Israeli supporters of Jonathan Pollard, the American jailed as an Israeli spy, plan protests calling for his release ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit next month an organiser said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem city council moved to award a medal to Pollard, who is serving a life sentence.
“We shall be staging protest vigils against Pollard’s imprisonment during the coming days, and holding press conferences and other events,” Effie Lahav, head of a committee demanding Pollard’s release, told Israeli public radio.
Lahav said 80,000 people had so far signed an online petition asking Obama to free him.
Israeli TV has said the White House fears mass protests during Obama’s March 20-22 visit, but Lahav did not specify if his group would be holding demonstrations then.
Lawrence Korb, who served as US assistant secretary of defence when Pollard was jailed and supports his release, is due to arrive in Israel on Saturday, and Lahav said that he would play a central role in events to publicise the case.
Pollard, a former US Navy analyst, passed thousands of secret documents about American spy activities in the Arab world to Israel between May 1984 and his arrest in November 1985.
He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and was officially recognised by the Jewish state as an Israeli spy in 1998.
Israelis say Pollard’s punishment and the long-standing US refusal to reduce his sentence have been particularly harsh, given that he gave information to a friendly nation.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wrote in Maariv daily on Thursday that the city council would vote later in the day to award Pollard the city’s Medal of Freedom.
He noted that Obama would arrive just ahead of the Jewish festival of Passover, which begins on March 25 and commemorates the Jewish exodus from captivity in Egypt. It is also known as the festival of freedom
“The upcoming visit by US President Barack Obama to Israel on the eve of the festival of freedom is an opportunity of the utmost importance to request freedom for Pollard as well,” he wrote.