Speaking to Channel 2’s Yonit Levy, President Obama said of Pollard: “This is an individual who committed a very serious crime. He has been serving his time. There is a justice system that allows for periodic review and the way I as president function here is to try and make sure that I am following the basic rules of that review. I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately but what I am going to be doing is to make sure that he is accorded the same kinds of review as others. I recognize the emotions involved in this. One of the strengths of the Israeli people is that you think about your people wherever they are. As president my first obligation is to observe the law here in the US. I need to make sure that every individual is treated fairly and equally.”
Meanwhile, advocates for Pollard’s release both inside and outside Israel have been utilizing President Obama’s visit to Israel as a platform to call for Pollard’s release from prison. Israeli Economics and Trade Minister and Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett has added his voice in the growing chorus of calls for Pollard’s freedom. “We welcome the President of the United States to Israel,” Bennett told a meeting of Bayit Yehudi MKs. “The U.S. is a true friend of Israel, and the differences of opinions between us are disagreements between friends. I call on the President to let Jonathan Pollard return home as soon as possible,” Bennett added.
Jonathan’s wife, Esther Pollard says that she refuses to wait until 2015, when it will theoretically be possible to release Pollard to house arrest. “Jonathan has excellent lawyers who are volunteers. They, along with senior American figures, believe that the only way to release him now is through a presidential pardon. Had there been another way, they would have taken it.”
On Tuesday, March 19, she again exhorted the Israeli public to sign the petition calling on President Obama to pardon her husband. As of Tuesday morning, the petition was nearing the 200,000 mark.
Mrs. Pollard told IDF Radio that, “Obama has yet to hear President Peres and what he has to say on behalf of the Israeli public, so the ball is still in the air.”
With palpable emotion she added that, “Jonathan’s state of physical and emotional health is very bad. All of the people signing the petition to free him give him life; this is what allows him to breathe. I don’t know how he would survive otherwise. He is 58 years old already in terms of age, but after seven years in isolation, his health is like that of an 80 or 90 year old. He suffers greatly, physically, and receives no medical treatment. There is no normal food there like fruit and vegetables, and he needs that because he has diabetes.”
As to his mental and intellectual state of mind, Mrs. Pollard observed, “Jonathan is up to speed and he knows what is going on. He has newspapers and he watches television. The first thing he is always asking me is how many people have signed the petition. Despite this, Jonathan always said that he is unwilling to have Israel make concessions in order to free him.”
Led by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Ashkanazi Lithuanian leader, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, Chareidi leaders have published a letter calling on the public to pray and act towards the welfare and release of Jonathan Pollard, “Awaken and call out to G-d to benevolently redeem Yehonatan Ben Malka, who did so much for the benefit of the Jewish nation,” they wrote.
Also lending their support for Pollard’s freedom were former Israeli captives Gilad Shalit and Shai Gross. Both have made a last-ditch attempt to appeal to President Obama to release Pollard. The two sent Obama an emotional letter in which they drew on their own experiences. Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists while patrolling outside Gaza as a young soldier, and was held captive for over five years. Gross was one of the Israelis held captive in Entebbe after a hijacking in 1976 and liberated by IDF soldiers.
“Honorable President, your visit to Israel brings mixed feelings,” the two began. “The warm ties between the two countries, and your personal support for Israel’s security are well known. But at the same time, the long prison term, too long, of our brother Jonathan Pollard, sours the pleasant atmosphere.”
The two noted that past Israeli leaders had taken great risks, including political risks, in order to free them. “Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and his Defense Minister, Shimon Peres, decided to send hundreds of soldiers thousands of kilometers from Israel, in an operation with no historical precedent… Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of the current Prime Minister, gave his life in the military operation to free the Entebbe hostages.”
Hundreds of Jerusalem residents are rallying outside the presidential residence in the capital demanding President Obama give Jonathan Pollard a full pardon.
The “Free Jonathan Pollard” campaign headquarters have launched a balcony sign campaign demanding that Obama pardon Pollard and the signs are captioned with the words “YES YOU CAN” along with images of Jonathan Pollard and President Obama. They are to be displayed along the Jerusalem route of the presidential motorcade.
Activist Yehuda Puah explains, “Balcony sign protests are completely legal, and the signs can be obtained under the Light Rail Cable Bridge where Michael Puah is on a hunger strike demanding a presidential pardon for Pollard. Perhaps the president will pardon Pollard in time for Passover.”