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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One famous figure who did get involved was Hollywood film actor Sean Penn. A personal friend of Bolivian President Evo Morales, Penn lobbied Morales on Ostreicher’s behalf in October 2012. Penn’s lobbying persuaded Bolivian authorities to release Ostreicher from prison, where he’d been kept since June 2011, and place him under house arrest, from which he reportedly escaped on December 13 to make his way home.

Warren Weinstein is another Jewish American in captivity. An aid worker operating in Pakistan, Weinstein was abducted by Al Qaeda terrorists in 2011 and is believed to be held in Afghanistan. His case was largely ignored by the Jewish community until he made a public appeal in September 2012 to his wife to engage the Jewish community in his struggle for freedom.

“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,” he said in a video message sent by his captors.

Jewish organizations would not respond to questions about Weinstein’s request, but several officials in leading groups said that there has been no change in policy regarding Weinstein after his appeal, and that Jewish organizations still believe there is no room for a public campaign. One official, however, noted that it could be possible that Jewish leaders have raised the issue of Weinstein’s fate in private meetings with American and international leaders.

The usefulness of organized Jewish involvement, or the community’s apparent decision to avoid such involvement, has yet to be determined in each of these cases. Communal mobilization on behalf of Gross has not led thus far to any results. More recently, the absence of any visible action on behalf of Weinstein and Levinson has done little to help their situations.

As for Ostreicher, communal support, albeit limited largely to Orthdox circles, assisted in raising awareness of his case, as did the involvement of members of Congress and of Penn. But ultimately it was an internal Bolivian investigation that led to the weakening of the legal case against Ostreicher, allowing his move to house arrest and eventual escape back to the United States.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter @nathanguttman


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