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Flipping the Script for Freeing All Hostages

Unlike Israel, the concern in the United States is more for the fate of the Palestinians than the hostages.

Edan Alexander

Do you know these names? Edan Alexander, 19; Sagui Dekel-Chen, 35; Omer Neutra, 22; Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23; Keith Siegel, 64.

These are the five American citizens who have been held hostage for nearly nine months. Three other U.S. citizens were killed (Itay Chen, 19, an Israel Defense Forces soldier killed defending the border on Oct. 7, and two grandparents, Judith Weinstein Haggai and Gadi Haggai), and the terrorists still hold their bodies.

Imagine their families’ torment. These are American citizens, just like you or me, enduring unimaginable hardship. Where are the yellow ribbons, the bracelets, the student campaigns for their safe return?

If any one of the hostages was a journalist, you can be sure the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal would be writing about them and their families repeatedly and demanding their release — and they would be calling the captors terrorists instead of “militants.”

But the hostages are not reporters. They’re just Jews. Their lives are worth even less because they are Israelis.

There was an effort to raise awareness by plastering posters with pictures of the hostages around cities and campuses. The hatred of Jews and Israel is so great among parts of the population that they were defaced and torn down. Imagine Ivy League students taking milk cartons with pictures of missing children and disfiguring their faces or making a show of destroying them. That is the level of contempt they showed for the Israeli men, women and children taken from their homes.

Keith Siegel

Hostage families have said that President Joe Biden and other officials have shown great empathy for their loved ones and promised to do everything possible for their release. We know from press reports that the United States has provided intelligence, if not other resources, to help with the search for hostages, which contributed to the rescue of four Israelis.

White House National Security communications advisor John Kirby made a very public demonstration of support for the hostages when he wore a “Bring Them Home Now” necklace at a briefing on Dec. 13, 2023, after the president had met with families of the American hostages. Sadly, he stopped wearing it in subsequent briefings, perhaps to avoid upsetting Democrats who believe that the administration should be solely focused on the fate of the Palestinians in Gaza and withdraw support for Israel.

We should talk about the hostages at every opportunity and harangue the press and politicians if they fail to talk about them and their families. Besides raising awareness of the Americans — without neglecting the rest of the hostages — we need to change the narrative calling for their release. I am not about to tell the families going through hell while their loved ones are held hostage by bloodthirsty terrorists how to pursue their freedom, but Americans can take a different approach without contradicting them.

The focus of the families has primarily been on pressuring the Israeli government to negotiate a deal for the hostages’ release. Americans don’t have any influence on the government of Israel’s decision on the issue, nor should we. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces an almost impossible dilemma of how to reach an agreement that does not harm Israeli security by incentivizing hostage taking, dishonoring the sacrifices of the Israeli soldiers who have fought to destroy Hamas or capitulating to terror.

And the decision of whether or not to release the hostages is up to Hamas’ leader Yahya Sinwar. It is by no means certain that if Israel surrendered by giving into Hamas’ demands to end the war and withdrew all its troops from Gaza, Sinwar would let all the hostages go. Most people don’t know Hamas had been holding four Israelis (two of them thought dead) for nearly a decade before this war started.

Those of us who do not live in Israel or have family members in captivity have a different challenge, which is to present Israel’s case in the most persuasive way possible and to campaign for the hostages’ freedom effectively. Unlike Israel, the concern in the United States is more for the fate of the Palestinians than the hostages. I’m referring to the average American (to the extent they’re paying attention to the media), not the antisemites defending the terrorists. For them, the narrative has been primarily about the suffering of innocent Palestinians. Readers of this column know they are being used as human shields and that has resulted in so many unfortunate casualties. That argument has not been persuasive. When someone sees photographs of destroyed neighborhoods, bodies of children and chaotic scenes in hospitals, they do not think of them as victims of Hamas.

Israelis and their supporters are not good at simple messages. I don’t think I’ve ever given a speech where someone hasn’t asked me why Israel has such terrible PR. We want to explain the history and the justifications for Israeli actions. We lecture rather than offer soundbites. Oversimplification is anathema to our sensibilities. But sometimes, it is necessary.

The Palestinians have become the grandmasters of propaganda. They can answer any question in three words: “End the occupation.” You could ask them about the color of the sky, and that is the response you would get. That is the answer to solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. No elaboration is necessary.

In Israel, the hostage families have effectively made their case in four words: “Bring them home now.” They are the wrong words for Americans to use because that is not an option for our government and the hostages’ fate is not the public’s principal concern. From the president to college undergraduates, the emphasis is on the plight of Palestinian civilians. Our message should be focused on Hamas’ responsibility without going into arguments about civilian shields and weapons in schools and mosques and children’s bedrooms. I haven’t gotten it down to three words, but we should use some formulation of “Save Palestinian Lives: Release the Hostages.”

This would also put the pro-Israel community in tune with the administration, which is also placing the onus on Hamas to release the hostages to end the war.

Only Hamas can end the war and the suffering, and we should repeat that incessantly in diverse ways that require no explanation and can fit on a bumper sticker (old school) or become a meme (new school).


Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby,” “Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”

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