MKs unite in call for Jonathan Pollard's release

110,000 sign online petition to free jailed Israeli agent; Acting Knesset Speaker Ben-Eliezer: This is a humanitarian issue.

Jonathan and Esther Pollard 370 (photo credit: Courtesy of Justice4JP)
Jonathan and Esther Pollard 370
(photo credit: Courtesy of Justice4JP)
Parties on the Left and Right called for the US to release Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard from prison, in a special Knesset session on Wednesday.
MKs Nachman Shai (Labor) and Yoni Chetboun (Bayit Yehudi) initiated the discussion on Pollard ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit later this month. Lawmakers from their parties and Likud Beytenu, Hatnua, United Torah Judaism and Shas took part. While no Meretz MKs spoke, the party said it too supports Pollard’s release.
“We’re very excited for Obama’s visit,” Chetboun said, “but we want to share with him a topic that pains every one of us. The president and prime minister have already officially requested Pollard’s release in the name of all Israeli citizens. Soon, he will have been in prison 10,000 days.”
Chetboun referred to the Pollard clemency petition released by the organization Justice for Jonathan Pollard, which has gathered more than 110,000 signatures. The organization hopes to reach 150,000 signatures on the online petition, which will be given to Obama on his visit to Israel.
“Pollard is a Jew and a Zionist in every bone of his body. This is no longer a diplomatic, security or political issue, but a humane one, with the government being responsible for those who act in its name,” acting Knesset Speaker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) said.
Ben-Eliezer called Pollard’s release and return to Israel a “national mission” that the government must do all it can to accomplish, a sentiment echoed in speeches by all the MKs who followed.
Despite the severity of his crime, he is no longer a threat or a danger to anyone and he will not return to espionage, the Labor MK added.
“There is no precedent in American history that a person sat in prison for so much time for this kind of crime,” Shai pointed out. “Israel accepted full responsibility for its actions and stopped spying on American territory, but all of the requests [to release Pollard] have not helped. I don’t know why the US is acting this way.”
The US must realize that the issue of Pollard is not a disagreement that it and Israel can live with, MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) said.
“We must demand his release, not as a negotiating card, but because it is right and just,” he added.
Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein expressed hope that the Knesset will not need to discuss Pollard’s release again.
“I had the privilege of being the first Israeli cabinet minister, in 1997, to visit Pollard in his cell in North Carolina,” he recounted. “Other ministers visited Pollard, and the government since announced that he is an agent and the government apologized for using him, clarifying that such things would not happen again.”
MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) expressed his feelings as an American Jew at the time of Pollard’s arrest in 1985.
“It bothered me very much that Jonathan was arrested for spying for an ally of the United States. I do not stand here as someone who wants to push aside any crime that anyone committed,” he said.
“However, the time has come to recognize that Jonathan has paid the price. As his health continues to deteriorate and the list of American leaders calling for Jonathan to be released continues to grow, it has become clear that Jonathan has served his time and it is time for him to be freed.”
According to MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu), Pollard, 58, is still in prison because “some Israelis still want him there.”
“The government is not determined enough. Its body language shows that it doesn’t really want Pollard back that much,” he said. “American spies are in Israel all the time, and we know it. If we want Pollard to be released, it can happen.”
Feiglin said he has a picture of Pollard at the entrance to his house, so he never forgets the agent’s plight.
MK Yisrael Eichler (UTJ) came up with a different reason for Pollard’s continued incarceration, accusing the US justice system of anti-Semitism.
“Pollard represents Jews in the modern world who think they have equality and emancipation.
American Jews adopt the local language and dress and try to assimilate, but the courts still discriminate against them,” he said.
According to Eichler, all Russian spies have already been released from prison in the US, and Pollard remains only because he is a religious, right-wing Jew.