“Blessed are you, lord our God, king of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion. I was thrilled to welcome Jonathan and Esther Pollard today upon their arrival in Israel and to give Jonathan an Israeli identity card. Now they are home,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referencing a common celebratory Jewish prayer.
“Welcome home Jonathan Pollard! I’m in the business since 1983 and I think this is my most exciting night in the profession,” tweeted Boaz Bismuth, the editor in chief of Israel Hayom, which first reported the story. The right-leaning Israeli newspaper is owned by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is also a financial backer of President Trump and Netanyahu.
Pollard flew from Newark overnight Tuesday on a private plane provided by Adelson, who along with Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders has lobbied for Pollard’s release for years. After arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, he and his wife kissed the ground and told reporters that “no one could be prouder of this country or of its leader.”
The prospect for clemency was actualized in recent weeks, following the results of the U.S. elections.
Since last month, the Trump administration has bestowed several last-minute parting gifts to Israel. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited a winery in the West Bank, making him the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the contested territory that Palestinians envision as part of their future state. Shortly afterward, he called the controversial campaign to sanction and criticize Israel, known as the BDS movement, an anti-Semitic “cancer.” He announced a policy shift that would require products made in the West Bank to be labeled “Made in Israel,” in contrast to European Union guidelines meant to clarify when goods originate from the occupied territories.
On Nov. 24, Netanyahu tweeted a video of a phone call made to Pollard and his wife, Esther, indicating that the convicted spy’s arrival in Israel was in the works.
“You should have, now, a comfortable life, where . . . both of you can pursue your interests, and we can take care of Esther with the best medical treatment in the world,” Netanyahu told Pollard on the phone call, referring to Pollard’s wife, whose course of chemotherapy at a hospital in New York was the reported reason for their delayed move.
Netanyahu told Esther on the same call, “I want to congratulate you that the nightmare is over.”
Pollard received a life sentence in 1987 for providing defense information to a foreign government. He was released under restrictions in 2015.
For years, the U.S. Justice Department and intelligence community — mainly the FBI, Naval Intelligence and Pentagon officials — opposed Pollard’s early release and then conditioned it on tough restrictions. In November, the Justice Department announced that Pollard had completed his parole.
Among the few critics of the positive response to Pollard’s release was former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who said that he “would prefer that he not immigrate to Israel” because “coming to Israel will intensify the damage this affair has done to us.”
Avigdor Liberman, a political opponent of Netanyahu, said, “I suggest we lower our level of excitement, because it doesn’t help with the American defense system, which sees the Pollard affair as an unacceptable incident that violated acceptable codes between Israel and the U.S.”