The female lion has little rest and less glory. Unlike her male counterpart, the lioness does not hunt or wear a mane. Her job is to stay home to protect her cubs from everything from hyenas, leopards to other lions. She knows that the chances of her babies making it to adulthood are slim.
Esther Pollard spent some 30 years defending her husband Jonathan. Her job seemed insurmountable: Jonathan, betrayed by his attorneys, prosecutors and presiding judge, was sent to life in prison on trumped-up charges, a pawn in a U.S. government campaign against Israel. He languished naked in a hospital for the criminally insane before taken to a maximum security prison. On one of his first days, a marshal told Jonathan, “Take a good look, because this is the last time you’ll ever see the outside world. Next time, you come out, it will be feet first.”
Israel, fearing the loss of American money, abandoned its most important intelligence asset. The man chosen by the Israeli government to handle Pollard advised that he solve the problem for Jerusalem and Washington — suicide. This is what the Mossad, in consultation with Washington, hoped.
For decades, Esther lobbied for her husband. She met politicians, attorneys journalists and just ordinary people. The Jews were just plain scared that any good word, let alone deed, would be seen as being disloyal to America, which had imprisoned those convicted of similar offenses to no more than four years. The U.S. intelligence community, embarrassed by a spate of failures, simply wanted Pollard to die. Sympathetic American politicians didn’t want to take a position unless Israel was on board. Journalists were encouraged to believe the worst about Pollard and were regularly fed lies by either Israel or the U.S. to ensure that he remain behind bars.
But Esther had allies more powerful than the politicians. She had a group of devout rabbis who supported her husband. The most prominent was Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, the former chief rabbi of Israel who saw Jonathan as a righteous Jew. The rabbi visited Pollard and supported his secret marriage to Esther. Esther and Jonathan had actually met in summer camp in Israel in 1971 and renewed contact some 20 years later. At one point, the rabbi supported Esther’s hunger strike and then advised her to stop.
Esther didn’t want the role of a fighter. A special education teacher from Montreal, she preferred a low profile. But with her husband in prison, abandoned by Israel and cut off from information, she felt there was no choice. She had to defend her lion. She organized rallies, gave interviews, pursued any lead that could help free her husband. Slowly, American politicians and former intelligence officials began to call for Pollard’s release. Still, President Barack Obama gave no sign of agreement.
But on July 28, 2015, the U.S. Parole Commission announced that Pollard, after more than 30 years in jail, would be released on parole. The Justice Department did not contest this. His terms of release were draconian. He could not leave the New York City borough of Manhattan without permission, even for medical treatment. He was under a 7 p.m. curfew; he was forced to wear a bulky monitoring device; he was not allowed to use the Internet, and that meant he could not work.
Esther’s goal was to bring Jonathan to Israel. The Parole Commission said no way and Obama did not intervene. The Israeli government, particularly Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, was largely silent and completely ineffective.
Then, Esther, who underwent a bout of cancer in 1999, became sick. The parole restrictions prevented Jonathan from accompanying his wife to the hospital for chemotherapy. It was the years of President Donald Trump and many were urging him to end Pollard’s parole and allow him to move to Israel. What was worse was that without presidential intervention, the Parole Commission could renew his parole and its restrictions — indefinitely. Those around Trump said the White House did not want to intervene without a clear signal from Israel that the Pollards were welcome.
Much of the story remains under wraps. But Trump did intervene and the Justice Department did not extend Pollard’s parole in November 2020. The reluctance by Israel to allow the Pollards entry was overcome by powerful Americans, particularly Sheldon Adelson, who bankrolled Netanyahu and particularly his press organ, Israel Today. On Dec. 30, 2020, the Pollards arrived in Israel on Adelson’s private jet. Netanyahu arrived in the middle of the night for the ceremony. The welcome was bittersweet: the Pollards would remain under surveillance in Israel.
But Esther Pollard had completed her mission. Her husband was home. They lived a quiet life in the Jerusalem area. He remained enthusiastic about the Jewish state and ways to improve society; she took a place behind the scenes.
The lioness had protected her man. And in heaven, she will urge G-d to protect all of us.