MKs Ask Katsav to Lobby for Pollard

Greer Fay Cashman - The Jerusalem Post - September 2, 2003

The parliamentary caucus for the release of Jonathan Pollard on Monday urged President Moshe Katsav to spearhead new initiatives to soften the attitude of the US government.

The broad-based caucus is headed by Likud MK Michael Eitan.

Pollard will travel from his North Carolina prison cell to the US District Court in Washington on Tuesday to request permission to appeal against the life sentence he received for spying for Israel, despite a plea bargain based on his confession that he believed would result in a lighter sentence. The judge will consider whether to allow Pollard to appeal the life sentence imposed 18 years ago.

It will be the first time Pollard will appear in public since his sentencing.

Members of the caucus tried to impress on Katsav the importance of having him lead the campaign. Former NRP MK Hanan Porat, who is a member of a wider group of activists campaigning for Pollard, asked Katsav to lead a delegation to the US to speak to US President George W. Bush and explain to him that the time has come to release Pollard on humanitarian grounds.

Katsav replied that he and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israeli dignitaries have raised the issue at every opportunity with Bush and former president Bill Clinton. Former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu came close to succeeding, he added.

Notwithstanding their political differences, members of the lobby said they are united in their support of Pollard, who they said has spent more time in prison than any other American convicted of espionage. The deterioration of his physical and mental health makes it imperative to secure his release as quickly as possible, they said.

Quoting Maimonides, religious members of the caucus emphasized the Jewish obligation of pidyon shvuyim (the redemption and freeing of captives and prisoners). They said if Katsav placed himself in the forefront of the campaign for Pollard, the Americans might realize how important this is to Israel, and relent.

Eitan said Israel must keep reminding the Americans that when the US government asked Israel to release Palestinian prisoners within the framework of the road map, Israel complied. Pollard never did anything to put America's security at risk, he added.

MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said the Pollard affair is like a "bone in the throat" of US-Israel relations. Only with Pollard's release could the issue be closed, "and then we can all put it behind us," he said.

The caucus also met with Sharon.

Several members of the caucus believe Sharon is not doing enough with regard to Pollard, leading the Americans to believe that Israel is indifferent.

Meanwhile, the Council of Rabbis of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip has called on the public to observe Sunday, September 21, as International Jonathan Pollard Day. In addition, the council asked that on the following Shabbat, the final one before Rosh Hashana, rabbis and educators discuss with their students redemption of captives in Halacha. It called on Sharon, the Jewish Agency, cabinet ministers, and MKs to put the case of Pollard on the public agenda and to work diligently for his release.

Abigail Radoszkowicz contributed to this report.