Photo Credit: Kobi Richter/TPS
Israeli demonstrators calling for the release of Naama Issachar, October 19, 2019.

On Saturday night, Channel 12 News quoted an Israeli official who claimed there would be a quid pro quo in the deal for Naama Issachar’s pardon, and clarified: “What Israel gives Russia does not hurt us – but it’s very important to Putin.”

At the moment, Russian President Vladimir Putin does not appear to be planning to fly Naama with him on the plane for his scheduled visit to Israel this Thursday, but he will probably have something concrete to announce about her release, most likely the date of the release.

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Last Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with Putin about a possible pardon for Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American woman who was arrested in Russia in April for drug smuggling after authorities found less than 10 grams of cannabis on her person. In October, she was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, an outlandishly disproportionate sentence. Since then, Netanyahu has made Issachar’s release his personal commitment, and on Thursday he told her family and the Israeli public that his conversation with Putin had been warm to the point that it “strengthened the prime minister’s optimism that the issue of the release of Naama Issachar is advancing towards a solution,” according to a government press release.

“I am much more optimistic,” Netanyahu said, adding, “I cannot go into details but we will continue to do everything in order to bring Naama home. And until then, we will continue to support both her family and her.”

Naama Issachar’s lawyer updated her on the latest developments, including the Prime Minister’s statement. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have asked Naama’s family and activists in her cause to “lower their profile” and not sabotage efforts to bring her release – which they have obeyed. Over the weekend there was radio silence over at the Issachar family headquarters, which is normally rife with commentary on the case.

The assumption on the Israeli side is that Netanyahu would be obliged to support the narrative that the Russians are currently advancing against the Poles on the actions taken by the two countries in World War II. Channel 12 speculated that Netanyahu may already be addressing the issue in his speech at Yad Vashem on Thursday.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Russian President Putin in Moscow, May 9, 2018. Netanyahu showed Putin much needed respect from a Western leader. / Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

Putin is coming to Israel to unveil a monument to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). The Russian president will also be one of some 45 world dignitaries, including Prince Charles, President Emmanuel Macron of France and President Volodymyr Zelensky of the Ukraine, at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, entitled “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting anti-Semitism,” which will take place on Thursday this week at the Warsaw Ghetto Square in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem (Putin, Zelensky, Prince Charles among World Dignitaries at Yad Vashem’s 5th World Holocaust Forum).

The Russians and the Poles have been exchanging insults over the past year or so, as to whose record was darker during the war, and the fracas has naturally found its way to the Yad Vashem event. Polish President Andrzej Duda has already announced he would not attend the forum in Jerusalem, because the Israeli organizers won’t allow him to speak there, while representatives of the US, Russia, France, the UK and Germany would all be invited to speak.

Ahead of the event, on Saturday, in St. Petersburg, Putin promised to open a center with archival documents of WW2, with the colorful promise: “We will put a sock in the rotten mouths which some guys abroad keep open to achieve immediate political goals. We will shut them up with true fundamental information.”

About the event in Yad Vashem, Putin said: “I say thank you for this initiative to the Israeli leadership and to all those who initiated this event. It is a good event. It reminds us of the victims of the Second World War and of all those who made a significant contribution to the Nazis’ eradication.”

Putin added, “Jewish public organizations and Israel’s leadership do a very good job, not letting the world forget about the victims of the Holocaust.”

And that’s how Naama Issachar will likely be released from seven and a half years in Russian prison over 9 grams of weed.

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