What distinguishes Naama Issachar from other Israeli prisoners?

The answer the Prime Minister’s Office has given is that Issachar got caught up in something that was bigger than herself.

Naama Issachar meets with PM Benjamin Netanyahu after her release, Jan. 30, 2020 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Naama Issachar meets with PM Benjamin Netanyahu after her release, Jan. 30, 2020
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Many Israelis followed the case of Naama Issachar with a great deal of emotion. For many families, it was like Issachar was one of their own. Here she was, a 26-year-old yoga instructor from Rehovot who went on a trip to India and had a few grams of pot in her suitcase when she was detained during a stopover in Moscow airport.
There, what should have been a small crime with a slap on the wrist, turned into a diplomatic crisis with the young Issachar caught in the middle, sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.
Everyone in Israel should be happy and relieved that she has been released and thankful to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for succeeding in getting Russian President Vladimir Putin to grant her early parole.
Alongside the relief and happiness though, we are left with many questions. First, why did the prime minister personally intervene in Issachar’s case. On Thursday night, Channel 12 revealed that over 600 Israelis are currently serving jail sentences across the globe, some in the US, Russia and some across Asia for similar crimes to Issachar’s.
In October, for example, The Jerusalem Post reported that 67 Israelis had been arrested and imprisoned overseas for smuggling khat, which is not illegal in Israel but is throughout most of Europe. Many of those arrested were ultra-Orthodox youth and Israelis of Ethiopian descent who did not know what they were getting themselves into and had been taken advantage of by the dealers. They came from poor backgrounds and were tempted by easy money for just taking a suitcase overseas of a substance they knew to be legal in Israel. 
Why has Netanyahu not worked publicly on their behalf to help secure their early release? What made Issachar special?
The answer the Prime Minister’s Office has given is that Issachar got caught up in something that was bigger than herself.  Israel and Russia have a number of issues that needed to be resolved including the ban on allowing certain Russian tourists into Israel. Netanyahu understood that if he did not personally intervene, the case could blow up into a larger crisis and impact strategic matters like the Air Force’s continued operational freedom over Syria.
While this might be true, the public still does not know what price Israel paid for Issachar’s release. As Herb Keinon wrote in Friday’s Post, “Putin is not as warm and cozy as he looks and comes across. He does not give gifts to other states, nor is he known for making humanitarian gestures. Putin is driven by what he perceives as Russia’s interests.”
The details remain a mystery. There is talk of giving Russia sovereignty over church property in Jerusalem and easing up restrictions on Russian tourists, but maybe there was more to the deal. We still don’t know.
Now that Issachar is back home, the media also needs to take a hard look at itself and see if maybe it went a little over the top in the way it covered her affair. The story of her arrest was hard to stomach, but why did the list of 600 plus additional Israelis in foreign jails only get published on Thursday night once she came back home. Weren’t these questions that needed to be asked earlier on in the process to understand what exactly was happening and what Israel was getting itself into.
This is not to say that Israel should not have worked to help secure Issachar’s release from prison. It should have and it should continue to do the same for other Israelis in a similar scenario.
But there already are a few. Avera Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian origin has been held in Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip since September 2014. That is more than five years. It is difficult to shake the feeling that his skin color or mental state isn’t part of the reason that a campaign similar to the one to free Naama has not been taken up by the general public or the mainstream media.
Like any country, Israel has a responsibility to keep its citizens safe but that includes all of its citizens. Not just the ones that the media decides to spotlight.