The Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, told congregants in a Sabbath sermon that if U.S. President Barack Obama seeks reelection, he must release Jonathan Pollard, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.
In the sermon delivered at Yeshurun Synagogue in Jerusalem on Saturday, Metzger told said there was a feeling that many American Jews that had supported Obama in the last election were disappointed in him, in no small part because of Obama's indifference to Pollard.
A civilian employee for the United States Navy, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 on charges of spying for Israel. He is incarcerated at a federal jail in North Carolina.
"If Obama wishes to dictate Israeli policy, he must show that he has mutual interests with Israel," Israel Radio quoted Metzger as saying. The rabbi reportedly added that these "mutual interests" should be shown through releasing Pollard.
Pollard's release has long been a bone of contention between Isael and its chief ally. In January, the Prime Minister's Office sent a letter to Obama requesting the convicted spy's release on humanitarian grounds. This marked the first formal request by Israel for the release of Pollard.
"Even though Israel was in no way directing its intelligence efforts against the United States, its actions were wrong and wholly unacceptable," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in the letter. "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."
Pollard's health has reportedly been in decline, and he has been hospitalized on several occasions. Last month, he cancelled a meeting with Israel Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon because he was feeling ill.
The United States responded to Netanyahu's announcement of his decision to send the letter by saying only that Pollard at present is still incarcerated.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu has raised this from time to time, both in his current incarnation and in his previous incarnation," State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said. "All I can tell you is Jonathan Pollard remains in prison."
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