Jonathan Pollard, a man arrested in 1985 for spying on the U.S. for Israel, will be released on parole in November after 30 years in prison. Pollard had been scheduled for mandatory parole, but the U.S. government could easily have kept him in prison for longer if the Justice Department objected to his release.
This news comes only a couple of weeks after President Obama struck a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, a deal that has received near-universal criticism in Israel and is undergoing tough scrutiny on Capitol Hill this week. The timing of Pollard's release on parole has sparked some questions as to whether President Obama is trying to placate Israel, having just dealt it a serious loss in the Iran nuclear deal.
The Justice Department has denied any political motives for allowing Pollard to be released:
Mr. Pollard's status will be determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures," Alister Baskey, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said last week. "There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard's status and foreign policy considerations."
No linkage. Of course, we wouldn't hear about it if there was. President Obama has proven extremely adept at running his Justice Department exactly how he wants, so presidential direction here wouldn't be surprising. But of course, we can't know.
Israeli citizens have protested Pollard's imprisonment for decades, and Israel leaders have regularly lobbied U.S. presidents for his release. U.S. presidents have never budged on the matter, despite their otherwise warm relationships with Israel. But Obama's presidency has been a presidency of firsts, and that's proving to be the case once again.
Pollard, who was an officer in the Naval Intelligence Command prior to his conviction, was arrested in 1985 for committing espionage against the United States. He was caught sharing intelligence files with the Israeli government.
Israel granted Pollard Israeli citizenship in 1995.