Orthodox Push Case of Jailed Businessman

Mainstream Groups Split Over Campaign for Jacob Ostreicher's Release

By Nathan Guttman

Published June 19, 2012, issue of June 22, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Gathered outside a Bolivian diplomatic office in New York, several hundred Jewish protesters raised signs and chanted slogans calling for the release of Jacob “Yankel” Ostreicher, a Brooklyn businessman held without charge for a year in the South American nation.

A video of the May 3 demonstration reveals a sea of yarmulkes and black hats. Women stood at the far end of the protest, not mixing with the men.

Jacob Ostreicher
courtesy of free jacob ostreicher
Jacob Ostreicher

The rally strikingly illustrated the fact that the Orthodox and Hasidic communities have spearheaded efforts to protest Ostreicher’s imprisonment while the rest of the Jewish community has largely stood silently.

The Ostreicher case, which has begun to gain national attention in recent months, has posed a dilemma to Jewish organizations: Are the arrest and detention of an American Jew without charge or trial cause for mobilizing the community? Or should Jewish activism kick in only in clear cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish bias?

Mainstream groups clearly think they should stay out of the Ostreicher fight.

“The factors that would activate traditional defense organizations to take action are absent in this case,” said Michael Salberg, director of international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League. While expressing humanitarian concerns over Ostreicher’s fate, Salberg noted that there is no evidence of the businessman being singled out because of his Jewish faith.

Bolivian authorities arrested Ostreicher, a 53-year-old flooring contractor from Boro Park, in June 2011 when he was visiting a rice farm in which he had invested and that he oversees. Bolivian prosecutors alleged he was involved in money laundering, but no charges have been filed. A hearing scheduled for June 11 was postponed, as have many previous hearings.

Ostreicher is being held in the notorious Palmasola prison, a large facility that holds accused murderers and drug dealers. Press reports say Palmasola is run largely by the prisoners themselves and that Ostreicher, who was recently visited by an reporter from ABC’s “Nightline,” had to pay to rent a cell in prison. He is the only American, and the only observant Jew, in Palmasola.

“I’m absolutely 100% innocent,” Ostreicher said in the interview, after eating matzo and kosher food brought to him by his wife during Passover.

After his arrest, Ostreicher’s family tried making private appeals to Bolivian authorities in order to win his release. But after months without progress, the family turned to American lawmakers, the media and human rights organizations. The ultimate goal is to get the U.S. State Department to pressure the government in La Paz to bring an end to his ordeal.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.