Will Pollard be poisoned by politics? - analysis

Gil Hoffman - The Jerusalem Post - December 30, 2020

Pollard is now a free man and an electoral asset. If he wants to be in the Knesset, he can get in relatively easily.

Jonathan Pollard 's arrival in Israel early Wednesday was immediately celebrated across the Israeli political spectrum on social media.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch (Blue and White) was the first politician to welcome him on Twitter, at 3:41 a.m. Shas leader Arye Deri boasted of how proud he felt when he got Pollard his passport as interior minister. Prime ministerial candidate Gideon Sa'ar (New Hope) joined the celebrations.

The cheers from across the political spectrum were in line with efforts over the past three decades to present Pollard as the ultimate consensus figure in Israel. That is why the pro-Pollard lobby in the Knesset has been led in the past by then-MKs Nachman Shai and Ophir Pines-Paz of Labor.

But it did not take long for the political speculation to start. Four hours after his arrival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office released a video of him greeting Pollard at Ben-Gurion Airport.

It is unlikely that the prime minister would go to the airport in the middle of the night during a campaign if it would not give his reelection chances a boost the morning after two centrist leaders announced campaigns against him. Pollard delivered the goods, praising the prime minister on video and saying he was proud of Netanyahu.

Shortly afterward, Hebrew websites were reporting that Netanyahu was considering him for the fifth slot on the Likud list, which is expected to be reserved for a candidate handpicked by the prime minister. There was also speculation that he could join Yamina, Bayit Yehudi or even the far-Right Otzma Yehudit Party.

The fact that Pollard arrived on a plane owned by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson fueled more speculation, because it is still unknown whom Adelson supports in this election. The owner of the Israel Hayom newspaper is said to be angry at Netanyahu, and to have met recently with Sa'ar, after getting close to Naftali Bennett.

Netanyahu did not tell Defense Minister Benny Gantz or Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi about Pollard's impending arrival, leaving the Blue and White leaders in the dark one more time.

Pollard's close friend Rabbi Pesach Lerner ruled out the possibility of him entering politics. But if Pollard does not say it clearly himself, the speculation will likely continue. He may have seen his praise for Netanyahu as proper gratitude and decency, but during an election campaign, everything is scrutinized.

Ahead of the 2003 election, Pollard told Michael Kleiner that he was willing to head Kleiner's Herut list, the former MK recalled. Kleiner, who also headed the pro-Pollard lobby, visited him in his North Carolina prison twice, and Pollard even helped write the party's platform.

Kleiner said former Sephardi chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu talked Pollard out of running, because it could have hurt his chances of an early release.

Pollard is now a free man and an electoral asset. If he wants to be in the Knesset, he can get in relatively easily.

But if he wants to be a consensus figure and finally live a quiet and calm life out of the limelight, he may have to speak now or forever hold his peace.

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