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July 7, 2015 / 20 Tammuz, 5775
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Public Pressure And The Ostreicher Case

Early this week it appeared the end could well be in sight to the ordeal of Jacob Ostreicher, an Orthodox Jewish businessman from Brooklyn jailed in Bolivia without being charged for a year and a half on suspicion of money laundering.

According to reports, he was the victim of corrupt Bolivian officials who routinely targeted people known to have deep pockets for false imprisonment and then sought to extort large sums of money from them in order to be released. Those believed involved in the extortion ring, including a judge, several prosecutors and Interior Ministry officials, have already been arrested.

Mr. Ostreicher’s story is the stuff of cinematic intrigue and even has the added dimension of an intervention by movie star Sean Penn and his friend, the Bolivian president, who ordered an investigation. And of course the anguish suffered by Mr. Ostreicher and his family is a story in itself.

We were struck by the continuing public interest in the Ostreicher case, almost from the beginning. There were rallies, online petitions calling on the Obama administration to do what it could to free him, and a congressional hearing to look into what the State Department was doing to help.

So here was a seemingly faceless, solitary Jew buried in one of those notorious Latin American prisons one reads about or sees portrayed in movies. Yet he was not really alone and he was not just a number. He was someone whose individuality and personal fate were celebrated and not permitted to fall from the public’s radar screen.

We cannot help but contrast this with the fate of those millions of Jews who were rendered anonymous, unceremoniously rounded up and killed in the Holocaust. “Never Again” is not just a slogan. It is a rallying cry and requires hard work, but as in the case of Jacob Ostreicher, we dare not be timid.

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Beyond the particulars of this tragic death, however, we should all be concerned about the possibility that a criminal prosecution in a major American city is being driven by fear of mobs in the street.

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