Middle East/North Africa

Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard welcomed in Israel

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to Israel on Wednesday, bringing to an end a decades-long lobbying campaign by Jerusalem to have him brought to Israel.

Pollard, now 66, was a civilian intelligence analyst who was convicted of selling military secrets to Israel in the 1980s. He was first arrested in 1985 when he tried to gain asylum to Israel at its embassy in Washington and then sentenced to life behind bars in 1987. He was released in 2015 on parole. 

Israel had pressed the U.S. for decades to hand Pollard over and allow him to live in Israel, but its efforts were unsuccessful until November when the Justice Department announced that it would not renew the five-year travel ban that was part of Pollard’s parole.

The decision was seen as a boost of Netanyahu by the Trump administration and could be a key talking point for the prime minister as he faces his fourth election in two years amid parliamentary disputes. 

Netanyahu welcomed Pollard and his wife on the tarmac Wednesday morning, offering a blessing to them both with a prayer of thanksgiving and granting the couple Israeli identity cards after they knelt down to kiss the ground.

“We are ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years and we thank the people and the Prime Minister of Israel for bringing us home. No one could be prouder of this country or this leader than we are,” Netanyahu’s office quoted Pollard as saying

“We hope to become productive citizens as soon and as quickly as possible and to get on with our lives here. This is a wonderful country. It has a tremendous future. It is the future of the Jewish people and we’re not going anywhere.”

Pollard’s arrival was swiftly celebrated by politicians in Israel, with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin touting their trip “home.”

″There is no Israeli who didn’t feel excited this morning to see Pollard’s landing in Israel and the moment he kissed the country’s earth, which he had dreamed of for 35 years,” Israeli Transportation Minister Miri Regev, a close ally of Netanyahu, added on Twitter.

Not all Israelis praised Pollard’s arrival in Israel, with Israel Waismel-Manor, a political science lecturer at the University of Haifa dismissing claims Pollard is a “Zionist hero” and saying he was “driven by ego and money.”

“It would have been better if he had stayed in the US,” he wrote.

Besides acceding to Jerusalem’s long-standing request for Pollard’s freedom, Washington’s decision to release the spy could be a key boost to Netanyahu as he faces criticism on an array of issues heading into what are expected to be contentious elections.

Israel is heading into its fourth snap election in two years after the country’s parliament missed a Tuesday deadline to pass a budget.

Netanyahu will remain in office at least until a new government is formed after the March elections, but he will face intense scrutiny over an ongoing corruption trial against him and his response to the coronavirus pandemic, which sent Israel into another lockdown this month.

The prime minister is already expected to heavily campaign on recent deals establishing formal diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. The pacts were brokered in part by the Trump administration and marked Israel’s first agreements with any Arab nation in decades.

Tags Benjamin Netanyahu Jonathan Pollard Reuven Rivlin

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