Netanyahu to Request Jonathan Pollard's Release During Obama Visit

Prime minister makes remarks at meeting with Esther Pollard, wife of the Israeli-American spy; Israelis circulate petition, already signed by tens of thousands, asking Obama to commute sentence of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he will raise the issue of releasing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard during U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Israel later this month.

Netanyahu made his remarks at a meeting with Esther Pollard, wife of the Israeli-American spy. The meeting was attended by Effie Lahav of the Committee to Free Pollard and Lawrence Korb, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, who actively works for Pollard's release in the United States.

"It is time for Pollard to be released," Netanyahu said. "It was brought up countless times by me and by others, and it is time to let him out."

Pollard was convicted for spying on behalf of Israel in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison; he has served 28 years so far.

In anticipation of Obama's arrival, the Committee to Free Pollard is circulating a petition asking the U.S. president to commute Pollard's sentence to the time he has served. The committee plans to present Obama with the petition, already signed by tens of thousands, during his visit.

Over the past two years, Israel has officially appealed to the U.S. to release Pollard on numerous occasions. Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres have brought up the issue at meetings with Obama and have also sent official requests to pardon the Israeli spy. The White House has regularly made clear, however, that the U.S. position on the matter has not changed and that a Pollard release is not being considered.

Pollard began working for Israeli intelligence on his own initiative in 1984. For over a year, he transferred to Israel thousands of classified documents he obtained from various U.S. defense agencies.

Pollard and his then-wife, Anne, were arrested in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. on November 21, 1985. They were escaping from FBI agents who had raided the couple's home at the conclusion of a covert investigation into their activities. They headed to the embassy as directed by their handlers in order to evade arrest but were then not given permission to enter the premises. Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment, and for many years Israel did not recognize that he had been a spy on its behalf.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin worked toward Pollard's release during the presidency of Bill Clinton without success. In 1995, then-Minister of Interior Haim Ramon granted Pollard Israeli citizenship. In May 1998, during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, Israel admitted for the first time that Pollard was a spy for Israel. Netanyahu brought up Pollard's case during the talks leading up to the Wye River Accords. Clinton considered releasing Pollard but decided against it after CIA Director George Tenet threatened his resignation.

Jonathan Pollard during an interview at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, North Carolina, May 15, 1998.Credit: AP

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