Prisoners Weigh Making Jewish Identity Public

Captives Ponder Whether It Will Help or Hurt Freedom Plea

Poignant Plea: After a year in Al Qaeda captivity, aid worker Warren Weinstein appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help win his freedom. He also asked his wife to enlist the support of Jewish organizations.
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Poignant Plea: After a year in Al Qaeda captivity, aid worker Warren Weinstein appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help win his freedom. He also asked his wife to enlist the support of Jewish organizations.

By Nathan Guttman

Published September 24, 2012, issue of September 28, 2012.
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Besides the Weinstein case, Alan Gross, a contract employee for the United States Agency for International Development in Cuba, turned to the American Jewish community for help after initially trying to avoid stressing his Jewish connections. In contrast, the family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who is believed to have been kidnapped in Iran in 2007, has thus far refrained from asking the Jewish community for help; and in Bolivia, businessman Jacob Ostreicher’s call for release from prison has been echoed actively by New York’s Orthodox Jewish community but has gotten little support, so far, from the broader community.

Alan Gross
Alan Gross

Weinstein, 71, is a veteran international development worker who directed operations in Pakistan for a private contractor. In August 2011, kidnappers took him captive from his home in Lahore, which they entered by posing as neighbors bringing food for the meal ending the Ramadan fast. In December, Al Qaeda announced that it was holding Weinstein, and in May the American appealed to President Obama via a video message to release prisoners in return for his freedom. Al Qaeda leaders later also demanded an end to drone attacks by the United States in Afghanistan.

On September 12, a new Weinstein video appeared on a website known to be affiliated with Al Qaeda. In the message, Weinstein directly beseeched Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “As a Jew, I am appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish State of Israel, as one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf,” he said, “so that I can be released and returned to my family, see my wife, my children and my grandchildren again.” It was not clear from the message how Weinstein or his captives expected Israel to help in the release of prisoners held by the United States.

A day later, another message emerged, in which Weinstein asked his wife to turn to Jewish organizations for help in getting the attention of the American government. “Please make as many contacts as you can with Jewish communities in the United States in order to put pressure on the American government, on President Obama, to work with and accept the demands of the mujahedeen,” said. He also asked the Jewish community to get Netanyahu involved, and requested that his wife reach out to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to do the same.

Jewish groups have yet to respond to the call. The ADL made clear that it would look for ways to raise the issue, although it was not clear what course of action was required. Salberg stressed that though Weinstein’s appeal to the Jewish community marks a new turn in the case, he was not abducted because he was Jewish, nor is his faith the reason he is being held by the terror group.


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