Obama and Pollard
Obama and Pollard Israel news montage

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made an unprecedented public appeal in the Knesset Tuesday night for freeing Jonathan, reading out loud a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, appealing to him to end Pollard’s life sentence in prison.

The government announced two weeks ago that the Prime Minister would make a public appeal to President Obama, but the timing was not disclosed.Prime Minister Netanyahu read the letter during a special session called by the Opposition, questioning government policies.

He said that several prime ministers, dating back to former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, have asked American presidents to free Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for passing classified secrets to Israel.

Foreign media incorrectly and often refer to Pollard as a spy. He was convicted 25 years ago, and his health is failing.

“He has served a longer punishment than others for similar offenses,” the Prime Minister wrote President Obama. “He has paid a heavy price, and his health has deteriorated. I know the United States is a country based on fairness, justice and mercy, and I ask that you favorably consider this request for clemency.”

Pollard has served 25 years in prison, including time that he sat in jail before his conviction. Prime Minister Netanyahu recalled that the first time he visited Pollard in his South Carolina prison cell in 2002, he expected to find a “bitter, angry, frustrated and abandoned person. But what I found was a wise – I would even say brilliant – and relaxed man, I saw a warm and proud Jew, a true Zionist.

“I said to him that I commit that Israel will do everything it can to return him to his family, his people and to Israel,” where he was granted citizenship in absentia in 1996.

The usual punishment for Pollard’s offense is two to four years.

Stating that Pollard’s actions were improper, he added that Israel "will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated. Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that many prime ministers, Cabinet ministers and Knesset Members have visited Pollard and have appealed to American authorities on his behalf, but without results.

“Two weeks ago, I received a letter from Jonathan Pollard,” asking for help to release him from jail, the Prime Minister told the Knesset. “After 25 years, we need to answer his request and do so in the open in the Knesset, with the whole country united."

He wrote President Obama, ”Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous Members of Congress."

After reading the letter, the Prime Minister added, “I know this letter represents all of our hearts, and I ask the Knesset send a message to Pollard: You have maintained your strength for 15 years. Continue to be strong. The people support you and G-d willing, you will be with us here and soon.”

Before answering Opposition complaints about his policies, he said he was prepared to hear any comments about the letter from Knesset Members. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, chair of the Kadima party, angrily accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of "using Pollard as a political issue.”

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin sharply reprimanded Livni, noting that the Prime Minister specifically said he would relate to Opposition questions after comments on the letter to President Obama.

Even Al Jazeera's English edition reported on the request, writing "Jonathan Pollard has been in prison in the US for 26 years, convicted in 1985 for being an Israeli spy. Now, the Israeli government has formally requested his release..."