It may sound farfetched to Americans. But some Israelis are hoping Barack Obama will free Jonathan Pollard as a goodwill gesture ahead of the president’s upcoming visit to the Middle East
Activists and even members of Knesset are pressing for the release of the convicted Israeli spy and some have even suggested that Obama bring Pollard with him on Air Force One.
“I pray to that on the day we welcome the President of the United States, we will get to see Pollard walk on the land of Israel,” said Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a Labor Party lawmaker during a special discussion held on the Knesset floor Wednesday about the Pollard case.
Other lawmakers were equally forceful in their pleas to Obama. They are pressing him, at the least, to discuss Pollard’s fate during his visit to Jerusalem.
“Many Israelis view Pollard as a Prisoner of Zion,” said Likud MK Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin. “The Americans should know that Pollard’s case cannot be considered simply another point of disagreement that both countries can live with.”
Administration sources were quoted in the Israeli press last week as saying Obama has no intention of making any decision about Pollard before his visit to Israel, not to mention bringing the spy with him to Israel. The White House received an official request from Israeli president Shimon Peres last year to release Pollard, who has already served 26 years of his life sentence in a federal prison in Butner, N.C. But the administration has yet to reply.
Avoiding the issue altogether during the Jerusalem visit, however, could be impossible. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already made clear he will ask him about it. Netanyahu met on Monday with Pollard’s wife, Esther, and promised her he’d raise the issue in his talks with Obama.
It won’t be the first time Obama hears the request. He is unlikely to respond any differently than in previous times, by listening, without providing much input in response.
Israel’s minister of information and Diaspora affairs, Yuli Edelstein, expressed his hope during the Knesset hearing that Jonathan Pollard will sit at the seder table this Passover as a free man. Based on the administration’s views and actions, Edelstein is setting Israelis up for a disappointment.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.