Israel will formally and publicly ask U.S. President Barack Obama to free Jonathan Pollard, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Tuesday. He said that government officials have paved the way for an appeal through contacts with senior members of the Obama administration.
The appeal will represent a major step to rescue Pollard from a life term in prison for passing to Israel classified documents when he worked for the Pentagon. The usual punishment for the offense is up to four years in jail, and he already has spent the last 25 years in American prisons.
Prime Minister Netanyahu acted after pleas by Pollard’s wife Esther and a string of events and reports the past few weeks that have weakened the American case for imposing a life sentence on Pollard. The Prime Minister’s office stated that the decision to appeal to President Obama “was made following a series of talks and contacts…in recent months with senior U.S. administration officials.”
One of those leading the free-Pollard movement is former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, who revealed that he has spoken with President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at least six times. He recently has said that Pollard was not dealt with fairly.
Israeli governments have said they have made quiet efforts to free Pollard, and Prime Minister Netanyahu warned them that his appeal to President Obama may not succeed, if not backfire. Esther Pollard, citing her husband’s deteriorating health, said that “this might be my last chance to beg you to change your tactics. There is a greater risk in doing nothing.”
American sentiment never has been strongly behind Pollard, who is widely regarded as a spy although he was convicted of passing on classified information and not for spying on the United States. CNN, reporting Tuesday on the Prime Minister's and Korb's statements. labeled Pollard a "spy."
In contrast, in Israel and in many Zionist communities in the Diaspora, Pollard’s name is cited as a captive and his name is mentioned in prayers for the return of missing Israel soldiers.
During Prime Minister Netanyahu’s previous term in office, he recognized Pollard as an Israeli agent and granted him Israeli citizenship.
"I intend to continue acting with determination for Pollard's release, both because of the State of Israel's moral obligation to him and also so that he might live with his family and be restoredf to health after his prolonged incarceration,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said Tuesday.
On Monday, members of the movement to free Pollard held a ceremony at which they named a park opposite the Prime Minister's home "Pollard Park.