At every meeting that President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu have with American dignitaries these days, the subject of US President
Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel inevitably finds its way into the
Thus it was no surprise that the subject cropped up again
on Sunday, when Peres met with a bipartisan delegation of senators and
congressman who are members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in
Europe, which is also known as the Helsinki Commission, a US government agency
that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975
The 21 members of the commission comprise nine members
from the US Senate and nine from the House of Representatives, plus one each
from the departments of state, defense and commerce.
Senator Ben Cardin,
the Democratic senator for Maryland and co-chairman of the commission, is the
leader of the delegation, which is spending seven days visiting Israel, Turkey
and Austria to engage in firsthand assessments of democratic, economic and human
rights developments, with strong emphasis on the latter.
In welcoming the
delegation, Peres said that traditionally the US Congress has been “the
strongest bipartisan support we have.”
He then spoke of Israel’s
excitement about Obama’s planned visit and stated that one of the tenets of
Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, was to judge a person on his
The record of President Obama on security matters relating to
Israel “is perfect,” said Peres, who lauded Obama for showing “the deepest
understanding and the most forthcoming support.”
Outside the President’s
Residence was a group of Justice for Pollard activists, who would not agree with
that assessment, in view the fact that their appeals and that of Peres himself
for clemency for Pollard on humanitarian grounds have thus far hit a brick
So have appeals by the Conference of Presidents of Major American
Jewish Organizations, whose executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, told an
audience of hundreds at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue on Saturday night that
Pollard is approaching his 10,000th day of incarceration, which Hoenlein termed
“an outrage,” in view of Pollard’s ill health.
“He has to be released
now,” Hoenlein declared.
Placards and posters with the images of Peres
and Pollard on either side, and texts demanding that Peres secure Pollard’s
release and prevent him from languishing any further in prison, lined the street
across the road from the President’s Residence and were also displayed on
several apartment balconies.
At the meeting Peres reviewed the overall
political situation in the region, saying that there was a great deal of
confusion, to the extent that Israel no longer knows who her enemies are,
because in several cases it’s uncertain as to who exactly is running the
He was particularly concerned about Syria and the ongoing
carnage, in which the president of the country is responsible for the daily
killing of innocent children.
In reference to the Helsinki Accords of
1975 in which the US was one of 35 states that signed a 10-article declaration
aimed at improving relations between the West and the Soviet bloc countries, the
seventh article stipulated in the accords was respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion and
Helsinki was a watershed in the history of human rights, said
Peres. It was the first time that the Soviet Union was forced to deal with the
issue, which constituted a great moral victory for the US.
Peres, Iran poses the greatest danger to human rights both within Iran and
outside. Homosexuals are being executed and people are being imprisoned for
Human rights in the region is a major priority,
said Peres, telling the delegation: “Your specific issue should be the call of
Cardin replied that they had come to underscore the friendship
between Israel and the US. He had come to Israel for the first time as a
legislator 40 years ago, traveling with a Jewish National Fund mission, and has
been back many times since, he said.
He remembered meeting Peres on that
first occasion, when Peres had spoken of his vision for human rights for the
“The Helsinki Commission admires you for what you have been
able to achieve and for having inspired so many of us,” said Cardin.