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Israel to Press Obama for Pollard Release

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past a banner bearing images of U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American jailed for life for espionage against the U.S. in 1987.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past a banner bearing images of U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American jailed for life for espionage against the U.S. in 1987.

TEL AVIV - One of the topics that is almost certain to come up during the talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama will be the fate of Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. national who is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for spying on behalf of Israel.

With Iran's nuclear drive, the peace process with the Palestinians and the turmoil in Syria also on the agenda, this is hardly the most pressing subject the two men may have to deal with. But for many Israelis, it is the most emotional.

Headed by President Shimon Peres, Israeli lawmakers from across the political spectrum have called for his release. The Justice for Jonathan Pollard organization hopes that at least 150,000 people will sign a petition - to be handed over to Obama - calling for the former U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst to be pardoned.

"Yes you can," says a banner displayed in Israel, showing a photo of Obama on one side and of Pollard on the other.

"It is time for Pollard to be released. It was brought up countless times by me and by others, and it is time to let him out," Netanyahu said earlier this month.

Born in Texas in 1954, Pollard began working for the Israeli intelligence on his own initiative in 1984. For over a year he passed on thousands of classified documents.

On November 21, 1985, fleeing FBI agents who had raided his home, he and his then-wife Anne were arrested in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington DC, after being refused permission to enter the building.

On March 4, 1987 Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment. Only 11 years later, in 1998, Israel finally admitted he had been spying on its behalf.

Obama has poured cold water on hopes that Pollard may be set free soon, telling Israel's Channel 2 recently: "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. This is an individual who committed a very serious crime," Obama told an Israeli television interviewer when pressed on the subject.

Pollard is eligible for parole and could be released November 2015.

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Israel Barack Obama Espionage