The release of Jonathan Pollard is long overdue. He has served nearly 30 years behind bars for a crime that was very disproportionate to his sentence.
Jonathan Pollard was a civilian American Naval intelligence analyst who discovered that the U.S. was deliberately withholding information vital to Israel's security. This included the fact that a number of countries, notably Iran, Syria, Libya and Iraq, were developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as ballistic missiles, for use against Israel. Moreover, these countries were planning terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.
After his actions were discovered, Pollard was indicted on only one charge -- not treason, for being a spy for an enemy state, but on one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the U.S. He then entered into a plea agreement at the request of both the U.S. and Israeli government, and cooperated fully with the prosecution. Nevertheless, he received a life sentence with a recommendation that he never be paroled, which was a direct violation of his plea agreement.
During my term as Israel's Ambassador in Washington, I visited Pollard in his North Carolina prison. I did not find him defiant. I did not find him exasperated over why the U.S. reneged on its deal. I found only a fellow Jew in poor health and in need of liberty.
There are three main justifications for Pollard's release:
First, the classified information he obtained is almost three decades old and is completely irrelevant today. Most of the files he collected and passed onto the Israelis were regarding the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, which no longer exists.
Second, Pollard poses no threat at all to security. He has never killed nor has he physically harmed any human being.
And finally, he has maintained good behavior throughout his time in prison.
It's worth noting that Pollard was not the one mainly responsible for his crime. In the mid-twentieth-century, the government of Egypt hanged several Egyptian Jews who the Mossad had recruited to spy for Israel. In response, the Israeli government ruled that from then on, it would be illegal for the Mossad to ask diaspora Jews to spy on Israel's behalf, out of fear of being charged with dual loyalty.
The Jewish people have always been loyal to the government of every country in which they have lived. Charges of dual loyalty were not something the Israeli government for which it wanted to be held accountable. Yet, in Pollard's case there were irresponsible individuals within Israel's intelligence community who disobeyed this protocol, and recruited Pollard, an American Jew, to retrieve certain secret information.
This was a catastrophic mistake by the Israeli intelligence community, and was greatly exacerbated by the American mistake to give Pollard a sentence way out of proportion to his actions. These terrible and egregious blunders caused many long years of suffering for a man who was simply a victim of each side's irresponsible government officials at the time.
There are those who suggest that the news of Pollard's release is somehow tied to the deal with Iran. However, this is unlikely, given that under U.S. law, he would have been up for parole at this time anyway, regardless of whether or not a deal was reached in Vienna.
Therefore, we must all welcome the news of Pollard's release. While he is currently under orders to remain in the U.S. for five years after being paroled, it's important that he be allowed to come to Israel immediately upon his release this November. It's the basic right of every Jew to return to his or her ancestral homeland, the land of Israel.
The Pollard case has gone on for far too long and it's time to close it. I hope and pray that the United States government will pave the way for this to happen.
The Honorable Danny Ayalon is Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and Rennert Visiting Professor of Foreign Policy Studies at Yeshiva University in New York.