Why was this meal at the Knesset different from other meals? There were 10 MKs, matza, grape juice and bitter herbs. And an empty seat for Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.
The Knesset’s pro-Pollard caucus held the model Seder to encourage the US to free Pollard in time for Passover and Israelis to set an empty seat at their Seders for Pollard if he is not released.
“When US President Barack Obama came to Israel, I told him three words: ‘Free Jonathan Pollard,’” Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) said at the event. “It is inhumane, unfit, and unacceptable that [the Americans] are holding him as a bargaining chip.”
Coming hours before US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to blame Ariel for the failure of the American-brokered diplomatic negotiations, the MKs made a point of singing “Vehi she’amda,” the song from the Seder about how God saves the Jewish people from annihilation in every generation. They also sang “This year in Jerusalem.”
Ethiopian-born MK Pnina Tamanu-Shata (Yesh Atid) expressed disappointment with Obama. She attempted to compare Pollard to Jewish slaves in Egypt and blacks who were slaves in the US and discriminated against in Apartheid South Africa.
“As an admirer of [late South African leader] Nelson Mandela, Obama should understand the importance of freedom,” she said.
Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi recalled how his mother, former MK Geula Cohen, formed the first pro-Pollard caucus in the Knesset before she left the parliament in 1992. He said that all the MKs were praying that “a tragedy” would end.
The caucus’s co-chairman, Labor MK Nachman Shai, noted that 106 MKs had signed a letter to Obama asking for Pollard’s freedom. He expressed hope that the United States would still release him before Passover.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who was jailed in Soviet Russia, recalled visiting Pollard in prison twice. He expressed optimism that Pollard would be allowed to come to Jerusalem soon.
American-born Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman said that only when Pollard was free could Americans truly say, as they do in their Pledge of Allegiance, that there is liberty and justice for all.