Binyamin Netanyahu became the first prime minister to formally and publicly request the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard, sending a letter to this effect to US President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
In a speech to the Knesset, Netanyahu said he decided to accept a request he received from Pollard three weeks ago to change the strategy that he and other prime ministers had employed unsuccessfully – of only working for his release via contacts behind the scenes with the White House.
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Netanyahu recounted his own past attempts to bring about Pollard’s release and said that after 15 years of unsuccessful efforts, he decided to call for the commuting of his sentence from the rostrum of the Knesset.
In the letter to Obama, which he read out loud in Hebrew, the prime minister noted Pollard’s deteriorating health and the fact that his life sentence by far exceeded that of everyone else convicted of passing classified information to an ally.
“Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate,” Netanyahu wrote Obama in the letter. “I know that the United States is a country based on fairness, justice and mercy. For all these reasons, I respectfully ask that you favorably consider this request for clemency. The people of Israel will be eternally grateful.”
In the letter, Netanyahu apologized for using an agent to spy on the United States and pledged that it would never happen again.
“[Israel’s] actions were wrong and totally unacceptable,” he wrote. “Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated.”
In a personal message to Pollard, Netanyahu then added in his speech that he should “continue to be strong,” told him that the entire nation was behind him and vowed that “you will be here soon.”
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni called Pollard “perhaps only the issue that everyone here [in the Knesset] could agree on.”
When asked why it took so long for Netanyahu to issue his public call for Pollard’s release, three weeks after he said he would do so, sources close to the prime minister said he had been consulting with legal authorities in Israel and the US on the exact wording of the letter.
Meanwhile, in the US, officials continued to come out on Tuesday with statements calling for Pollard’s release. Donald Levy, a former US Navy cryptologist who participated in the damage assessment regarding Pollard’s espionage, added his name to the long list of senators, congressmen and senior American officials urging Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence.
“There was nothing to indicate that Pollard gave information to any country but Israel,” Levy said. “Further, the information consisted primarily of daily operational intelligence summaries, information that is extremely perishable. It did not appear that the information he gave Israel should have resulted in a life sentence.”
A broad-based interfaith coalition comprised of more than 500 members of the clergy and community leaders also sent a letter to Obama on Tuesday in which they called for Pollard’s release.
The signatories on the letter include prominent religious and communal leaders from a wide array of Christian and Jewish communities, including representatives of Alliance for Jewish Renewal, American Values, Amit, Association of Reform Zionists of America, B’nai B’rith International, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Christians United for Israel, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, EMUNAH of America, Florida Council of Churches, Hebrew Union College, Hillel, JCC’s of North America, Jewish Women International, National Council of Young Israel, New York Board of Rabbis, ORT America, Inc., Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Religious Zionists of America – Mizrachi, Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Union for Reform Judaism, Yeshiva University, and the Zionist Organization of America.
“We, the undersigned, over five hundred religious and communal leaders representative of the broad spectrum of the American faith community, wish to add our voices in support of clemency for Jonathan Pollard,” they wrote.
“We are united in the fundamental belief that ‘Justice, only justice, shall you pursue’ (Deuteronomy 16:20), which rests at the core of our moral principles and system of justice.”