The White House on Monday evening rejected fervent Israeli and American appeals to commute the life sentence of Jonathan Pollard and release him after 26 years in prison.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told reporters that the Obama administration “has no intention to release Pollard.”
Pollard was convicted in 1985 of violating the Espionage Act and passing classified information to Israel, while working as a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst.
The White House statement came in response to a letter received the same day from Israeli President Shimon Peres, seeking clemency for the 57-year old Pollard and particularly citing his deteriorating health.
Pollard, incarcerated at the federal penitentiary in Butner, North Carolina, was rushed to a nearby civilian hospital Friday, after complaining of severe pain. His condition was reported Monday as serious, but stable.
Among those appealing on Pollard’s behalf were Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In an open letter, they stated that “whatever [Pollard’s] crimes, 26 years [in prison] is enough. We hope and pray that President Obama will act swiftly and compassionately to release Mr. Pollard promptly.”
Peres is slated to visit Obama in June and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award.
However, Peres has come under considerable pressure within Israel to reject the medal unless Pollard is freed.
According to the Israeli media, some 35,000 Israelis have signed a petition to that effect and 80 Knesset members have expressed similar sentiments. Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger urged all Jews to pray for the health and freedom of Pollard, whose Hebrew name is Yonatan Ben-Malka.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed in January of last year to the White House for Pollard’s release, but the request was also rejected.
Among prominent Americans who have reportedly voiced their support for Pollard’s release are former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and former CIA director James Woolsey.
On Sunday, Peres met with Pollard’s wife, Esther, who asked the Israeli president to use his influence to free her ailing husband, “because I do not want to be his widow.”