President Peres defends Obama ahead of visit

Obama's record on Israel's security issues 'is perfect,' Peres tells delegation of US politicians

Greer Fay Cashman - The Jerusalem Post - February 18, 2013

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 conversation.

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 Helsinki Accords.

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 record.

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 wall.

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 country.

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 belief.

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.

Today, said Peres, Iran poses the greatest danger to human rights both within Iran and outside. Homosexuals are being executed and people are being imprisoned for mounting demonstrations.

Human rights in the region is a major priority, said Peres, telling the delegation: "Your specific issue should be the call of the day."

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 whole region.

"The Helsinki Commission admires you for what you have been able to achieve and for having inspired so many of us," said Cardin.

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