More than 100 members of Knesset, including an Israeli Arab MK, urged the United States on Wednesday to release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard from prison.
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Ibrahim Sarsur of the United Arab List-Ta’al party addressed the Knesset on behalf of all the Arab factions during a debate surrounding Pollard’s 29th year in jail.
“We request Pollard’s release,” Sarsur said. “Nevertheless, we ask that his release not be made a condition for releasing Palestinian prisoners. They must be released immediately, as agreed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”
But his highly unusual statement didn’t win the backing of the MKs present in the plenum; they rejected it by a vote of 14-5. Instead, the majority backed a more extensive statement by MK Nachman Shai (Labor), one of the MKs at the forefront of the campaign to free Pollard.
“My colleague Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and I have so far gotten 106 MKs to sign a letter to President Obama,” Shai said in his speech. “This reflects the broad national consensus that exists today in favor of his release. We’ll send the letter to Obama, to the leaders of Congress and to the U.S. ambassador to Israel.”
He then quoted from the letter, which said the Knesset stood united behind the demand that Pollard be freed, as he has already spent a disproportionate time in jail. The letter acknowledged that Pollard had committed serious offenses, but noted that both he and the State of Israel had apologized for them, and said there was no justification for keeping him in jail beyond the lengthy period he has already served.
Leader of the opposition MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) echoed this sentiment. “Pollard broke the law, but he didn’t harm [American] national security,” Herzog said. “We’re all united in a demand for his release.”
MK Hilik Bar (Labor) also concurred. “Everyone understands that Pollard has paid his debt disproportionately; this is even the view of senior U.S. officials,” he said. “It’s not for nothing that calls for his release within the American administration are gaining ground. Official reports show that Pollard dealt with threats against Israel, not information against the U.S.; he was for the State of Israel, not against the American people. He must be freed.”
But coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud) took a much harsher tone, lambasting American policy on Pollard. “Perhaps a scrap of the quality of mercy will be found amid the ocean of hypocrisy,” he said. “This is an old, sick man who is paying a terrible price because of interests, honor games and power games. Better late than never.”
MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (United Torah Judaism) said that Israel should refuse to release a third batch of Palestinian prisoners without an American promise to free Pollard. Under the agreement that restarted Israeli-Palestinian talks in July, Israel is to release four batches of prisoners altogether over the nine months of talks, and the third is due to be released next week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasn’t present at the session, but he sent a written message which was read out by Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir. “I congratulate the Knesset members, who have all mobilized behind the demand to free Pollard from jail,” the statement said. “We are working for this ceaselessly. This is a moral issue of the highest order. Steps have been taken, and are being taken, with all U.S. presidents, including Obama, in these days as well. The issue has also been raised with other administration officials in the U.S. We hope conditions will be created that will enable us to bring Pollard home.”