Netanyahu's plea to Obama: Release Jonathan Pollard

PM addressed Pollard personally yesterday from the Knesset podium, calling on him to be strong.

Jonathan Lis - Haaretz - January 5, 2011

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday wrote U.S. President Barack Obama to seek clemency for Jonathan Pollard, who has served 25 years of a life sentence for spying for Israel.

Netanyahu addressed Pollard personally yesterday from the Knesset podium, calling on him to be strong. "In the name of the entire nation I would like to send a message from here, from the Knesset in Jerusalem, to Jonathan Pollard: You have held on for 25 years. Continue to be strong. The entire nation is strengthening you, the entire nation is waiting for you. With God's help, you will be with us soon."

Netanyahu told the Knesset that after 15 years of failed efforts to free Pollard, he had decided to accede to the request of Pollard's family to write Obama an official letter of request for clemency, and that it should be done openly, "in a move that represents and unites all parts of the nation."

Netanyahu read the letter to the plenum: "On behalf of the people of Israel, I am writing to you to request clemency for Jonathan Pollard. At the time of his arrest, Jonathan Pollard was acting as an agent of the Israeli government. Even though Israel was in no way directing its intelligence efforts against the United States, its actions were wrong and wholly unacceptable. Both Mr. Pollard and the government of Israel have repeatedly expressed remorse for these actions, and Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated. As you know, Mr. President, I have raised the question of Jonathan Pollard's release numerous times in discussions with your administration and with previous U.S. administrations. Previous Israeli prime ministers and presidents have also requested clemency for Mr. Pollard from your predecessors.

"Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous members of Congress.

"Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes, and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably.

"I know that the United States is a country based on fairness, justice and mercy. For all these reasons, I respectfully ask that you favorably consider this request for clemency. The people of Israel will be eternally grateful."

The Knesset then held a symbolic vote on Netanyahu's statement, which 43 MKs approved, 25 opposed and one abstained. Kadima voted against the statement. [J4JP: This is not true. The author has mistakenly cited the Knesset's vote on the policy debate that preceded PM Netanyahu's plea for Pollard. There was no vote on the the PM's statement about Pollard.]

Netanyahu told the MKs about his meeting with Pollard in 2002. "I expected to find a broken, angry, frustrated, abandoned man. Instead, I found an intelligent man, I would say brilliant, calm and realistic ... I asked him what it is like to live in prison. He told me what it was like to live under his special conditions day after day, year after year."

Netanyahu said he found Pollard to be "a warmhearted Jew, proud and a real Zionist."

Opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni (Kadima ), who spoke after Netanyahu, said: "The prime minister has perhaps found the last issue about which there is consensus in this house, and that is Jonathan Pollard. I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him."

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