With pressure mounting on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to use the upcoming visit to Israel of U.S. President Barack Obama to press for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for passing classified information to the Jewish state, the Knesset held a special session on Wednesday to discuss the case.
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"Pollard was a true Zionist," acting Knesset Speaker Benjamin Ben-Eliezer told lawmakers. "Almost 30 years ago, he was sentenced to life behind bars and he remains there today. This is no longer a political or a security issue; it is a humanitarian matter that, as the country for which Pollard was working, Israel is obligated to address."
A petition calling for Pollard's release has already amassed 100,000 signatures, with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid the latest to add his name.
Summing up the Knesset debate, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein expressed his gratitude to those behind the petition. "This is a very painful issue. Please God we will not have to have another discussion about how to secure Pollard's freedom. I believe that Israel made two mistakes in the case of Jonathan Pollard. It was a mistake to use him in the first place and it was a mistake that it took over a decade to admit that he was an Israeli agent."
On Tuesday, Lawrence Korb, the man who was Assistant Secretary of Defense when Pollard was arrested, told a press conference in Jerusalem that the former naval intelligence officer did not deserve a life sentence.
In 2010, Korb, who is currently in Israel to add his support to the campaign for Pollard's release, wrote an open letter to Obama in which he claimed that the life term to which Pollard was sentenced stemmed from former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's "almost visceral dislike of Israel."