WASHINGTON — As an international internet campaign picked up steam, Jewish communities across the United States and national organizations mobilized Monday in solidarity with the families of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped last Thursday evening.
In New York on Monday, around 200 Jewish Americans gathered outside the Israeli consulate to pray for the release of the three. The crowd, which included many children of school age, called for the safe release of the teens, one of whom, 16-year-old Naftali Frankel, has dual American-Israeli citizenship.
They held up photographs of the missing youths with the slogan #BringBackOurBoys, copied from the social media campaign “BringBackOurGirls” launched for the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists in Nigeria two months ago. Others held up placards accusing Palestinian terrorists of carrying out the kidnapping. Israel has blamed Hamas for the kidnapping, in the West Bank’s Etzion Bloc late last Thursday night.
In Washington, web-based activism merged with traditional forms of political advocacy – public vigils and petitions – to raise awareness and call on the US government to assist in whatever way possible in the boys’ return.
By early Tuesday, some 13,500 Americans had signed an online petition on the White House website “demanding that President Barack Obama and his administration use all means necessary to assist the Israeli Government in their efforts to locate these captive children in line with their strict stance of ‘No Boy will be left behind.'”
If the petition crosses the threshold of 100,000 signatures in 30 days, it will be sent to policy experts and the White House will issue a response.
At least two public vigils are planned in Washington this week – one outside the Israeli Embassy on Wednesday evening, publicized by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, and a second in front of the White House a day later, initiated by Frankel’s cousin, Manny Halberstam.
US Jewish organizations have also thrown their weight behind raising awareness of the teenagers’ plight and urging their communities to activism. Prayer services and vigils are planned in a number of Jewish communities, and moments of silence were held at several events.
In addition to planning the Wednesday vigil, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington sent out a letter telling members that “at this time, the Jewish community must stand strong together with our fellow Jews in Israel” and urging them to “join with Jews around the world to offer our prayers, thoughts and solidarity to the families of the three boys.”
The organizations suggested that members download and share pictures of themselves with the “Bring Back Our Boys” sign, to use the Twitter hashtags #BringBackOurBoys and #EyalGiladNaphtali, to sign a letter of unity to the boys’ families, and to join over 85,000 others in “liking” a Facebook page dedicated to the missing teens.
As the work week began, initial responses to the kidnappings began to emerge from Capitol Hill.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a statement Monday afternoon in which he “strongly condemned” the “kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian extremists” and called for their immediate release.
“This act of terrorism against Israel extends to the U.S. as well,” Waxman continued, noting that Frankel is a US citizen and that another one of the kidnapped teenagers, Gil-ad Shaar, has “deep family ties” to Waxman’s home state of California.
“As we continue to gather details about who is responsible, I call on President Abbas and the new government of the Palestinian Authority to match their words with actions and do all they can to locate and safely return these teenagers.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) also released a statement Monday in which he wrote that “my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the three Jewish teenagers, two Israelis and one American, who have been kidnapped by radical Islamic terrorists. This atrocity against both our nations reminds us that we face a mutual enemy who attacks us because of our shared commitment to the basic principles of freedom.”
Quoting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the impact of the Palestinian unity government, Cruz went on to say that the kidnapping “should also alert the Obama Administration to the fact that working with, recognizing, and/or funding any ‘unity’ government that includes those that seek the destruction of the Jewish State is naive and foolish. Such legitimization of the enemies of Israel and the United States only invites more violence.”
Cruz, a frequent critic of the administration’s policies in the Middle East, said that “President Obama should immediately direct the Department of State to suspend assistance to the Palestinian Authority until the PA recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and takes specific and affirmative steps to renounce and eradicate terrorism. This most recent vicious attack on innocent young civilians demonstrates beyond any doubt that the PA is not fulfilling these conditions, and not one more U.S. taxpayer dollar should be sent to support them until they do.”
During the State Department daily press briefing on Monday, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said that the US was waiting to assess the details of the investigation into the incident before making decisions regarding PA funding, but acknowledged that the US government was “in close contact with both the Israelis and Palestinians” and was “offering assistance to try and find the kidnapped teenagers as swiftly as possible and return them unharmed to their families.”
The US, she said, had spoken with Israel about “the importance of ongoing security cooperation,” and noted that, when asked whether the US had asked Israel to “tone down” its treatment of Palestinians, that “there’s obviously a great deal of emotion in Israel given the fact that we have three missing teenagers, and the Secretary has also expressed his strong concern and condemnation of that action.”
Although the family of kidnapped 16-year-old dual citizen Frankel thanked the US Embassy in Israel for its assistance in efforts to locate their son, Psaki said that she could not confirm details of his citizenship because neither Frankel nor his family had signed a Privacy Act waiver allowing the State Department to discuss his case specifically.
She could, however, “confirm that our Consul General in Jerusalem as well as our Embassy in Tel Aviv have been in touch with the family of one of the kidnapped boys.”
AFP contributed to this story.