Jerusalem – Jonathan Pollard acted as an agent of the State of Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, in reaction to a comment from Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren that was interpreted as suggesting otherwise.
Pollard is in the 25th year of a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally. While Israeli governments initially made a point of distancing themselves from Pollard, in Netanyahu’s first term, the government formally recognized him as an Israeli agent in May 1998.
Oren appeared to backtrack from this in an interview with Washington radio station WTOP that was interpreted by American and Israeli media as suggesting that Pollard was merely part of a rogue operation.
“Jonathan Pollard occurred in the mid-1980’s” Oren told the station. “Now, we’re talking about an event that was run by a rogue organization in the Israeli intelligence community. That was, what, 25 years ago?”
Following reports about Oren’s interview on Army Radio, both Netanyahu and Oren issued clarifications. “Pollard worked as an agent of the State of Israel, and no one is trying to deny this” Netanyahu said in closed conversations.
Israeli embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled added: “Ambassador Michael Oren wishes to clarify that, in responding to a journalist’s question, he attempted to emphasize that the Pollard incident occurred over 25 years ago by a unit that no longer exists, for which Israel took full responsibility. As has been stated, Mr. Pollard worked for and on behalf of Israel, and the ambassador hopes for his earliest release.”
When asked about whether he had visited Pollard in a meeting with Jerusalem Post reporters and editors on Monday, Oren appeared to suggest that he intended to come to his North Carolina prison.
“I have not yet [visited him],” Oren said. When pressed further about whether he would visit Pollard, he repeated, “I have not yet.” Oren added that he was often asked about Pollard and that “He is not forgotten.”
When Netanyahu was opposition leader in 2007, he visited Pollard in prison and vowed to work for his release, but since he returned to power, he has refused to meet with Pollard’s representatives. Pollard’s attorneys briefed Oren about the details of his case before his appointment.
Pollard’s wife Esther expressed frustration with Oren’s comments to the American radio station, saying that Netanyahu’s credibility had been harmed by a “25-year-old lie” uttered by his ambassador in Washington. She said the timing of Oren’s statements was especially problematic because US President Barack Obama is looking to improve his relationship with Israel and the American Jewish community.
“Michael Oren is seen as very professional, so this couldn’t have been a slip of the tongue,” Esther Pollard said. “Now is the exact time when Netanyahu can make clear to Obama that this gesture of releasing Jonathan would be in order. Instead of laying the ground for that, his ambassador is putting out lies. Congressmen have said that as long as Israel is not asking for Pollard’s release, there is nothing they can do. But if Israel does, they will be there.”
WTOP’s report about Oren’s statement to the radio station included information from a letter Jonathan Pollard wrote in April 1998 before he was recognized as an Israeli agent.
“I did not spend 13 years in prison in order to endorse a lie,” Pollard wrote. “The truth must come out, so that I may be freed. The truth is simple and clear: I was an Israeli agent employed by the LAKAM branch of intelligence in an operation that was fully sanctioned by the government of Israel. Anything less than that is a distortion of the truth that is counterproductive to the goal of securing my release.”