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Paroled spy Pollard's case could reignite rancor with Israel from Biden administration, experts say

Pollard will be released "over my dead body," Biden reportedly told an American Jewish audience in 2011.

Israel, Dome of the Rock
Israel, Dome of the Rock
Massimo Borchi/Atlantide Phototravel/Getty
Updated: November 23, 2020 - 11:26pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

An American former military analyst who last week completed parole for his part in a notorious Cold War spy incident may once again become a source of irritation between the United States and Israel, observers say. Developments in the case involving Jonathan Pollard — who plans to spend his newly free life in Israel — particularly could be unsettling to a Joe Biden administration.

"Biden has a history of extreme distaste for Pollard," a U.S. intelligence official told Just the News. "Biden would watch to see how Israel embraces, or doesn't embrace, their former spy."

As a civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy, Pollard in 1984 began selling American intelligence information to Israel. For more than a year, Pollard allegedly supplied classified documents to his Israeli contacts. He and his then-wife, Anne Henderson Pollard, were arrested in 1985 after trying in vain to seek refuge at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Although Pollard was not charged with treason, following a plea agreement he was sentenced to life in prison. He was released in 2015 on strict parole.

The incident was a Cold War scandal that shocked official Washington, embarrassed Jerusalem, and for years roiled relations between the two countries. 

Last week, the parole was lifted, prompting Pollard to remove his electronic monitoring device — and to announce that he plans to move to Israel.

"The final step to freedom that remains is our return home to the Land and the People we love," Pollard said Sunday in a statement.

Israeli officials both current and former offered congratulations to Pollard and his second wife. 

"The Prime Minister hopes to see Jonathan Pollard in Israel soon, and together with all Israelis, extends his best wishes to him and his wife Esther," read a statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some Israel-watchers, though, noted that Pollard's case has the potential to reopen old sores between the U.S. and Israel.

"Mostly it will depend on whether or not the Netanyahu government chooses to act with sensitivity and restraint, setting aside what it might see as political gain and opting instead for sensible geopolitics," wrote New Jersey-based Rabbi Eric Yoffie in an essay for Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

Recalling a meeting in 2011 with then-Vice President Joe Biden, Yoffie wrote that Biden told a Jewish audience in Florida that he forcefully opposed releasing Pollard, who at the time was in prison.

"President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, 'Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time'" Biden reportedly said at the meeting. "If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life."

That rancor is worth remembering, the intelligence official told Just the News.

"If Pollard does go to Israel, a new administration in particular will want to see how he is welcomed," 

The American Jewish community likely will not expect a lavish welcome in Israel for Pollard, Yoffie noted.

"At a delicate and unsettled time for Israel, America, and the Middle East, they have no desire to call attention to a deeply unfortunate incident in the history of the American-Israeli alliance," he wrote. "They believe, in other words, that for the sake of all parties, it is best to put the Pollard affair behind us, and move on."

The Pollards, for their part, do not seem to expect support from the Jewish community inside the United States.

"The mainstream American Jewish community wanted no part of our campaign for Jonathan," Esther Pollard said in a Monday statement. With one exception, she said, "I had no support whatsoever in America and certainly no support in traveling to Israel to fight for Jonathan."

Pollard has not announced specific travel dates for when he plans to depart for Israel.

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