UPDATE: While some reports said the heckler was calling for Jonathan Pollard’s release, the New York Times reports the heckler was an Arab-Israeli calling for the “liberation of Palestine.”
During the president’s address in Jerusalem Thursday he was interrupted by a heckler shouting about Jonathan Pollard, presumably calling for his release.
Pollard, 58, is serving a life term in a North Carolina prison after pleading guilty in 1987 to spying for Israel from June 1984 until he was arrested in November 1985.
Pollard provided Israel with thousands of pages of U.S. intelligence, gathered as a civilian intelligence officer for the U.S. Navy, on military and technical intelligence.
For decades, Israelis have asked U.S. presidents to pardon Pollard. Those calls have increased recently as President Barack Obama embarked on his first trip to Israel as president. The main argument of Pollard’s supporters is that his actions benefited a close ally of the United States, but did not harm the security of the nation. They also point out that he has already served 28 years in prison. He also issued a public apology in 1997 and his attorney says his health is failing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even visited Pollard in prison in North Carolina in 2002, when he was not in office. Netanyahu said he would raise the issue with the president on this trip.
However, Obama said in an Israeli television interview last week before he embarked on his trip that a pardon in the near future is unlikely saying Pollard “is an individual who committed a very serious crime here in the United States.”
“He’s been serving his time,” Obama told Israel’s Channel 2. “I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately but what I am going to be doing is to make sure that he, like every other American who’s been sentenced, is accorded the same kinds of review and the same examination of the equities that any other individual would provide.”
He did acknowledge the movement to pardon Pollard is in Israel, where now it has widespread support.
“I recognize the emotions involved in this. One of the strengths of the Israeli people is you think about your people wherever they are and I recognize that and I’m sympathetic,” Obama said in the interview. “I think people have to understand that as the president my first obligation is to observe the law here in the United States and to make sure that it’s applied consistently and there are a lot of individuals in prisons in the United States who have committed crimes who would love to be released early as well and I’ve got to make sure that every individual is treated fairly and equally.”
There is also support in the United States for his release, including people like Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, including many U.S. Senators and members of congress. In 2010, 39 members of congress signed a letter calling for Pollard’s release.
Other national security officials, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, have said they oppose clemency in Pollard’s case.