Opinion: By exploiting ‘Baby Moshe’ as a mascot, India and Israel betray poor moral sense

There has been little critical comment about a boy being placed in a situation in which he does not understand the importance of all he is being made to say.

The Israeli prime minister’s official visit to India commenced this week with Benjamin Netanyahu arriving in Delhi and 11-year old Moshe Holtzberg in Mumbai. “Baby Moshe” is the boy who lost his parents in the terrorist attack in Mumbai nine years ago and was rescued by his Indian nanny.

As the Delhi media followed Netanyahu around, so the Mumbai media followed 11-year old Moshe around.

It has to be a new low in international diplomacy when nations think nothing of exploiting a child and his personal tragedy for political ends. It says much about the political morality of national leaders who treat a child as the mascot of their relationship.

Moshe Holtzberg’s trip to Mumbai and the site of his parent’s violent deaths as an adjunct to Netanyahu’s official visit to India was announced when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel earlier this year.

During that visit, 11-year old Moshe Holtzberg was trotted out by the Israeli government to meet Modi. Moshe, flanked by Modi and Netanyahu, read haltingly from a written script about the good works of the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch sect of which his extended family are committed members and of his desire to return as head of the Chabad House in Mumbai.

He went on, still reading from the script: “I want to ask you something from all my heart, please continue to love me forever.” After stumbling over more words about India and Israel he said, “Dear Mr Modi I love you and the people of India.”

Unsettling performance

There is something more than a little unsettling listening to an 11-year old read words he has not written. There is something shocking hearing him read needy, manipulative words that express emotions he cannot possibly feel. That the adults around him only laughed and applauded compounds the tragic absence of his parents in his life.

There have been discussions on social media in Israel on the Chabad-Lubavitch sect’s manipulation of Moshe Holtzberg to promote their work. In the speech that young Moshe read out during Modi’s visit to Jerusalem, it was clear that his extended family is not above using the little boy to promote their religious activities. In Mumbai, the family, psychologist reportedly in tow, appear to think nothing of subjecting an 11 year-old to the public gaze and turning what must be an emotionally confusing journey for a child into a public performance.

What is even more disturbing is how little critical comment there has been about a politics that uses a little boy, not old enough to understand the importace of all he is being made to do and say. The media, for the most, has been thought-free. How else would you get a headline like this one: “The Little Moshe excited to see Nariman House nine years after 26/11.” As for media audiences, it seems a combination of vicariousness and idle curiosity have dulled their humanity.

Narendra Modi flanked by Benjamin Netanyahu meet with Moshe Holtzberg in July at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Credit: PTI.
Narendra Modi flanked by Benjamin Netanyahu meet with Moshe Holtzberg in July at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Credit: PTI.
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Tracing the formation of Al Qaeda and its path to 9/11

A new show looks at some of the crucial moments leading up to the attack.

“The end of the world war had bought America victory but not security” - this quote from Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book, ‘The Looming Tower’, gives a sense of the growing threat to America from Al Qaeda and the series of events that led to 9/11. Based on extensive interviews, including with Bin Laden’s best friend in college and the former White House counterterrorism chief, ‘The Looming Tower’ provides an intimate perspective of the 9/11 attack.

Lawrence Wright chronicles the formative years of Al Qaeda, giving an insight in to Bin Laden’s war against America. The book covers in detail, the radicalisation of Osama Bin Laden and his association with Ayman Al Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor who preached that only violence could change history. In an interview with Amazon, Wright shared, “I talked to 600-something people, but many of those people I talked to again and again for a period of five years, some of them dozens of times.” Wright’s book was selected by TIME as one of the all-time 100 best nonfiction books for its “thoroughly researched and incisively written” account of the road to 9/11 and is considered an essential read for understanding Islam’s war on the West as it developed in the Middle East.

‘The Looming Tower’ also dwells on the response of key US officials to the rising Al Qaeda threat, particularly exploring the turf wars between the FBI and the CIA. This has now been dramatized in a 10-part mini-series of the same name. Adapted by Dan Futterman (of Foxcatcher fame), the series mainly focuses on the hostilities between the FBI and the CIA. Some major characters are based on real people - such as John O’ Neill (FBI’s foul-mouthed counterterrorism chief played by Jeff Daniels) and Ali Soufan (O’ Neill’s Arabic-speaking mentee who successfully interrogated captured Islamic terrorists after 9/11, played by Tahar Rahim). Some are composite characters, such as Martin Schmidt (O’Neill’s CIA counterpart, played by Peter Sarsgaard).

The series, most crucially, captures just how close US intelligence agencies had come to foiling Al Qaeda’s plans, just to come up short due to internal turf wars. It follows the FBI and the CIA as they independently follow intelligence leads in the crises leading up to 9/11 – the US Embassy bombings in East Africa and the attack on US warship USS Cole in Yemen – but fail to update each other. The most glaring example is of how the CIA withheld critical information – Al Qaeda operatives being hunted by the FBI had entered the United States - under the misguided notion that the CIA was the only government agency authorised to deal with terrorism threats.

The depth of information in the book has translated into a realistic recreation of the pre-9/11 years on screen. The drama is even interspersed with actual footage from the 9/11 conspiracy, attack and the 2004 Commission Hearing, linking together the myriad developments leading up to 9/11 with chilling hindsight. Watch the trailer of this gripping show below.


The Looming Tower is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, along with a host of Amazon originals and popular movies and TV shows. To enjoy unlimited ad free streaming anytime, anywhere, subscribe to Amazon Prime Video.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon Prime Video and not by the Scroll editorial team.