WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote President Obama urging clemency for Jonathan Pollard.
"At the time of his arrest, Jonathan Pollard was acting as an agent of the Israeli government," Netanyahu wrote in his letter, sent Tuesday. "Even though Israel was in no way directing its intelligence efforts against the United States, its actions were wrong and wholly unacceptable. Both Mr. Pollard and the Government of Israel have repeatedly expressed remorse for these actions, and Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated."
Netanyahu read his letter Tuesday evening to a Knesset plenum discussion. His letter, Israel’s first formal request for Pollard’s release, came a day after similar urgings from more than 500 clergy in a letter to Obama.
"After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining," reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. "He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency — as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation — a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil."
The letters are the latest in a surge of pleas to free Pollard, a U.S. Navy analyst who spied for Israel and who has been in prison since 1985.
A raft of Democratic Congress members urged Obama to release Pollard late last year, and a number of officials who were involved in investigating the matter also have signed on to the effort.
Among the signatories of the clergy letter was Rabbi Donald Levy of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs, Colo., a former Navy cryptologist who participated in the damage assessment after Pollard’s arrest.
"There was nothing that we came across to indicate that Pollard gave information to any country but Israel," said Levy said in a separate statement. "Further, the information he probably disclosed consisted primarily of daily operational intelligence summaries, information that is extremely perishable. It did not appear to me at the time that the information he gave Israel should have resulted in a life sentence."
Also signing the letter were leaders of lay Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, B’nai B’rith International and the Zionist Organization of America.
Netanyahu in his letter, first obtained by Haaretz, cited reports of Pollard’s ill health.
"Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably," he said. "I know that the United States is a country based on fairness, justice and mercy. For all these reasons, I respectfully ask that you favorably consider this request for clemency. The people of Israel will be eternally grateful."