Esther Pollard and Binyamin Netanyahu 311.
(photo credit: GPO / Amos Ben-Gershom)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard’s
wife, Esther, in an emotional meeting at the Knesset on Monday that he would
decide by Tuesday evening whether to accept her husband’s request that he issue
a formal, public call to US President Barack Obama to commute his life sentence
to time served.
Netanyahu told a delegation of activists for Pollard led
by Esther and former US assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb that he had
quietly raised the Israeli agent’s fate six times in meetings with Obama and
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an effort to secure his
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Netanyahu questioned whether a public call might do more harm
“There is a risk that I might do everything that you suggest
and that it simply won’t work,” he told the group candidly.
Esther Pollard responded by detailing her husband’s poor health and telling the
prime minister: “This might be my last chance to beg you to change your tactics.
Whatever you have done until now did not bear fruit. Jonathan is prepared to
take whatever risk there may be. There is a greater risk in doing
Netanyahu’s associates denied he was afraid of harming himself
politically by issuing a call that would be rejected. They said the prime
minister genuinely wanted to bring Pollard home to Israel but was unsure whether
the approach that the agent requested in a letter delivered to him by Esther was
the ideal strategy when appealing to Obama.
Sources close to Netanyahu
said he did not believe it was the role of a prime minister to issue public calls or write letters when he
could speak personally to the president of the United States. They said that for
the same reason, he chose to cancel his participation at a pro-Pollard rally at
the Knesset on Monday and instead met with Esther Pollard and Korb privately in
In the meeting with Netanyahu and earlier at the rally, Korb
spelled out what he believed was the best way for the prime minister to persuade
Obama to commute the life sentence Pollard has been serving for more than 25
years. He read aloud a draft of what Netanyahu should say in a public request
for Pollard’s release.
“I admit it was wrong for Israel to recruit
Pollard to spy on his country and for Israel to then deny that he was its
agent,” the prime minister should say, according to Korb. “Since the Pollard
incident, Israel has complied with its commitment to no longer field agents in
the US. We feel the need to speak publicly at this time, because according to US
laws, Pollard’s punishment does not fit the crime he committed. He has expressed
remorse and had good behavior in prison. We publicly request that Pollard’s
sentence be commuted to time served.”
Esther Pollard stressed at the
rally that the holiday season in the US was traditionally a time in which the
president makes decisions on pardons and commuting sentences.
that “Americans are a forgiving people” and that Obama was “a very thoughtful
Officials working for Pollard’s release revealed that when his
lawyers asked then-US president George W. Bush to pardon Pollard, they were told
in a meeting with the White House legal team that a formal Israeli request could
be helpful, but the request never came and Bush left office without issuing a
Korb advised Netanyahu not to try to secure Pollard’s release in
return for a diplomatic move, as the prime minister attempted to do at the Wye
Plantation summit in 1998 and when he recently offered to extend a construction
moratorium in the West Bank in return for the agent’s freedom.
pro-Pollard rally, which was organized by MKs Uri Ariel (National Union) and
Ronit Tirosh (Kadima), featured addresses by Nobel Prize winner Israel Aumann
and former Supreme Court justice Zvi Tal.
Esther Pollard told the
attendees about her husband’s ailing health and that the last time she called
him, he was too sick to speak.
“This was the first time in 26 years that
Jonathan didn’t have the strength to talk to me on the phone,” she cried.
“That’s how sick he is. Mr. Netanyahu, now is the time to call for Jonathan’s
release – for every reason, because if you don’t do it now, I am not sure
whether there will be another opportunity.”
Meanwhile, a group of young
activists called “Youth for Pollard” kicked off a new initiative to informally
rename the park across the street from the Prime Minister’s Residence in
Jerusalem “Pollard Park.”
The organization plans to hold weekly protests
at 4 p.m. on Mondays to call for Pollard’s release. The park, located at 37
Rehov Gaza, doesn’t have a name, according to the protest
“Every park should have a name, so we’ve decided to give this
park a name in honor of Jonathan Pollard,” Youth for Pollard member Omer
Ben-Avraham said.Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.