This week’s Good News Friday post simply HAS to focus on the amazing – and far too belated – return of Jonathan Pollard to Israel.
If you want to know the background to the Jonathan Pollard case, you can read all that I have written about him at this link here.
Here is a very short potted history. He was a naval analyst in the US Navy who passed on security secrets to Israel – information that SHOULD have been passed on to Israel by the US security forces as agreed by the two countries, but the US, for whatever nefarious reasons, refused to do so. Of course Pollard broke American law, and he was caught, after being shamefully abandoned by a very embarrassed Israel, and put on trial. The sentence he received was far above and beyond any sentence ever received by any spy, even for a hostile nation, not to mention for an ally. He served every single minute of the 30 years sentence, was not allowed out for his father’s funeral, spent several years in solitary confinement, and was altogether disgracefully mistreated by the US.
After his release 5 years ago, he was still treated like a dangerous criminal, with a 7pm curfew, an electronic ankle bracelet, and was not allowed to leave his apartment or his neighbourhood at all, never mind come to Israel.
But now, since his parole has ended, and President Trump is leaving office, without any fanfare or advance information, Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther landed in Israel on Wednesday morning.
As the pilots prepared to land, Pollard was called to enter the cockpit, where he was able to hear the Ben-Gurion International Airport control tower welcome him to Israel in Hebrew.
Pollard, who was convicted for spying for Israel while working as a naval intelligence officer in the 1980s, received Israeli citizenship during his stay at the North Caroline prison, where he was held until the parole committee agreed to release him in 2015. He was prohibited from leaving the country for five years following his release.
Due to Esther’s medical condition, the Pollards chose to fly by private plane directly from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport to Tel Aviv. The date for the flight was selected to allow her to continue her medical treatments. The Pollards thanked everyone who continues to pray for her recovery.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Pollard and his wife upon their arrival.
A statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said the two recited the Shehecheyanu prayer, as Netanyahu presented the Pollards with their Israeli IDs.
“Welcome home. It’s so good to finally see you here,” Netanyahu said. “Now you can start over and live your lives free and happy. You are now home.”
A visibly emotional Pollard said, “We’re excited to finally be home after 35 years. We thank the Israeli people and the Israeli prime minister for bringing us home. No one is as proud of this country and its leader as we are.
“We hope to become productive citizens as soon as possible and move on with our lives. This is a great country with a bright future. [Israel] is the future of the Jewish people and we’re not going anywhere.”
Watch this very moving video as the Pollards kneel down and kiss the ground of Eretz Yisrael as they get off the plane:
It was both a pity and good luck that he landed in the middle of Israel’s 3rd lockdown at 5 in the morning. For both reasons, the roads and the airport were empty. The only person welcoming Pollard was PM Binyamin Netanyahu.
It was a pity of course because he should have had crowds lining the streets, waving flags and welcoming him home.
But for political reasons, so as not to antagonize the Americans and the new Democratic administration even more, it was probably best that the whole arrival was very low key.
Popular commentator Sivan Rahav Meir had the following very relevant comment to make about Jonathan Pollard’s return: (translation is mine):
אם להתעורר לפנות בוקר, אז לחדשות כאלה: בחמש בבוקר החלו להתפרסם התמונות של יונתן פולארד נוחת בישראל. מה היה כל כך מרגש ברגע הזה?1. פולארד ירד מכבש המטוס, ואז סימן לראש הממשלה שבא לקבל את פניו להמתין רגע, עם כל הכבוד, ולפני הכל נישק את אדמת ארץ ישראל. מעבר לסיפור הפוליטי, המדיני, מעבר לאינטרסים של נתניהו וטראמפ, זה סיפור של יהודי שחוזר הביתה.2. רגע, חוזר הביתה? הוא הרי אמריקני מבטן ומלידה, וזה בדיוק הסיפור. אלי ויזל אמר פעם שיהודי לא צריך להיות בארץ ישראל כדי לקרוא לה בית. בפרשת השבוע, פרשת “ויחי”, כותב רש”י על רחל אמנו, שמחכה עד היום לכל אחד מבניה, לכל מיליוני הפולארדים שעדיין פזורים בעולם, עד לקיום ההבטחה: “ושבו בנים לגבולם”.3. פולארד עשה עוד משהו בשניות הראשונות שלו בישראל, לפני הנשיקה לקרקע: הוריד את המסיכה. בסוף, אחרי 35 שנים של ציפייה, הוא מגיע הנה בעיצומה של מגיפה עולמית קטלנית. מי היה מאמין שכך תיראה ההגעה שלו לכאן, בלי חיבוק אחד אמיץ שאפשר לחבק אותו. במקום להמשיך יחד עם אלפי אנשים אל עצרת תפילה חגיגית בכותל, הוא יצא ישר לבידוד ביתי. אולי טוב שכך, מבחינת היחסים שלנו מול האמריקאים.4. אז אפשר להתעסק עם השאלה למה בכלל ריגל (ההאשמה פה אינה נגדו, ברגע שישראל חתמה איתו על הסכם – יש לה אחריות כלפיו) ואפשר לדבר על הנזק ליחסים עם ידידתנו הקרובה (סביר להניח שלא יופעלו עוד פולארדים). בשורה התחתונה, אדם שהפך לסמל, שבמשך 35 שנים התפללו עליו (יש נערים ונערות, בעיקר בציונות הדתית, שהקדישו את מיטב שנותיהם למען “יהונתן בן מלכה”), אדם שהקריב ושילם מחיר כבד, שלא זכה להביא ילדים לעולם – יוצא כעת לחירות.5. ואז הגיעו המילים של פולארד עצמו. “זו מדינה נהדרת”, אמר האיש בלי להתלונן שהופקר, שהושאר מחוץ לשגרירות, שנשכח. “אנחנו רוצים להיות אזרחים פרודוקטיביים”, אמר, והזכיר לנו שזה לא סוף פרשת פולארד, כפי שהכריזו חלק מהכותרות, זוהי ההתחלה. פולארד מתחיל כעת את החיים שרצה. “יש למדינה עתיד מזהיר, היא העתיד של העם היהודי”, הוא המשיך. חשבנו שהנאומים הפוליטיים החשובים מגיעים בשמונה בערב, לפעמים אפילו בקצב של שניים במקביל, אבל מתברר שהנאום הכי חשוב לתקופה הזו נישא בחמש בבוקר בנתב”ג. נאום פשוט שמזכיר, בימים של פילוגים וסכסוכים פוליטיים מכוערים, שיש לנו סיפור משותף.
If we have to wake up early in the morning, then at least it’s for news like this: at 5 in the morning pictures started to be published of Jonathan Pollard landing in Israel. What was so exciting about that?
Pollard descended from the plane and then signaled to the prime minister, who had come to greet him, to wait for him, with all due respect, and before everything else he kissed the ground of Eretz Yisrael. Beyond the political story, the diplomatic one, beyond Netanyahu’s and Trump’s interests, this is a story of a Jew who returned home.
Wait a minute, came home? He is after all a born and bred American, and this is precisely the story. Eli Wiesel once said that a Jew doesn’t need to to be in Israel in order to call it home. In this week’s Torah Portion, Vayechi, Rashi writes about our Foremother Rachel, who waits until today for all of her children, for all the millions of Pollards that are still dispersed throughout the world, until the promise is fulfilled “And the sons shall return to their borders”.
Pollard did something else in his first seconds in Israel. Before kissing the ground, he removed his mask. After 35 years of waiting, he arrives here in the middle of a deadly global pandemic. Who would have believed that this is how his arrival would look! Without one brave embrace. Instead of parading with thousands of people to a celebratory prayer at the Kotel he went straight to home quarantine. Maybe its best like that, considering our relations with the Americans.
So we can discuss the question of why did he spy at all (the accusation is not against him. The minute Israel signed on an agreement with him, it had a responsibility towards him) and we can talk about the damage to our relations with our close friends (we can assume there won’t be any more Pollards). Bottom line, the man who became a symbol, who for 35 years people prayed for him (there are young boys and girls, especially in the religious Zionist circle, who have dedicated the best of their years for “Yonatan Ben Malka”), a man who sacrificed and paid a very heavy price, who has not merited to bring children into the world – has now come out free.
And then came Pollard’s own words: “This is a wonderful country” said the man without complaining that he had been abandoned, that he was left outside the embassy, forgotten. “We want to be productive citizens” he said and mentioned that this is not the ned of the Pollard story as the headlines declared, this is the beginning. Pollard now begins his life as he wishes. “This country has a glorious future, it is the future of the Jewish people” he continued. We thought that important political stories are broadcast at 8 pm, sometimes even two in parallel, but it turns out that the most important speech of this period was delivered at 5 am at Ben Gurion airport. A simple speech, that reminds us, in these days of divisiveness and ugly politics, that we have a common story.
What beautiful words, both from Sivan and from Jonathan Pollard.
Welcome home Jonathan and Esther! May you have an easy klita and may Esther have a refuah shlema.
ברוכים הבאים. ושבו בנים לגבולם.
Shabbat Shalom everyone!
Thank you for this post.I couldn’t believe it ,when we woke up !I wanted to go to the airport to greet them,but discovered it had all been done in the quiet of the night.Maybe that is best.Especially in these pandemic times.This way nobody will give them Corona,and Esther needs all her strength to fight cancer.
Together with Am Yisrael,I wish them an easy klita,and Refuah Shlema to Esther
Yes Pollard only gave Israel info on the arabs and soviet, but to do it, he had to break his oath to the US and give Israel secret American information. That the US was not forthcoming with the information then there were other ways for Israel to get what it needed. Whether through diplomatic channels or public announcements even that the US government was not forthcoming with the information it had promised to give Israel in the first place.
The overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans have no problem with Pollard having gone to prison. I for one do not either. What we have issue with is the virulent antisemitism behind it starting with Weinberger, who was an antisemite. There is a very good article in Tablet magazine about Pollard and the Jew hatred of the CIA, this week. His sentence was excessive no doubt about it.
What Israelis need to remember is that when an operation like this goes forward you endanger the Jews living in that country. Now if it was a country unfriendly to Israel, those Jews already lived a precarious existence so nothing changes for them. Spying on Iran is not going to make the situation for the Jews there really any worse.
But when you spy, and yes he spied, on a country like the US, you put all of us in danger. Jewish Jews were not welcome in the bureaucratic civil service worlds of Foggy Bottom and Langley back then (I’m not sure they are welcome even now) and this basically put a bullet on their backs and a reason to get rid of them.
Pollard may be a hero in Israel, but he is a shanda to us in the USA. There was no thought as to the fall out for the Jews who lived here in the US and how even to this day antisemites try to use Pollard to other Jews. And no, the answer isn’t aliyah.
The answer is that the Israeli government needs to make damn sure what they are doing and the consequences that will follow when it gets out, and it always gets out, is worth it. The value of the lives of the 6 million Jews in the US are equal to those in Israel. Israel simply didn’t care what this would do to our lives, or our futures.
Israelis need to remember this when they lament why there is a rift with the diaspora. It didn’t just start with Bibi and it isn’t just about the egalitarian space at the Kotel, settlements, or a 2 state solution. Sometimes it’s really about the fact that you don’t give a damn what happens to us in the diaspora unless it’s about us perpetually supporting israel, when Israel doesn’t give a damn about us. (PS we are not all moving to Israel. You wouldn’t even have any space for us. And without US backing, Israel is not powerful enough to survive on her own for very long either. Remember that.)
I am a Jew, but not American. I am English/Australian
I agree with you whole heartedly about Pollard being a spy and betraying his country, I also don’t like the way he is treated as a hero.
I do however take exemption to your comment at your comments about Israel. Want do you want from Her? She treats us here in Australia and the UK the same. We here have supported Israel and fought for her as far back as 1917 and have a great bond.
Click to access pictorial_history.pdf
I agree with the first part of your comment, and also with Shirlee’s comment below.I also have no problem with Pollard having received a prison sentence, but as you said, the sentence was way beyond anything any spy for an ally ever received, plus the judiciary violated the plea bargain agreement, all based on Caspar Weinberger’s false testimony, which he himself admitted years later.
That said, at that point Pollard should have been released on parole, and then been allowed to fly to Israel or just live a free life in America, whatever he chose. But as we know it didn’t turn out like that.
The second half of your comment is very bitter and castigating towards Israel. The first thing you need to keep in mind is that Israel acts in Israel’s interests, first and foremost. Not in the interests of any Jewish community. That comes a close second, but it is second, just like any other sovereign country.
It is simply not true that Israel does not give a damn about what happens in diaspora communities, but again, Israel’s interests, especially security interests will always come first. Just look what Israel has done to help communities around the world. The problem is two-way, because certainly the Democrat-aligned Jews have long given up on Israel and lost interest in her.
Your last statement is also demonstrably untrue. Israel survived until the 1970s without American support. America only “remembered” Israel AFTER it had won the 6 day war. Sure US support is extremely helpful, but don’t think we can’t survive without it.
I would recommend you two articles I read over the weekend which may give you a different perspective:
Pollard is troubling for most Jewish Americans. But we do agree that it was tainted with antisemitism. However, one of the things that everyone forgets is that over the years, the heads of the CIA and former national security experts have openly said that Pollard was railroaded. They called for his release. It became well known that the activities that he was blamed for were the result of Aldrich Ames, who by the way wrote the damage assessment on Pollard that they used to justify his sentence.
I am bitter because I am told over and over again, that Israel is here to protect all Jews worldwide, but in the end that is demonstrably untrue, which the Pollard episode proves. We are told that we are horrible and betrayers of the Jewish people if we don’t put Israel first in an election cycle, hence your discussion of the democrat aligned Jews in the US-which is a libel. 95% of US Jews consider themselves zionist. Don’t forget that. It doesn’t matter that other issues may be more important to our day to day living, but if we don’t put the needs of Israel first we are what?….why is your everyday lives more important than ours?
I’m not a fan of Obama but he was right, Bibi has tried to position himself as the savior or all Jews worldwide….Don’t tell me you are here to protect my children and then tell me that Israel can do what she considers in her best interest and they don’t have to care what happens to other Jews. You can’t have it both ways. You are here to either protect all the Jews worldwide, and that includes taking into consideration the fall out to those of us in the diaspora, or you are a sovereign nation and the rest of us can go to hell.
I am old enough to remember history too, since I actually have lived it, (and by the way I also teach MENA history) through my family’s active zionism, involvement in the US Jewish community and politics. Israel became a bulwark against communism because the Soviets reached out to the arab states. Until ’67 there was very little interest in MENA from the communist bloc, at that point the Soviets saw a real opening and the Israel-Arab conflict became the proxy war between the west and the communists. That is when the arms race began as well as the rise in terrorism, and the political machinations of the left throughout the world. That is when the US noticed Israel. It has nothing to do with the Six Day War, while the war heightened interest in the Jewish diaspora, it had nothing to do with the US government except to show that they could use Israel as a block. PS. IF it wasn’t for the airlight during the ’73 war , Israel would not have won that war. If it wasn’t for the airlift by the US during the Gaza 2014 war, there would have been a much different outcome. So much for not needing the US to survive.
The way the world is today you cannot stand up against China or Russia without US support. (If you want to trust China and Russia instead of the US with your children’s future be my guest) Can you really afford to buy the American armaments without the $3 billion (which actually is only a small amount that you actually receive from the US taxpayer-there are numerous Israeli programs that the US taxpayer underwrites) you are given yearly? What would that do to your economy if you had to pay it yourself? Now I don’t begrudge Israel the help, but don’t tell me you can do it on your own. If you can then do it and turn down the money and buy the weapons without our tax money. Don’t use our taxes to help supplant your own military research as well. Iron dome was created in conjunction with the US with US financial backing. If the US turns on Israel, you can rest assured you will not have access to the latest tech weaponry, the venture capital (sanctions are a reality to those we consider enemies or in violation of our interests) or any security related needs that the US fulfills.
And before you start to think that Bibi is the king of diplomacy, if it wasn’t for the US giving these arab states what they wanted: either land recognition (Morocco) or the latest high tech weaponry (UAE), there would be no Abraham Accords either.
No you can’t survive on your own, without the US watching your flank (and yes there is a symbiotic relationship, but without that relationship we would still be the world’s only superpower). The vultures would descend seeing it as their opening to destroy you. Israel ultimately would not survive the onslaught, with the entire world against you. Do you really think that the EU or UK, or any country would come to your defense? They don’t even stand up for you in the UN where it costs them nothing. This is 2021 and whether Israel likes it or not, you have positioned yourselves that you need the US not only diplomatically but for your survival in the long run, or why do israelis worry so much about losing the DNC largesse and how Israel’s survival was made a partisan issue. If you don’t need the USA, then it doesn’t matter what our politicians say or think about Israel….does it?
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Nicely written! Wish soon everything will be better