Why Is­rael kept quiet as ‘hero’ Pol­lard walked free

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - NATHAN JEF­FAY

IT WAS hardly the walk to free­dom that peo­ple imag­ined. Jonathan Pol­lard, a celebrity in the eyes of many Is­raelis, left prison last Fri­day with­out a wel­com­ing com­mit­tee, with­out a crowd and, as his lib­er­a­tion hap­pened un­der cover of dark­ness, with­out even be­ing spot­ted by jour­nal­ists.

For three decades, he had been im­pris­oned in North Carolina for pass­ing mil­i­tary se­crets to Is­rael while work­ing as an in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst for the US Navy.

At first, Is­rael and Is­raelis tried to keep Mr Pol­lard and his case at arm’s length. But 20 years ago, the gov­ern­ment granted him Is­raeli cit­i­zen­ship, and, in re­cent years, at­ti­tudes among politi­cians and the pub­lic have come to range from pity over the length of his sen­tence to ad­mi­ra­tion and see­ing him as a hero. Talk­ing about Mr Pol­lard and call­ing for his early release be­came a vote-win­ner for Is­raeli politi­cians.

One may have ex­pected dig­ni­taries to be stand­ing at the prison gates, and if not there, wait­ing to re­ceive him in New York. But the gov­ern­ment re­strained it­self, and ap­par­ently re­strained other politi­cians who would have oth­er­wise made the trip.

The last thing that Jerusalem needs, es­pe­cially at the mo­ment, is an Is­raeli homage to a con­victed spy on US soil.

The re­straint ex­tended to the com­ments of Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu. “The peo­ple of Is­rael wel­come the release of Jonathan Pol­lard,” he said, with­out a smile. The most im­pas­sioned he got was to say that he had “longed” for this day.

Mr Ne­tanyahu was on his best be­hav­iour — and knew that he had to leave the more en­thu­si­as­tic re­ac­tion to Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin, who has an eas­ier ride with the Amer­i­cans.

Af­ter months at each oth­ers’ throats, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu ap­peared to put their dif­fer­ences be­hind them dur­ing a meet­ing ear­lier this month. Mr Pol­lard’s ac­tions put great strain on the Is­raeli-US re­la­tion­ship, and there was no way that Mr Ne­tanyahu was go­ing to let his release spark fur­ther ten- Pol­lard, as seen leav­ing court last Fri­day sions. There were three other fac­tors tem­per­ing Mr Ne­tanyahu’s joy. He could have scored a ma­jor PR vic­tory if he had man­aged to con­vince the Amer­i­cans to bring for­ward his release by even a few weeks, but in the end it was the US that de­cided on the pa­role date.

Se­condly, in the midst of terror at­tacks, Is­rael is not in the mood for cel­e­bra­tion.

Thirdly, Mr Ne­tanyahu, like many Is­raelis, is frus­trated that Mr Pol­lard can­not make his de­sired move to Is­rael for at least five years, as well as by the fact that he is sub­ject to other re­stric­tions in­clud­ing elec­tronic tag­ging. This means that the Pol­lard is­sue still has po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal to be squeezed out of it. Ex­pect in­tense ef­forts by politi­cians to get per­mis­sion for him to make aliyah be­fore the five years are up.

He­brew Univer­sity so­ci­ol­o­gist Vered Vinitzky-Ser­oussi notes: “If he ac­tu­ally ar­rived in Is­rael it would be a big deal here, but the fact is, for now, that he’s in New York with all the re­stric­tions imag­in­able.”

PHOTO: AP

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