President Shimon Peres should use US President Barack Obama’s decision to grant him the presidential medal of freedom as an opportunity to push for the release of Jonathan Pollard, an online petition signed by thousands of Israelis said Monday.

Obama announced three weeks ago at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference that he would give Peres the medal. Peres’s office said he had discussed Pollard’s fate with Obama when they met in Washington ahead of the conference.

But Pollard is still serving the life sentence he was given more than 26 years ago for passing classified information to an ally. Obama has not responded to calls by many top current and former Israeli and American officials to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served.

“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, which was signed by nearly 12,000 people at press time, 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.”

According to the 1987 Eban Commission Report, the Knesset committee appointed to investigate the Pollard affair, Peres personally initiated and authorized the return to the US of all of the documents that Pollard had provided to Israel with his fingerprints still upon them, which helped the prosecution’s case. This was the first and only case in the history of modern espionage in which a prime minister actively assisted in the indictment and prosecution of his own country’s agent.

The organizers of the petition stressed that they were not asking Peres to condition receiving the medal on Pollard’s freedom. Obama is due to give Peres the medal at a special ceremony in Washington on June 13.

Many well-known Israelis from the Left side of the political map signed the petition, including former education minister Amnon Rubinstein. The former Shinui and Meretz MK said it would be fitting if Peres came back from Washington with both the medal and Pollard, and that Peres should work behind the scenes between now and June to make sure this would happen.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, who was the first minister to visit Pollard, said he believed Peres could succeed in bringing Pollard home.

“One additional kvetch could be all that’s necessary for the effort to succeed,” Edelstein said.

Peres’s legal adviser Nadav Tamir responded in an Army Radio interview that Peres’s office was part of the effort to bring about Pollard’s release and would coordinate efforts with the people behind the petition.

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