Russia’s chief rabbi expressed optimism on Tuesday about the potential release of a young Israeli-American woman imprisoned in his country on drug charges, saying, “I think we are finally nearing the end.”
Naama Issachar, 26, was arrested at a Moscow airport last April after she was found to be in possession of a small amount of cannabis during a stopover on the way home to Israel from a trip to India. She was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for drug smuggling, a charge she denies.
It is widely believed that political reasons were behind her heavy sentence, and a campaign is underway to free her.
It is hoped that Russian President Vladimir Putin will pardon Issachar during his visit to Israel this week for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar was asked by Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot about the possibility of a pardon and he replied, “I think that’s definitely the direction, but I don’t know and can’t say at what time or which day it will happen.”
“The mood and feeling are positive,” he added. “I think we are finally nearing the end. We went through a very difficult time.”
In Russia itself, Lazar pointed out, the case is no longer a focus of attention.
“It’s not talked about so much,” he said. “For a long time the issue came up, but today, thank God, the situation is quiet and we think it’s good.”
“It’s the story of a girl that we don’t understand why she received such a punishment,” Lazar noted. “She made a mistake, but she’s suffered enough. It’s time to go back home.”
Asked about Russian public opinion on the case, Lazar said, “I cannot speak on behalf of all the people of Russia, but I can say that what we feel is that people understand that the right thing is for her to return home. We hope to hear good news on this issue.”
Lazar noted that the Russian Jewish community had been working to support Issachar, saying, “Our people visit all the time … bringing her food, anything we can give her — morale, support in every way, we do the maximum.”
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also exuded optimism about Issachar’s possible release after a phone call with Putin.
A statement published by Netanyahu’s office on Thursday said the call with Putin was “warm and to the point” and “strengthened the prime minister’s optimism that the issue of the release of Naama Issachar is advancing towards a solution.”
Issachar’s mother Yafa, who has been leading the effort to free her daughter, said she also had positive feelings about recent developments, saying, “I’m optimistic right now, and ask the president of Russia with all my heart to act as a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people, and the leader of a world power, and release my Naama back to her home in Israel.”