(photo credit: Lahav Harkov)
MELBOURNE – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will face activists calling for him to push for the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard next week when he travels to Melbourne for a meeting with his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott.
Australians for Pollard’s Release was formed in March and has branches in Melbourne and Sydney. Its leaders stressed that their rally is not a protest but rather intended to show support for Netanyahu in his efforts to persuade US President Barack Obama to commute Pollard’s life sentence to the more than 28-and-a-half years he has served.
Netanyahu’s visit to Australia will come at a key time when decisions will be made about the agenda for President Shimon Peres’s final visit to the United States in office. Peres will meet with Obama on June 25 amid hopes that the visit could yield the release of Pollard, who was arrested when Peres was prime minister.
Australians for Pollard’s Release will take part in an international campaign on Pollard’s behalf that will include groups in England and France. Pollard’s supporters in Australia have been urged to write him letters to let him know he has support 13,000 kilometers away.
“There is no issue that unites Australian Jewry as much as the support for Pollard’s release,” attorney Dean Ellinson, the organization’s co-chairman, said. “I have been struck by the passionate strength of the feeling.
There is wide recognition across the Jewish community that Pollard’s ongoing imprisonment is a travesty of justice and a gross breach of human rights.”
Ellinson received encouragement from former refusenik and current Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who visited Melbourne recently, to seek support for Pollard’s release from Australian officials from across the political spectrum Abbott has given the impression to confidants that he is sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and the length of his sentence. Opposition parliament member Michael Danby advocated for Pollard’s release when he headed the Australian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
Rabbi Shimon Cowen, who directs Melbourne’s Institute of Judaism and Civilization and is the son of Australia’s former governor-general, said he could not recall a government in his country that had been so fair and balanced on Israel as the current one. He noted that Abbott’s government had resisted international pressure to brand settlements as illegal and eastern Jerusalem as occupied.
“Among world leaders, Abbott has high principle and unflinching moral courage,” Cowen said.
Dr. Mat Gelman, who co-chairs Australians for Pollard’s Release, said it was fitting to have a pro-Pollard organization in the country, because it started as a colony for convicts.
“We believe in helping the deprived, the underlings and the convicts,” Gelman said. “Australia has a tradition of tolerance and mateship, so perhaps we feel Pollard’s pain even more. It’s also fitting to have a Pollard group in Australia because the judges who convicted him might as well have been a Kangaroo court. He needs to be boomeranged back to Israel.”