Edelstein thanks Kerry for advocating prison release

Knesset speaker was released from a Soviet camp in 1987; thanks Kerry at State dinner for signing letter asking for his release.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
March 24, 2013 05:51
2 minute read.
KNESSET SPEAKER Yuli Edelstein (left) sits next to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Edelstein370. (photo credit: Courtesy, President's Residence)

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein surprised US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday night by presenting him with a letter that Kerry had sent – as a senator – to then-Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev in March 1987 urging him to release Edelstein from a grueling Soviet prison camp.

Edelstein presented the letter to Kerry at the formal dinner they both attended at President Shimon Peres’s residence in honor of US President Barack Obama. He added a meaningful dedication: “To Secretary Kerry with deepest appreciation for your efforts 26 years ago. Yuli Edelstein, speaker of the Knesset.”

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The letter, which was signed by more than 40 senators and congressmen, described Edelstein as a Hebrew teacher falsely convicted of drug possession who suffered a severe injury in a prison camp and required urgent medical care. The letter noted Edelstein’s family’s fears that he might have been suffering from acute kidney failure.

“We members of Congress respectfully request that you intervene on behalf of Soviet prisoner Yuli Edelshtein,” the letter said. “Soviet law authorizes relief from a prison sentence because of illness. Yuli’s medical condition is critical and satisfies the conditions for granting medical clemency. We request that you intervene on Yuli’s behalf so that he may seek the proper medical care he so desperately needs.”

Kerry was emotional about the letter and showed it to several people at the dinner, including Israel’s ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, who said it gave him goose bumps.

“This is unbelievable,” Kerry said. “I remember that this was in my second year as a senator and you were released a few months after that. Thanks for this wonderful gift.”

Edelstein was released from the Soviet camp on May 4, 1987, and the veteran prisoner of Zion was finally allowed to make aliya. He had no idea that it happened to be Israel’s Independence Day on the Jewish calendar.



When he was badly injured and taken to the nearest hospital, officials there were told that it lacked security, so he had to be taken to a far-off labor camp that had a hospital. Edelstein said he owes his life to the determination of his wife, who continuously fought for him and urged senators like Kerry to fight on his behalf.

“They hoped I would die,” he says. “But when it got out to my wife that I was injured, she started a campaign for me. Only then did they send me real doctors who operated on me. When they wanted to send me back to the camp, she wrote the attorney-general that she would go on another hunger strike. Had I been sent back there, I think I would have died.”


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