Many calls for the release of Jonathan Pollard have been heard lately, due to the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama in Israel. The Knesset held a debate regarding the case of Jonathan Pollard. MKs Yoni Chetboun (Habayit Hayehudi) and Nachman Shai (Israel Labor Party) initiated the debate.

The acting Speaker of the Knesset, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Israel Labor Party) said: “The debate was important, touching and of national importance. Pollard is indeed a Zionist Jew. He lived in the US and was caught and convicted of spying for Israel twenty eight years ago. Pollard was given a life sentence, which he is still serving today. This issue is no longer a political issue, nor one of national security, but rather one regarding the humanitarian responsibility of the State of Israel for someone who acted on her behalf. I see the task of returning Pollard home as one of crucial importance that the whole government should be acting to fulfill. Just as Israel does all that is in her power to release captives and missing persons, so too Israel has a moral and ethical obligation to return Pollard home. Despite the severity of his actions, Pollard is no longer a security threat, and it can be said with certainty that he will not repeat the actions for which he was tried and convicted. I know that many people in the White House and the US government agree with this stance, and I call upon the President to advance the release of Pollard during his visit to Israel. I pray that on the day we greet the US president, we will also witness Pollard stepping on Israeli soil.”

MK Chetboun: “I would like to address US President Barack Obama: We are very excited for your visit, and would like to discuss an issue that is very painful to us all. The President and Prime Minister have already made an official request in the name of all the citizens of Israel to release Pollard. In a few weeks it will be ten thousand days since Pollard was incarcerated and the lesson has been learned. Pollard’s deteriorated health condition makes our request even more urgent. More than 109 thousand Israelis have signed a letter asking to release Pollard and allow him to live the remainder of his life as a free man.”

MK Shai: “I remember the moment Pollard was arrested in the US embassy. At the time, I was at the Israeli embassy in Washington. It took a few hours for us to realize what was happening. Pollard has been in prison for the past twenty eight years, and it is time to end his punishment, and to treat him like a human being. It is true that Pollard spied and betrayed the US and he has been tried and sentenced for that. Pollard has served the maximum sentence, and never before, in all of American history, has there been a person who served as long for similar crimes. Israel has taken full responsibility for Pollard’s actions and has stopped all espionage on American soil. However, all calls for Pollard’s release have been to no avail. I have no idea why the US continues treating Pollard so. The last person who mentioned releasing Pollard was Henry Kissinger, and many authorities have stated that the time has come to grant Pollard a pardon. The time has come for the Knesset to unite in a clear statement, demanding Pollard’s release.”

MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Yisrael Beitenu): “The US has been applying strict justice to Pollard; however even in justice there are certain understandings. Pollard’s fate leaves a dark stain on Israel and the US. The Americans must know that Pollard’s situation is no longer a controversy between the US and Israel that can be tolerated. For decades, the Israeli public pushed Pollard off the public agenda and alienated him, in the hopes that self-restraint and quiet would lead to his release. Today, we must repent for this. We must continue to demand Pollard’s release, not as a political strategy or as a gesture of goodwill, but in the name of justice.”

The Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Yuli-Yoel Edelstein (Likud Yisrael Beitenu) summarized the debate and expressed gratitude towards the initiators of the debate and the participants. “This is a painful subject, and one can only hope we will no longer have to hold debates on the release Jonathan Pollard in the future. In my opinion, the authorities made two crucial mistakes: The first was in activating Pollard at all. The second mistake was that for decades, Israel denied that Pollard acted as an Israeli agent. I was privileged to be the first Israeli minister to visit Pollard in his jail cell in South Carolina in 1997, with permission from then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Pollard expressed his worry that mine would be the first and last visit of an Israeli minister, and when I relayed this to the government, many ministers went to visit Pollard. Ultimately, the government announced that Pollard was an Israeli agent, and apologized for activating him, and made clear that such incidents would never happen again. At the time, a senior and experienced senator told me that if we had made the announcement ten years earlier, Pollard would have been freed. My hope is that at this coming Passover, Pollard will be able to sit at the `Seder` table as a free man.”