Jerusalem: Nearly 70,000 Israelis have signed a petition calling on President Shimon Peres to press for the release of an Israeli-American spy during a visit to Washington, Israeli media reported today.
Peres left for the United States overnight, and is scheduled to be received at the White House on Wednesday, where US President Barack Obama will present him with the presidential medal of freedom.
The petition, signed by a number of prominent Israeli personalities, calls on Peres to use his trip to push for the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American imprisoned in 1987 for spying for the Jewish state.
"We urge you to use your exceptional diplomatic position to work for the immediate release of Jonathan before you receive your medal, which would otherwise make a mockery of Israel," the petition said.
Signatories include former Israeli president Yitzhak Navon, several Israeli Nobel Prize laureates and Israeli leftwing authors Amos Oz, David Grossman and A B Yehoshua.
Pollard, a former US navy analyst, was convicted of passing thousands of secret documents about American intelligence 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 have said that Pollard's punishment and the long-standing US refusal to reduce his sentence have been particularly harsh, considering that he gave information to a friendly nation.