Peres to push Pollard's release ahead of medal
President Shimon Peres said Tuesday that he would do whatever possible to bring about the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard before he receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Barack Obama.
Peres responded to a petition signed by more than 15,000 people calling upon him to take advantage of being granted the medal as an opportunity to push Obama to commute Pollard's sentence to the more than 26 years of his life sentence he has already served.
"As president, I see it as very important to work determinedly to bring about Jonathan Pollard's release," Peres said.
"We are all united in the call to release him immediately. In all my meetings with president Obama and top American government leaders I raised the request to release Pollard and I will continue to do so when I meet with Obama in June. My office is in touch with the campaign for Pollard's release and we will work hand in hand in any way possible to bring Jonathan Pollard home."
Obama announced three weeks ago at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference that he would give Peres the medal. Peres’s office said he had discussed Pollard’s fate with Obama when they met in Washington ahead of the conference.
But Pollard is still serving the life sentence he was given more than 26 years ago for passing classified information to an ally. Obama has not responded to calls by many top current and former Israeli and American officials to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served.
“Due to the superior values the medal represents, we feel we cannot reconcile you receiving it when the United States is still holding Pollard in prison,” the petition, which was signed by nearly 12,000 people at press time, states.
“We ask you to take advantage of your unprecedented diplomatic standing in order to work for Jonathan’s immediate release before you are given the medal. Otherwise receiving the medal would make a mockery of Israel.”
According to the 1987 Eban Commission Report, the Knesset committee appointed to investigate the Pollard affair, Peres personally initiated and authorized the return to the US of all of the documents that Pollard had provided to Israel with his fingerprints still upon them, which helped the prosecution’s case. This was the first and only case in the history of modern espionage in which a prime minister actively assisted in the indictment and prosecution of his own country’s agent.
The organizers of the petition stressed that they were not asking Peres to condition receiving the medal on Pollard’s freedom. Obama is due to give Peres the medal at a special ceremony in Washington on June 13.
Many well-known Israelis from the Left side of the political map signed the petition, including former education minister Amnon Rubinstein. The former Shinui and Meretz MK said it would be fitting if Peres came back from Washington with both the medal and Pollard, and that Peres should work behind the scenes between now and June to make sure this would happen.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, who was the first minister to visit Pollard, said he believed Peres could succeed in bringing Pollard home.
“One additional kvetch could be all that’s necessary for the effort to succeed,” Edelstein said.
Peres’s legal adviser Nadav Tamir responded in an Army Radio interview that Peres’s office was part of the effort to bring about Pollard’s release and would coordinate efforts with the people behind the petition.