Efforts to persuade US President Barack Obama to commute the sentence of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard intensified over the weekend as President Shimon Peres arrived in Washington to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama.

The award will be presented on Wednesday at a gala event that may have been intended to paint Obama as a friend of Israel. But that strategy could backfire if Peres receives a freedom medal while Pollard remains in prison.

70,000 people have signed a petition calling upon Peres to do everything possible to bring about Pollard's release on his trip to Washington. The petition drive began two months ago and has attracted support from across Israel and around the world.

The latest Israeli celebrities to sign the petition were former president Yitzhak Navon, Nobel Prize laureates Dan Shechtman and Aaron Ciechanover, singers Shlomo Artzi and Yehoram Gaon, actress Gila Almagor and leftist authors Amos Oz, David Grossman, and A.B. Yehoshua.

Navon’s name is especially significant because he will attend Peres’s ceremony in Washington, as will former US secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, who have written Obama about Pollard.

“Due to the superior values the medal represents, we feel we cannot reconcile you receiving it when the United States is still holding Pollard in prison,” the petition states.

“We ask you to take advantage of your unprecedented diplomatic standing in order to work for Jonathan’s immediate release before you are given the medal. Otherwise, receiving the medal would make a mockery of Israel.”

Pollard is serving the life sentence he was given 26 and a half years ago for passing classified information to an ally. Obama has not responded to Peres’s formal request to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served.

The organizers of the petition have stressed that they were not asking Peres to condition receiving the medal on Pollard’s freedom.

Posters were hung near the President’s Residence before Peres left bearing the message “President Peres: Save Pollard’s life.”

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