Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked United States President Barack Obama to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard as a Yom Kippur gesture during their meeting at the White House on Wednesday.
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"I raised the issue of Pollard during my conversation with the president and I passed on a simple message," Netanyahu said during a briefing for journalists in New York.
"I told the president that we are on the eve of Yom Kippur, a time during which we ask for forgiveness and we give forgiveness. I told the president that I hoped that might be a basis for advancing the release of Pollard."
Pollard, an American Jew, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for providing classified information to Israel while working for the U.S. navy as a civilian intelligence analyst.
Israel has made numerous approaches for his release during his 28 years of incarceration, but the U.S. has consistently refused to to release him. In 1995, Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship.
The possibility of swapping Pollard for Palestinian prisoners was raised early in 2014 during the final crisis of the abortive peace negotiations sponsored by U.S. Secretary on State John Kerry. The initiative came to nothing.
In June this year, an eminent group of North American legal scholars called on Obama to commute Pollard's sentence to time served – which would mean his immediate release.
"Such commutation is more than warranted if the ends of justice are to be served, the rule of law respected and simple humanity secured, the scholars wrote to the president.
The signatories to the letter included Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and former Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General Irwin Cotler.
The scholars argued that Pollard was not only "excessively and disproportionately punished" for the crime he committed, but "effectively punished and maligned for the crime of treason," which he never committed and for which he was never charged or convicted.