Israelis expect Putin to forgive Na’ama Issachar during his visit

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Yuri Ushakov, a Putin assistant, said the Russian leader would meet with Issachar’s mother, Yaffa, despite a tight schedule that includes a visit to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian officials, according to Interfax news agency.

If Putin, who will spend less than 12 hours in the Holy Land on Thursday, announces his intention to release the 28-year-old backpacker, or even considers requests for forgiveness, he will certainly overshadow part of the main momentum of the event. , which according to the organizers is one of the largest international meetings in the 72-year history of Israel.

Isacar was born and raised in New Jersey before moving to Israel a decade ago. She had returned to Israel from an extended trip to India last April and was in transit through Russia when police discovered an ounce of hashish in her checked luggage. She has been imprisoned there since then.

Backpacking is very popular among Israelis after completing their military service and their case has captured the hearts of many in the country who see it as a pawn in a much larger geopolitical struggle between the United States, Russia and Israel. They hope that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who boasted in the past of his warm relationship with Putin, can secure his release through diplomatic channels.

On Monday, Netanyahu met with Isacar’s mother and other family members promising to present their case to the Russian president. The Israeli authorities, quoted anonymously by the Israeli media, say they are optimistic about the prospects for his release and it has even been suggested that Putin could make an announcement about his fate during his visit.

If Putin accepts “Free Na’ama”, the campaign slogan for his release, it would certainly be a blessing for Netanyahu, who competes for the third time in less than a year to remain prime minister, even when he faces accusations in three criminal cases

But there is also speculation about what Israel might have to give the Russians in return, possibly a valuable piece of real estate in dispute in the Old City of Jerusalem, next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which Putin previously requested on behalf of the Russians. Orthodox Church, or perhaps a warmer hug from Russia’s narrative about certain events during World War II.

In recent months, Putin has faced criticism, particularly from Poland, for appearing to minimize the role of the Soviet Union in events prior to the start of the war and even blame Poland and the West.

Such comments prompted Polish President Andrzej Duda to boycott this week’s summit in Jerusalem, complaining that he was not offered the opportunity to speak and respond to Putin, who is among the keynote speakers at the World Holocaust Forum.

In an interview with Israeli state television on Monday, Duda said that Putin was “consciously spreading lies about history” and “trying to erase responsibility for [Josef] Stalin’s Russia for starting World War II in conjunction with Hitler’s Germany. “

“Israel does not want to get involved in the dispute between Russia and Poland,” a senior Israeli diplomat told The Washington Post, speaking anonymously to speak more freely.

The official explained that “the criteria for choosing speakers were representatives of the Allies, the aggressor nation, the host country of the event.”

Putin, along with Pence, Macron, Prince Charles of Great Britain and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, will have five minutes to address the other world leaders on the subject of Holocaust remembrance and anti-Semitism. Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will also speak.

Putin will also have the opportunity to make a second public speech on Thursday morning at the inauguration in Jerusalem of a new monument dedicated to the siege of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, for years during the war. Some 800,000 people died during the blockade of almost 900 days from September 8, 1941 until January 27, 1944, including many Jews.

The monument, a nearly 28-foot bronze tower designed as an eternally lit candle, came at the behest of a former Russian-speaking legislator, the World War II Veterans Council of Israel and the Association of Blockade Survivors in Israel. It was funded by a mixture of Jewish organizations and the city councils of St. Petersburg and Jerusalem.

“Israel is home to thousands of siege survivors and descendants of those who perished,” said Gary Koren, Israel’s former ambassador to Russia. “Therefore, it is natural that also in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, there is a monument to commemorate the siege and what it means not only for the Russian people but also for the bond that the two people share.”


Isabelle Khurshudyan in Moscow contributed to this report.

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