There was one person missing from 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 the 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 large 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, Pollard’s wife Esther delivered to Peres an online petition signed by 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.” Thousands of 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.