Transcript: PM Netanyahu's speech in Knesset calling on President Obama to free Pollard (with letter)

January 4, 2011

[Translated from Hebrew]

Hear audio file of this speech.

Source: PMO Website - January 4, 2011

My fellow members of Knesset,

This 40 signatures discussion is usually accompanied by, or even at times focuses on the differences of opinion between us, and I assure you that later on in my speech I will discuss several of the issues you raised in this discussion. However, this time I wish to open my remarks with a subject that unites us all - members of Knesset and the entire country - and that is the release of Jonathan Pollard.

On January 7, 2002, almost nine years ago, I travelled to Butner Prison. This prison is in North Carolina, and I travelled there in order to visit Jonathan Pollard. I entered the prison facility and was led to some sort of break room. I waited patiently for the meeting, and after some time, Jonathan Pollard entered, accompanied by a guard, who was with him throughout the meeting. We shook hands warmly; he sat next to me and we began to talk. I would like to remind you that at that stage Jonathan had already been in prison for over 16 years.

I expected to see a bitter man, an angry, abandoned, frustrated man, but that is not what I found. I found an intelligent, I would even say brilliant man, a calm and realistic man. Jonathan spoke with determination and seriousness. He maintained maximal restraint. I asked him what it was like living in prison and he told me what is was like living there in his special conditions day after day, year after year for over 16 years - 6,000 days.

My friends, over nine years have passed since then, and Jonathan has been in prison for over 9,000 days. I must tell you that he spoke with me about his situation in a very matter-of-fact manner, without any self-pity. I asked him several specific questions regarding the conditions of his incarceration, and he said, in the most laconic manner, "It's not easy".

I saw before me a warm Jew, a proud and very Zionist Jew. I have no doubt his inner strength and his special character are the unique qualities that have allowed him to hang on for the 25 years he has been in prison - to hang on and maintain his mental stability. I told him at the time: "I swear to you, Jonathan, that the State of Israel, and I personally, will do what must be done to bring you home to your family, to your people, to bring you back to Israel". It is true that throughout the years, Prime Ministers, ministers and many others have acted to advance Jonathan Pollards release. Unfortunately, these actions have not yet been successful.

In the summer of 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin asked President Clinton to grant Jonathan Pollard clemency as a humanitarian gesture. In January 1996, then-Minister of the Interior, Haim Ramon, granted Jonathan Israeli citizenship after a decision made by his predecessor, Minister of the Interior Ehud Barak in November 1995. When I became Prime Minister halfway through 1996, I asked the government ministers to combine visits to the prison when they visited the United States - in order to visit Jonathan Pollard publicly. Several people sitting here today who were government members at that time did so. I see you nodding, Yuli Edelstein. You did that. Limor Livnat, you did that. Ya'akov Ne'eman, Mickey Eitan, Eli Yishai - they also did that. I also asked official government representatives - the Attorney General, Elyakim Rubenstein, Government Secretary, Danny Naveh - to visit him in prison, and they did.

On May 11, 1998, my government made a formal announcement. I quote it now: "Jonathan Pollard was an Israeli agent who was handled by senior officials in an authorized Israeli authority, the Bureau of Scientific Relations. In light of this fact, the Government of Israel recognizes its obligation to him and it is willing to bear the full responsibility resulting from this situation".

Before the Wye Conference in September 1998, I asked President Clinton to release Jonathan Pollard in the framework of the agreement we were about to sign with the Palestinians. Based on those conversations, I had a foundation, even a strong one, to believe that Jonathan would come back to Israel with me. Regrettably, for me and for you, this did not happen and the reasons for that are well known.

As to the Prime Ministers who followed: Barak, Sharon, Olmert - they all asked American presidents, including Clinton and Bush, to release Jonathan, and the Presidents of Israel also asked. Later on, I served as head of the opposition. I met with President Bush during his visit to Jerusalem. I asked him to release Jonathan Pollard. I wrote him a letter formally requesting that he do so towards the end of Bush's term.

When I was elected for the second time to serve as Prime Minister, I raised the subject during my first visit to Washington in my conversation with President Obama. Since then, I have raised the subject many times with many heads of state, including during the past several months. You too, members of Knesset, did not spare any efforts over the years to bring about Jonathan's release, including the letter you recently sent to President Obama signed by nearly every member of Knesset - 109 in total. I can say today that the Government of Israel, the Israeli Knesset, we all tried and tried and tried and did not succeed. Two weeks ago, I received a letter from prison, from Jonathan, asking me as the Prime Minister of Israel to openly appeal - I repeat openly appeal - to the President of the United States and formally and openly ask for his release. I heard from many of you over the past several days that you support this request. I thought about it, and I know you have pondered it a great deal as well.

I believe that after 25 years that Jonathan has been serving time in prison, after 15 years of unsuccessful efforts to secure his release, I decided that his request must be met, and that it was the right thing to do openly, here from the Knesset in Jerusalem, in a step that represents and unites all the sectors of the nation. I would like to read you to the letter I sent to President Obama about Jonathan.

"Dear Mr. President,

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."

That is the letter. I know it reflects all our genuine feelings.

Members of Knesset, on behalf of the entire nation, I wish to send from the Knesset in Jerusalem a message to Jonathan Pollard. Jonathan, you held on for 25 years. Keep strong. The people of Israel strengthen your hand; the people of Israel wait for you; and G-d willing, you will be with us soon.