YERUSHALAYIM — There was one person missing from U.S. President Barack Obama’s entourage on Wednesday that many had hoped would be there—Jonathan Pollard. But he was far from forgotten.
In the very first minutes of Obama’s arrival in Israel at Ben Gurion airport, the president was reminded of Pollard’s plight.
Shortly after his landing and welcoming remarks from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, Obama shook hands with members of the new Cabinet. Two of them seized the opportunity on behalf of Pollard.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), used his few seconds of face-to-face with the president to say, “Please free Pollard.” Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat (Likud) asked him “not to forget our brother Jonathan Pollard.”
Obama was non-committal. In reply to Ariel’s request he merely nodded and said, “Good to see you.”
“I hope and pray that my request fell on receptive ears,” Ariel told Arutz Sheva after the welcoming ceremony. He explained that he had not meant to cause offense, but had felt “I had a personal obligation to appeal to President Obama directly.”
Although some of Obama’s travels in the country will be by helicopter, his motorcade will afford him a view not only of American and Israeli flags, but also of medium Pollard banners hanging in the streets of Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv.
“Yes You Can!” proclaim the banners, a play on Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan, but urging him to use his authority to free Pollard.
“The posters are not our initiative but that of citizens who have spontaneously launched a campaign to free Jonathan,” Effi Lahav the head of the Free Jonathan Pollard organization, told The Media Line. “They are not directed against the U.S., but in favor of ending this painful tragedy that has continued for 28 years and almost 10,000 days.”
On Tuesday, his wife Esther delivered to Peres an online petition signed by some 200,000 Israelis appealing to Obama to release Pollard. She was accompanied by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, a former prisoner of Zion in Russia.
Mrs. Pollard told Army Radio: “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.”
More than 7,000 people participated in a rally to free Pollard on Tuesday evening in Yerushalayim.
At the rally, Mrs. Pollard said that the 200,000 Israelis who signed the Citizen’s Petition to President Obama were proportionately equivalent to 50,000,000 Americans. She said the rally was like a petition that had come to life.
“Mr President, we’re asking for your compassion and mercy, to heal this rift between our nations,” she said. “We are approaching Passover. Let Jonathan come to the seder table and be free for the first time in 28 years.”
Sharansky, who was held in a Soviet prison for close to ten years, said he could not fathom being incarcerated for the more than 27 years Pollard has served. But he added that knowing the Israeli and American Jewish public were behind him and would not abandon him eases his burden.
Two others who have suffered imprisonment made a personal appeal in writing to the president. Gilad Shalit, and Shai Gross who was one of the Israelis held captive in the Entebbe hijacking in 1976 and liberated by IDF commandos.
“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.”
Noting that Obama’s visit comes just days before Pesach, they invoked “Moses’ cry, ‘Let my people go,’ which they said inspired America, as well. “The willingness to fight captivity, to take chances and not to give up on freedom, is the heart of American tradition.”
“We know well that the circumstances under which we lost our freedom cannot be compared to those of Pollard,” they wrote. “We are not belittling America’s right to punish those who violate her laws… We also do not claim to represent justice.
“It is enough for us to repeat the words of the top American officials who have called to free him and have determined that after 28 years, Pollard served an unprecedented sentence in relation to his crime, and justice requires that he be freed.”
BY HAMODIA STAFF – Hamodia [NY] – March 21, 2013