“Baruch haShem, I’m no longer an orphan,” said Jonathan Pollard when told this week that he had been granted Israeli citizenship.
Ten years to the day after Pollard was thrown off the Israeli Embassy grounds in Washington and arrested by American agents on charges of spying against the United States, the State of Israel has granted him citizenship.
“Jonathan has felt for a long time a sense of very real abandonment,” said Rabbi Avi Weiss, Pollard’s spiritual adviser, who spoke with Pollard Tuesday and relayed his response to the news.
The decision was also welcomed by those closest to Pollard as an important step on the road to his release from prison.
“We’re overjoyed. This is the best news we’ve had in 10 years,” said Esther Pollard, his wife, in a phone interview from her home in Toronto.
“We are very pleased. I hope it leads to freedom,” Morris Pollard, his father, said from South Bend, Ind. “The only route to go for now is clemency.”
Israeli leader Shimon Peres is expected to request that Pollard’s life sentence be commuted when he is expected to meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington on Dec. 11.
The same request was made by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during his last trip to the United States in October.
Clinton did not respond to Rabin’s request at that time, and in March 1994 denied a similar request, as had his predecessor, George Bush, who turned down the clemency bid as one of his final acts as president.
The decision was announced by Israeli Interior Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday, the same day that he was appointed foreign minister in Peres’ new Cabinet.
Pollard’s first parole hearing was scheduled for earlier this month but was rescheduled, at Pollard’s own request, for January 1996.
“There was a sense he wasn’t going to get paroled, so there was a desire to put it off hoping the president would act [and grant clemency] before the hearing,” said a source close to Pollard.
Pollard, now 41, was an American civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he was arrested in November 1985 outside the Israeli Embassy.
He was arrested by FBI agents who has been monitoring Pollard and his first wife, Anne.
Pollard pleaded guilty to spying on behalf of Israel and in 1987 was sentenced to life in prison. He is now incarcerated in a medium security federal prison in Butner, N.C.
Weiss said he is “absolutely ecstatic” that Pollard has been granted Israeli citizenship.
“The granting of citizenship sends a message to the U.S. government that Jonathan Pollard is very high on the Israeli agenda, and it’s time for the president to free Jonathan and allow him to go home,’ said Weiss.
Israel has previously granted citizenship in absentia to people who want to immigrate to Israel but were prevented from doing so by their country of origin, including immigration activists and Prisoners of Zion in the former Soviet Union.
Israel initially denied the citizenship request submitted by Pollard’s wife, Esther Pollard.
When she appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court, which gave the government 30 days to show cause why his citizenship should be denied, the government relented.
Sources speculated that the Israeli government extended the citizenship because it wants to protect its own interests and avoid divulging secret information in open court.
Others, including communal leader and longtime Pollard advocate Seymour Reich, said the Israeli government thought that it would hurt the prisoner’s chance for parole or commutation if forced to admit why it initially denied the request.
Pollard and his wife Esther had submitted the citizenship request in the hope that it could increase his chances for early release.
In a letter to Clinton and Peres coincidentally this week, Esther Pollard urged continued efforts to secure Pollard’s release.
She noted that the late Rabin had raised the matter with Clinton on three separate occasions and said that Israel now had a legal and moral responsibility to push for Pollard’s release.
“Joining hands now and acting in unison to free Jonathan Pollard now, upon the 10th anniversary of his imprisonment, sends a message and strength to honor the memory of Yitzhak Rabin,” she wrote.
“It would send a message of unity and strength to all nations, and the Jewish world at large,” she said in an interview from her home.