President Shimon Peres said Tuesday that he would do whatever possible to bring about the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard before he receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Barack Obama.
Peres responded to a petition signed by more than 15,000 people calling upon him to take advantage of being granted the medal as an opportunity to push Obama to commute Pollard's sentence to the more than 26 years of his life sentence he has already served.
"As president, I see it as very important to work determinedly to bring about Jonathan Pollard's release," Peres said.
"We are all united in the call to release him immediately. In all my meetings with president Obama and top American government leaders I raised the request to release Pollard and I will continue to do so when I meet with Obama in June. My office is in touch with the campaign for Pollard's release and we will work hand in hand in any way possible to bring Jonathan Pollard home."
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
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.
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.