US Congressman Barney Frank urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to commute
the sentence of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard to the 25 years of his life
sentence that he has served, to help Israel move forward in the peace
Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, initiated a letter two months
ago in which dozens of congressmen expressed support for clemency for Pollard.
In the letter, he wrote that freeing Pollard would create goodwill among
Israelis that could be helpful when the people of Israel make difficult
decisions on the peace process.
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In an interview with The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday, Frank went further,
suggesting that releasing Pollard would help Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
shore up the right wing of his coalition, which would help him make compromises
for a peace deal.
“I do believe that Netanyahu is trying to get a
settlement, and he obviously has political problems on the Right,” Frank said.
“Obviously there’s a humanitarian reason for [pardoning Pollard], but it’s very
helpful from the standpoint of the president in helping Netanyahu get the kind
of support he needs.”
Frank said he was under no illusion that Obama
would pardon Pollard simply becausehe was asked to do so by members of Congress.
Instead, he said his hope
was that “we could create a situation where if the president knew this would be
helpful he wouldn’t be afraid to do it.”
He emphasized, “It’s not just
some insignificant gesture. It is a reaffirmation of America’s acceptance
of the special relationship.”
Momentum toward Pollard’s release continued
on Wednesday when former US attorney-general Michael Mukasey, who was long a
judge, sent a blunt letter to Obama spelling out why he believed Pollard’s
sentence was disproportionate. He wrote that Pollard had not been alleged by
anyone to have had any desire to harm the United States.
“I had occasion
myself to consider life sentences, and indeed to impose them,” Mukasey wrote.
“In more than 18 years on the bench, I imposed such sentences on four
defendants. Two of them committed and ordered multiple murders, often under
circumstances of great cruelty.
“The other two were convicted in a
terrorism prosecution, one having committed murder with his own hand and plotted
further the killing, the other having provided the theological justification
that he knew would be, and in fact was, taken as the order by others to commit
multiple murders. Pollard’s offense does not nearly approach any of
The Prime Minister’s Office announced on Tuesday that Netanyahu
would issue a public, formal and official call in upcoming days for Obama to
release Pollard at the behest of Pollard, whose wife, Esther, delivered a
request from her husband to the prime minister at the Knesset on
Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser told Army Radio on Wednesday that
although American officials were informed that Netanyahu would be making the
announcement, no deal was reached with them about Pollard’s fate.
done between friendly states, we updated whoever needed to be updated that we
would be making such a request,” Hauser said. “We didn’t want to surprise
We did not request approval from them in advance [to release him]
and we of course did not condition it on such a result.”
Former pensioners affairs minister Rafi Eitan, who was Pollard’s handler when he worked in intelligence, praised Netanyahu’s initiative to shift his calls for Pollard’s release from meetings with Obama behind closed doors to the public sphere.
“I am convinced that a formal and official request must receive an answer, especially since it is clear that the accusations against Pollard were incorrect,” Eitan said.
“It has a reasonable chance of success. I heard people say that working publicly would make the Americans toughen their position. But many prime ministers have worked behind the scenes and it didn’t help. The time has come to act openly and explicitly.”
Eitan expressed remorse for Pollard’s operation.
Meanwhile, Esther Pollard expressed fears that her husband’s health would continue to deteriorate. She lamented the fact that as of late Wednesday, she still had not been able to inform him that Netanyahu had accepted his request, because he was too ill to call her.
“This good news can give him power to continue,” she said. “The fact that he didn’t call is a bad sign. Those moments on the phone are his oxygen.”
A visit of prominent Jewish leaders to Pollard that was set for Wednesday was canceled after his jailers said he was not in good enough condition to receive them. Esther Pollard said his condition had deteriorated significantly since a visit by Beit El Rabbi Shlomo Aviner three weeks ago in which Pollard was crying in pain.
“His life has been in danger for a long time,” Aviner told Channel 1. “It’s a miracle he is still alive.”
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