By Itamar Eichner, Yediot Achronot
President Peres left for the US last night to get the US Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama and to work to secure the release of Jonathan Pollard. Seventy thousand Israelis have signed a petition intended to support Peres’ struggle for freedom for Pollard: “This opportunity must not be missed!”
Singers stand beside rabbis. Actors stand beside professors. Professors stand beside Nobel Prize winners. On Wednesday, the President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres will receive a petition in which everyone stands arm in arm, joined together with one goal in mind: to give him the feeling that he has backing in his efforts to free Jonathan Pollard.
President Peres left last night for a six day visit in the US which will culminate 3 days from now when he is to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Peres is planning to use the opportunity to request that President Obama free Jonathan Pollard, because of his failing health and flagging spirits. Pollard has been incarcerated in the United States for 27 years. “I thank you for releasing him in the name of all of Israel and of world Jewry,” Peres will tell him.
On the same day exactly, a little before the ceremony, the president will personally receive from Peres’ own hand a petition unprecedented in its scope and in the list of prominent names it contains. The petition which was signed by 70 thousand citizens carries a moving message: “Out of great fear for Jonathan’s health and out of a desire to see him live out the remainder of his life as a free man, we are asking you to employ your extraordinary diplomatic skills and your close relationship to President Obama to work intensively and without delay for the immediate release of Jonathan..”
Heading the list of names on the petition are leading public figures in Israeli society who have never before made common cause with each other in a united front on any issue. Who exactly? The kidnapped soldier, Gilead Shalit; former Israeli president, Yitzhak Navon; the rabbis, Yona Metzger and Yoel Bin Nun; the writers A.B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, David Grossman, Aaron Appelfeld; the Nobel Prize winners Professor Dan Schectman, Professor Aaron Cienchanover, Professor Israel Auman; the actors Gila Almagor, and Shlomo Vishanski; the singers Shlomo Artzi and Yehoram Gaon, and political figures, Tzippi Livni, Amon Rubinstein, Shimon Shitreet and Uzi Dayaan, among them.
“I wish and I hope that President Peres will succeed in employing his great personal influence, both as the President of Israel and as a man, to convince Obama to release Pollard from prison, on a humane and compassionate basis,” said Shalit last night. “Pollard broke the law 27 years ago, but according to all opinions, even those of senior American officials, he has served the time. He must be allowed to go free before it is too late.”
In addition to the petition, Peres will also receive a letter written in a similar spirit and signed by dozens of Israeli Mayors and Deputy Mayors also calling for the immediate release of Jonathan Pollard. Among the signees, such names appear as that of Mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai; and the Mayor of Petach Tikvah, Yitzhak OHayan. The Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard home explains that they are determined to have President Obama understand that the request for Pollard’s release isn’t just the personal wish of President Peres. “There is today an absolute consensus in Israel which expects President Peres to bring to bear the full weight of his personal prestige and influence to ensure that this opportunity will not be missed.”
“I am very excited about the trip,” Peres said yesterday, shortly before getting on the plane. It is a great honor for me to represent the State. The medal that I am about to receive is a medal for the State of Israel.”