Pressure mounts on Peres to push for Pollard release

Over 70,000 Israelis, including singers, writers and academics sign online petition to free Jonathan Pollard

Asher Zeiger and Times of Israel staff - The Times of Israel - June 10, 2012

Israelis have stepped up calls urging President Shimon Peres to pressure US President Barack Obama to free Jonathan Pollard. On Saturday night, Peres departed Israel for the United States, where he is set to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama in a ceremony on Wednesday.

Over the past two months, more than 70,000 Israelis have signed an online petition urging Peres to use the opportunity to press for Pollard's release from prison.

Among those calling on Peres to secure Pollard's freedom are many performers, academics and politicians, including Nobel Prize laureates Yisrael Uman and Dan Shechtman, singers Yehoram Gaon and Shlomo Artzi,and novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman. Also joining the call for Pollard's release are Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier released last October after being held prisoner for five years by Hamas, and former president of Israel Yitzhak Navon.

Navon, the fifth president of Israel, said Saturday that Pollard "did commit a crime and he was punished for it. But there is no proportionality between the crime and the punishment. Pollard has been in prison for many years, and the time has come for mercy to be the determining factor."

Before his flight on Saturday night, Peres said he would appeal to the emotions of the American president "man to man." "I will say to him please release Pollard. After 27 years in prison, it is time to free him. I will do everything I can to release him."

When Obama announced in early March that he would present Peres with the Medal of Freedom, Peres' Facebook page was flooded with requests that he not accept the honor without the release of Pollard.

Peres responded at the time on his Facebook page that "As president of the country it is very important to act decisively to bring about the release of Jonathan Pollard In all of my meetings with President Obama and American political leaders, I have raised the issue of Pollard's release and I will continue to do so at my upcoming meeting with Obama in June."

Peres also wrote at the time that he had been working very closely with the Committee for the Release of Jonathan Pollard and that "together, hand in hand, we will work to promote in every way possible the long-awaited return of Jonathan Pollard home."

In April, Peres requested clemency on humanitarian grounds on behalf of Pollard, who had been hospitalized at the time. Peres also met with Pollard's wife Esther, and told her that he was "very concerned about the recent reports about Jonathan's health."

Regarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Peres said that he sees it as a great honor, but he is "only the messenger. The true recipient of this award is the State of Israel."

"I am pleased that the United States sees fit to award such an important prize to Israel, during such a difficult period. I hope that this will make our relationship a closer one."

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