The large banners hang throughout the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
With pictures of President Obama and Jonathan Pollard they exhort the US President “Yes You Can!," playing off his campaign slogan to encourage him to free Jonathan Pollard, 58, who has been jailed for 28 years.
The posters are part of a growing campaign in Israel to achieve Pollard’s release on both humanitarian and moral grounds.
“The posters are not our initiative but that of citizens who have spontaneously launched a campaign to free Jonathan,” Effi Lahav the head of the Free Jonathan Pollard organization told The Media Line. “They are not directed against the US, but in favor of ending this painful tragedy that has continued for 28 years and almost 10,000 days.”
Jonathan Pollard, a former US Navy intelligence analyst began spying for Israel in 1984. He was discovered 18 months later and after a failed bid to take refuge in the Israeli embassy, was sentenced to life in prison.
In an interview on Israeli television in advance of his visit President Obama said he did not intend to release Pollard “immediately.” He said Pollard had “committed a very serious crime” and was “serving his time.”
“I would like to hear him say that he will free him now, but it does mean that he will free him at some point,” Lahav said. “The only question is when.”
Until recently, the campaign to free Pollard in Israel was marginal and associated with right-wing activists. But a petition for his release has garnered some 200,000 signatures including from Israel’s President Shimon Peres, new Finance Minister Yair Lapid, and a host of intellectuals. That number is the equivalent of tens of millions signing a petition in the US, activists say.
“There is a wide ranging consensus that Pollard has more than served his due time in comparison with similar offenders,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Media Line. “It would be a very welcome gesture in the eyes of Israelis of all ranks of society to see him set free in relation with Passover, the holiday of freedom, which begins next week.”
A growing number of US officials including former secretaries of state George Schultz and Henry Kissinger, as well as a former director of the CIA James Woolsey, have also called for Pollard to be released.
He is also believed to be in ailing. Lahav, who visited Pollard a few months ago, says he has diabetes and “a series of other medial problems.”
Pollard’s wife Esther told Israel Television that she and her husband felt “profound remorse and sorrow for what has happened,” and asked for her husband’s release.
Recently declassified documents show that Pollard’s instructions were to provide Israel with US intelligence on Arab countries and information on Arab chemical and biological weapons. Activists said that he did not actually spy on the US and he has already served more than his time.
“Others who did things worse than Pollard were sentenced to 2-4 years,” Lahav said.
“It has now been 28 years and enough is enough.”
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