Jews Held Abroad Win Very Different Reactions at Home

Freedom for Ostreicher — Others Jailed With Little Sign of Hope


By Nathan Guttman

Published December 26, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
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The United States government reached the conclusion that he had been arrested by Iranian intelligence forces, but Tehran has repeatedly denied that it was holding him or had any knowledge of his location.

The Associated Press’s December 12 revelation that Levinson was, in fact, working for the CIA, shed startling new light on the case.

He was on a mission, the AP reported, to investigate financial issues relating to the Iranian regime and was sent there by a CIA analyst who was unauthorized to deploy agents on overseas spying missions.

In Kish, Levinson met with Dawud Salahuddin, an American fugitive wanted for the 1980 killing of an Iranian diplomat in the United States. Levinson disappeared shortly after the meeting. He is now the longest-held American whose capture appears to be connected to work he was doing for the United States government. According to the report, the Levinson family received $2.5 million from the CIA to avoid a lawsuit.

The family, however, still points to the government as being responsible for “abandoning” Levinson in Iran. A spokesman for the Levinson family did not respond to questions from the Forward regarding the case.

Even after it was revealed that Levinson was working for the U.S government in its efforts to curtail the Iranian regime, the Jewish community maintained its distance from the case. An official from a large Jewish organization, who was not authorized to speak on record, said it was “widely understood that our involvement will not help” in advancing Levinson’s release.

In Gross’s case, the mobilization, at least of the local Washington community, was full and continues to provide a significant advocacy voice and support network for the family. It makes a difference, no doubt, that the communist government in Havana, whatever its shortcomings, has no history of anti-Semitism. It has, indeed, maintained quiet, if unofficial relations with Israel for several decades. Jewish groups have not voiced any fear that public knowledge of Gross’s Jewishness could put him in any greater jeopardy.

In addition to all this, Gross was imprisoned by Cuba on charges that he sought to undermine the government by illegally providing the organized Jewish community in Cuba with banned or restricted electronic equipment under a federally funded program that aims to undermine the regime. The equipment would purportedly have enabled community members to evade pervasive government monitoring when accessing the Internet.

For Ostreicher, a Brooklyn entrepreneur, it was mainly the New York Orthodox community that took on his case, while the broader Jewish community remained on the sidelines. Many have seen it as a purely private tragedy that involved unscrupulous local business partners in a local rice-growing enterprise in which Ostreicher had invested. His partners allegedly engaged in fraud and bribery to rob Ostreicher of his investment and get him arrested. But Ostreicher himself has stated that the case does not appear to have involved anti-Semitism — a factor that often trips off communal involvement.


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