Israelis plan to press Obama to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard
By Associated Press - The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2013
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s Nobel-laureate president, backed by thousands of
followers, is leading an effort to press President Obama during his upcoming
visit to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, ending one of the most painful
episodes between the two allies.
Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for passing classified
material to Israel.
Pollard is said to be in poor health, and his case has become a rallying cry
in Israel. Leaders routinely call for his release and say his 28 years in
prison is excessive punishment. But stiff opposition from the American
military and intelligence community has deterred a string of American
presidents from releasing him.
Next month’s visit to Israel by Mr. Obama, coupled with a perceived
softening of the American stance, is raising hopes that Pollard, 58, finally
may get his freedom.
More than 65,000 Israelis have signed a petition calling on Mr. Obama to
free Pollard, the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Israel has been
flooded with pardon requests, and a nationwide campaign began Tuesday urging
Israeli President Shimon Peres to push for Pollard’s release. He quickly
In a video clip, Mr. Peres is shown receiving the Presidential Medal of
Freedom from Mr. Obama. The camera then pulls back, showing the wall of a
prison cell with the following message: “Mr. President, please save me. J.
Speaking to high school students Tuesday, Mr. Peres, who won a Nobel Peace
Prize in 1994, said he would try.
“I intend to raise the issue of Jonathan Pollard during my meeting with
President Obama,” he said. “(I) will do everything I can to convey this
clear message: Jonathan Pollard must be released from prison on humanitarian
Pollard, a Jewish civilian intelligence analyst, was arrested by FBI agents
in Washington in 1985 after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli
Embassy in Washington. He pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents to
Israel and received a life sentence. He is eligible for parole in two years.
With little time left on his sentence, Israelis believe it would pose little
risk for Obama to free Pollard.
The Pollard affair is enmeshed in highly fraught issues. One is the very
idea of spying against an ally — especially a country’s primary patron.
Another is the delicate issue of suspected dual loyalties among American
Jews and their own concerns about being seen in such a light.
Once a niche cause of the Israeli religious right wing, the call for Pollard’s
freedom now become a matter of consensus in Israel. A wide range of
politicians, artists and Nobel Prize winners have embraced Pollard’s cause.
The influential writers A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman — leading voices of
the Israeli peace camp — and former President Yitzhak Navon are among the
prominent names backing the calls for his release.
“Both he (Pollard) and Israel have repeatedly expressed remorse. We have
learned our lesson and have been living with the painful consequences for
nearly three decades,” their petition reads. “It is our fervent hope and
prayer that your upcoming trip to Israel will bring us the good news we have
waited for, for so very long, and that this tragic and painful episode can
finally be put to rest once and for all.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he plans to honor Pollard with the Jerusalem
Freedom Award, which represents “the goal of the Jewish people to be free in
our land,” according to the municipality.
White House officials say there is no change in policy and no plans to free
Aaron David Miller, a former American Mideast peace envoy who served under
six U.S. secretaries of state, said freedom seems like a long shot.
“A Pollard release would certainly make Netanyahu’s day,” Mr. Miller said,
but would risk angering many in Washington.
Advocates note that some of those convicted for spying for American enemies
have served far shorter prison terms.
Even after all these years, many details of the case remain a mystery.
Pollard delivered piles of documents to his handlers, and their full extent
has never been disclosed.
Pollard’s lawyer, Nitzana Darshan-Leitner, said the material traditionally
had been shared with the Israelis. She said the information included details
about Arab and Soviet military capabilities, and it helped Israel to
assassinate a senior PLO official in Tunisia in 1988.
Ms. Darshan-Leitner said Pollard suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure
and kidney stones.
“His medical condition is very precarious,” she said.
A recently declassified 1987 CIA damage assessment concluded that Pollard
did not spy against America. According to the version published in December
by the National Security Archive, a George Washington University project,
Pollard cooperated “in good faith” while in custody, and his handlers’
requests were limited to intelligence on the Pakistanis, Arab states and the
Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship in the late 1990s during Mr.
Netanyahu’s first term. While Mr. Netanyahu was out of office, he visited
Pollard in prison. Last year, Mr. Netanyahu made a formal appeal to the
United States for Pollard’s release and a personal plea to allow him to
attend his father’s funeral. The requests were denied.
For years, the Americans resisted an early release by saying it would harm
national security. The stiff punishment also was seen as a deterrent to
allies, warning them of the consequences of spying on American soil. But
opposition has begun to crack, raising hopes that a breakthrough may be
Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, along with
Lawrence Korb, the assistant secretary of defense at the time, former CIA
Director R. James Woolsey, Sen. John McCain and former Vice President Dan
Quayle have all called for Pollard’s release in recent years.
Pollard’s wife, Esther, said that given these developments and the passage
of time, the moment was ripe for Mr. Obama “to right this injustice.”
“I pray that President Obama will respond without any further delay,” she
said in an email message.
• Steven R. Hurst in Washington contributed to this article.
See Also ( www.JonathanPollard.org ):
Pollard Campaign Video Comes to the Big Screen
Jerusalem Mayor Calls for Jonathan Pollard’s Release
Sign the Petition for Pollard (instructions for English speakers)
JUSTICE FOR JONATHAN POLLARD