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Jonathan Pollard, Who Spent 30 Years In U.S. Prison, Arrives In Israel

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

An American spy has landed in Israel. Jonathan Pollard spent three decades in prison for selling the Israelis U.S. secrets. The U.S. Justice Department did not renew his parole and allowed him to leave. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: It's the end of a bitter saga between the U.S. and Israel. At 3 a.m. this morning, Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther stepped off the plane, got on their knees and kissed the tarmac - a religious Jewish custom on arrival to the Holy Land.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted them with the Jewish blessing Shehecheyanu praising God for the milestone and another blessing praising God for freeing the imprisoned. Pollard arrived on the private jet of Sheldon Adelson, a major backer of Netanyahu and President Trump.

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JONATHAN POLLARD: We are ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years.

ESTRIN: Thirty-five years ago, the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst was arrested and pleaded guilty to selling Israel suitcases of classified U.S. documents on Soviet weaponry and Soviet support of Arab countries. Israel spent years pressing the U.S. for his release. In 2015, after 30 years in prison, he was freed. His parole expired last month.

YAEL STERNHELL: The Pollard story makes very tangible the fact that Israel is not just a client state of the United States but pursues its own intelligence and security interests even when they're not in the best interest of the United States.

ESTRIN: Yael Sternhell teaches U.S. history at Tel Aviv University. She says Pollard, who's Jewish, highlights a rift between Israeli Jews and American Jews.

STERNHELL: My sense is that American Jews are deeply embarrassed by Pollard and that he had given ammunition to those who question American Jews' loyalty to the United States, whereas Israeli Jews - for the vast majority of Israelis, Jonathan Pollard is a national hero.

ESTRIN: Pollard's release is the latest of the Trump administration's gestures to Netanyahu, who is once again running for reelection. Pollard's lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner.

NITSANA DARSHAN-LEITNER: Obviously, it doesn't hurt Netanyahu to have a photo opportunity with Pollard arriving to Israel.

ESTRIN: And she says Pollard has enterprises and inventions he plans to develop from his new home - an apartment in Jerusalem. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.