PM pens letter to Israeli backpacker, vowing to free her from Russian jail

Netanyahu assures Naama Issachar, who is being held by Moscow on drug charges, that Israel ‘does not leave anyone behind’ and says that entire country keeps her in its thoughts

Israeli-American Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court on December 19, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)
Israeli-American Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court on December 19, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to an Israeli-American woman jailed in Russia on drug charges, vowing to do everything in his power to ensure her freedom.

“Our nation has always been characterized by its heritage of mutual support. We don’t leave someone behind to their fate, and that’s how it is in your case as well,” Netanyahu wrote to Naama Issachar, according to a copy of the letter distributed by his office.

Issachar, 27, has been held by Russia since April when some 10 grams of cannabis were found in her luggage during a layover in Moscow. She was sentenced to seven and a half years for drug smuggling, a charge she denied, noting she had not sought to enter Russia during the stopover on her way back to Israel from India.

“The State of Israel is investing unending efforts to bring about your freedom … we are all united in the expectation to see you soon,” Netanyahu wrote.

Issachar received the letter Sunday night, according to Netanyahu’s office, which has been in contact with her mother Yaffa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as they prepare to deliver joint statements, after a meeting and a lunch in the Israeli leader’s Jerusalem residence, June 25, 2012. (AP/Jim Hollander, Pool/File)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is slated to visit Israel next week, raising hopes among some for a goodwill gesture of diplomatic breakthrough in her case.

On Friday, Israel released two Syrian prisoners in what was seen as a gesture toward Putin.

Earlier this month, Yaffa Issachar appealed to President Reuven Rivlin, asking him not to host Vladimir Putin at his official residence when the Russian leader visits Israel later this month.

“It is inconceivable that you, the president of the state, will receive at the President’s Residence… the president of Russia, who is holding my daughter Naama as a political bargaining chip for extortion,” Yaffa Issachar wrote in an open letter published on Facebook.

Yaffa Issachar speaks to Channel 12 news in October 2018 (Channel 12 screenshot)

“I would like to inform you that it is my intention to come straight from Moscow to the entrance to the President’s Residence that same evening and block with my body the entrance of the Russian president and his delegation,” said Issachar in a Facebook post, who has been in the Russian capital working to secure her daughter’s release.

Issachar’s case has become a cause célèbre in Israel. Netanyahu, who has called the prison sentence “absurd,” asked Putin to pardon her in a phone call last week.

Moscow has said the Russian leader would consider the request.

Netanyahu, who has touted close ties with Moscow, promised during a campaign event in December to spring Issachar from Russian prison, raising hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough.

Issachar was abruptly moved late last month from the Moscow prison where she was being held to a remote detention facility, but was returned days later.

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