Last updated: 4 March, 2013

Netanyahu will lobby Obama to free jailed Israeli spy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday pledged to ask President Barack Obama to free an Israeli spy jailed since 1985 when the US leader visits Jerusalem later this month.

“This issue will come up during President Obama’s visit,” the prime minister’s office quoted him as saying in a meeting with the wife of Jonathan Pollard, serving a life sentence for espionage in the United States.

“The time has long since come for Jonathan to go free,” Netanyahu told Esther Pollard and leaders of an Israeli public campaign for her husband’s release.

President Shimon Peres later also met them, along with Lawrence Korb who was US assistant secretary of defence when Pollard was jailed and is visiting Israel to help promote the release campaign ahead of the Obama trip.

“We all want Jonathan to be freed,” Peres’s office quoted the president as saying. “In all my previous meetings with President Obama, I raised the issue and I sent a special letter requesting that Jonathan Pollard be released on humanitarian grounds.”

“I intend to raise this important issue again in my meeting with President Obama during his visit here in Israel,” Peres said.

Israeli supporters of Pollard Jonathan say more than 95,000 people have so far signed an online petition asking Obama to free him. The White House fears mass protests during the president’s visit on March 20-22, according to Israeli media.

Pollard, a former US Navy analyst, passed thousands of secret documents about American spy activities in the Arab world to Israel between May 1984 and his arrest in November 1985.

He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and officially recognised by the Jewish state as an Israeli spy in 1998.

Israelis argue that Pollard’s punishment and the longstanding US refusal to reduce his sentence have been particularly harsh, given that he passed on information to a friendly nation.