sentence. The appeal included a letter of remorse from Pollard, in which Pollard admitted that his crimes had violated not just U.S. but Jewish law.

Pollard, according to Black, later had regrets about the admission, and Pollard’s followers blamed Luchins. Black reported that Luchins suffered death threats and required federal protection for a period.

Pollard’s accusers at times, too, seem susceptible to a delusional apoplexy.

Seymour Hersh, writing for the New Yorker on the case in 1999, probed intelligence officials to explain how they knew information Pollard handed Israel reached the Soviets. The officials acknowledged that they had no hard evidence, and the accusation – key to perceiving Pollard as someone who posed a threat to national security – seems more an article of faith than of fact.

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