”We have witnessed a rare coalition of Knesset members from all the House`s factions calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, including MKs from the Arab factions,” MK Nachman Shai (Israel Labor Party) said in a statement summarizing Wednesday`s special plenum debate marking Pollard`s 29th year in prison in the US.
”My colleague Ayelet Shaked (HaBayit HaYehudi) and I have so far gotten 106 MKs to sign a letter to President (Barack) 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 US ambassador to Israel.”
In his summation, MK Shai said Pollard has spent a ”disproportionate” amount of time in prison for his offenses, which the State of Israel and Pollard himself have apologized for. ”The Israeli Knesset is turning to US President Barack Obama and asking that he commute Pollard`s sentence and order his immediate release – for humanitarian reasons and in light of Pollard`s medical condition. This humane gesture is desirable, essential and is even required for Israel-US relations at this time,” Shai said in the statement. The MKs present at the plenum endorsed Shai`s statement by a vote of 18-0.
MK Ibrahim Sarsour (Ra`am-Ta`al-Mada), speaking on behalf of all the Arab factions, also called on the US to free Pollard. ”We request Pollard`s release. 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.” Sarsour`s statement was rejected by a vote of 14-5.
Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel-Edelstein (Likud Yisrael Beitenu) said during the special session that he had the privilege of being the first minister to visit Pollard in jail. ”Perhaps we can find some solace in what has been heard from senior American (officials) over the past two years, and Jewish organizations are openly calling for his release. I hope the efforts will bear fruit. Twenty-eight years in prison is a bit too much,” he said.
Opposition Chairman MK Isaac Herzog (Israel Labor Party) said: ”Israel has apologized and lessons have been drawn. Pollard broke the law, but he didn’t harm (American) national security. We`re all united in a demand for his release.”
MK Hilik Bar (Israel Labor Party) said the American people and President Obama ”must understand – this is a painful and tragic issue for the state and the government and it is a huge wound in the heart of the Israeli nation. There is a consensus here. A grave injustice has been done to him and he should be released.”
”Everyone understands that Pollard has paid his debt disproportionately; this is even the view of senior US 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 US; he was for the State of Israel, not against the American people. He must be freed.”
MK Yariv Levin (Likud-Yisrael Beitenu) said: ”Perhaps a scrap of the quality of mercy will be found amid the ocean of hypocrisy. 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, while Hadash MK Dov Khenin said the US is ”convinced it is allowed to do to others what others are not allowed to do to it. There has to be a limit to the hypocrisy and double standards in the world.”
MK Orit Strock (HaBayot HaYehudi) said Pollard has already been punished for his offenses ”five or six times more than is customary; this is sheer vengeance; sheer abuse; even anti-Semitism.”
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said: ”This is not an issue of right or left. I condemn Pollard`s acts of espionage, but he has paid a heavy personal price.”
MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud-Yisrael Beitenu) told the plenum that Pollard is not willing to be freed in exchange for the release of Palestinian security prisoners. According to Feiglin, the reason that Pollard is not in Israel it is because Israel ”does not want it enough.”
Shas MK David Azoulay said, ”If, God forbid, something should happen to our brother Jonathan Pollard, you, Mr. President of the United States, will not be able to say `our hands did not spill this blood`.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasn’t present at the session, but he sent a written statement 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. We are working for this ceaselessly,” the message said. ”This is a moral issue of the highest order. Steps have been taken, and are being taken, with all US presidents, including Obama, in these days as well. The issue has also been raised with other administration officials in the US We hope conditions will be created that will enable us to bring Pollard home.”
Netanyahu said that the need to bring about Pollard’s release was unconnected to the recent reports of American spying on Israel.