The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington believes it can pressure Qatar to force its client Hamas to release the remains of two slain Israeli soldiers captured in 2014. Qatar, a small Persian Gulf state, has been under blockade from its larger neighbors since the summer.
About 50 people gathered in front of Qatar’s embassy Sept. 28 to drive their message home.
“You have one of these complex situations with international and domestic variables taking place,” said Ron Halber, JCRC executive director.
Halber compared the situation of slain soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin to earlier cases of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas, and Alan Gross, an American Jew held by Cuba. Both men were eventually freed.
“When Gilad Shalit was freed, it was in the interests of the Egyptians to help make it happen. When Alan was freed it was part of Cuba wanting to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States. Things happen in the international arena that aren’t predictable.”
Haaretz reported on Sept. 13 that Qatar had approached leaders of Jewish organizations to arrange meetings in an attempt to improve its image. According to a Sept. 15 opinion piece in Forbes, Qatar had promised that, in exchange for meetings, Hamas would release the bodies of the two soldiers.
Rabbi Adam Raskin, of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, and others at the rally condemned the reported offer.
“It is cruel, it is heartless, it is sickening, and now Qatar is using the bodies of these two Israeli boys as bargaining chips to bolster its image in the West,” Raskin said, and speaking to Qatar’s ambassador, who was not present, added, “Mr. Ambassador, please tell the emir that human bodies are not commodities to be traded. If you want to improve the image of your country, you can start by evicting Hamas, not financing Hamas.”
Raskin was joined by Rev. Keith Byrd of Washington’s Zion Baptist Church and Imam Talib Shareef of Masjid Muhammad (The Nation’s Mosque), who came in support of what they called a humanitarian issue. Byrd said that not allowing the soldiers’ families to bury their sons was a moral issue that should concern people all faiths.
“Jesus teaches us to mourn with those who mourn,” he said. “It is just inhumane for anybody to not allow closure to their families. To, at least, at the very least, have the benefit of appropriately burying their loved ones.”
Said Shareef: “We are here today to speak to the conscience of those who say they’re Muslim. To do the right thing and to listen to what God says. Stand up for justice, and don’t let how you might feel about a person cause you to be unjust. It’s about our shared humanity. So we thank you, and we stand with you in this good cause and we hope that an example will be set by Qatar with the influence that they have.”
Attending the rally was Jay Feldman, managing director of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi.
“This specific situation hits close to home to many of us,” he said. “We have brothers in Israel. We have AEPi chapters in Israel.”
Janet Maman of North Bethesda said she attended because she is a mother.
“I just felt compassion for the parents” of the soldiers, she said.
Halber said his agency began considering taking a position on Qatar after it met with Goldin’s parents in September. “They asked for our help, and our help they shall receive,” he said into a megaphone as demonstrators held signs
Qatar was the first Persian Gulf state to establish ties with Israel. It has also poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Hamas-ruled Gaza and supported Hamas diplomatically.
Qatar’s government recently began paying $50,000 per month to Washington public relations firm Stonington Strategies to help improve its image with the American Jewish community. Nick Muzin, former adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), heads the firm. He did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
Halber called the rally the beginning of a campaign to win the release of the soldiers’ remains.