Jonathan Pollard, age 66, and his wife, Esther, arrived in Israel on Wednesday morning, 35 years after being arrested for passing US intelligence secrets to Israel.
Blessings and Kissing the Ground
The Pollards were met at the airport by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who recited the shehecheyanu blessing thanking God for sustaining us for auspicious occasions and another blessing thanking God for releasing prisoners. Netanyahu gave them their official papers and citizen ID cards. The Pollards, both Orthodox Torah observant Jews, responded by kneeling on the tarmac and kissing the ground of the Holy Land.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Jonathan and Esther Pollard upon their arrival in Israel, early this morning. The Prime Minister was moved to meet them on the tarmac next to the plane where they recited the Shehecheyanu blessing together.https://t.co/jfZ4WseH3g pic.twitter.com/6Xno3yJPdY
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) December 30, 2020
“We are excited to be home at last,” Pollard said. “There is no one who is more proud of this country or its leader than we are. We hope to become productive citizens as soon as possible.”
Due to Esther’s ill health, the Pollards flew to Israel from Newark Airport in New Jersey by private jet, reportedly owned by the millionaire owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation Sheldon Adelson. Esther is battling breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. As new arrivals, the couple will enter a two-week quarantine.
An apartment in Jerusalem was prepared for them in advance.
Unusually Harsh Treatment for the Jewish Spy
Pollard was working as an analyst for the US Navy in 1985 when he was caught transferring classified information. He pled guilty but the judge chose to sentence him to life in prison, Pollard is the only American who has received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally of the US.
It was later revealed that at least some of the accusations against Pollard can be traced to Aldrich Ames, a CIA agent who, as a double agent working for the Russian KGB who was convicted in 1994. At the time of his arrest, Ames had compromised more highly classified CIA assets than any other officer in history. Ames allegedly caused a shift to “blame Mr. Pollard for exposing the American agents to clear himself of suspicion.” The same source “said that Mr. Pollard never exposed American agents in the Soviet Union or elsewhere.”
Pollard was released from prison on November 20, 2015. The Justice Department decided last month to let the parole term’s five-year travel ban go unrenewed as a parting gift to Israel by the Trump administration..
Pollard declared that he committed espionage only because “the American intelligence establishment collectively endangered Israel’s security by withholding crucial information”. Over the course of his imprisonment, Israel made repeated unsuccessful attempts through both official and unofficial channels to secure his release. He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995.
“Joseph of Our Generation”
During his imprisonment, Pollard developed relationships with several well-known religious figures. One of these leaders was the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, the Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel, who was very close to Pollard and always referred to him as “Joseph the Tzaddik (righteous) of our generation.” One obvious reason for this reference is due to his belief that Pollard’s imprisonment sentence was unjust, similar to the imprisonment of the Biblical Joseph. However, his reason for referring to Pollard in this manner goes much deeper.
Rabbi Eliyahu requested that Pollard add the letter “hay” (ה) to his Hebrew name, changing it from “Yonatan” (יונתן) to “Yehonatan” (יהונתן). In Jewish tradition, changing a name is a significant act that can alter a person’s fate.