In a widely disseminated error by news outlets and bloggers, Joshua Fattal, 27, currently a captive in Iran, is being confused with Joshua Fattal, a teenaged local yeshiva student who has written two articles for Fresh Ink, the high school supplement of The Jewish Week.
The case of mistaken identity has led to speculation that the older Fattal may be charged with being a “Zionist” spy.
Iran seized the older Fattal on July 31, along with two other Americans, Shane Bauer and Sara Shourd, after they allegedly strayed across the Iran-Iraq border near Kurdistan.
Although the captive Fattal attended college at the University of California at Berkeley, and has no connection to The Jewish Week or to any yeshiva, the mistaken
identity led Aljazeera.com, the Arab news service, to headline on Aug. 8: “Three Americans Held in Iran Are all Jews: Were They Spies?”
After perfunctory Internet searches for “Joshua Fattal,” several bloggers and news services apparently discovered the younger Fattal’s bylines for The Jewish Week, most recently for a June 3 article on the film “Defiance,” and falsely concluded that the captive Fattal is a Jewish journalist and Zionist, making him all the more vulnerable in Iran’s volatile political climate.
Al Jazeera reported that the captive Fattal “is a researcher in the American Jewish center and works for the Jewish magazine ‘The Jewish Week.’” An Iranian television station also identified the captive as “an extreme Zionist.”
Maggie Thornton, a blogger from “a central-south” state, seems to the prime Internet source for the false linkage, with her Aug. 2 posting that the captive Fattal “is a resident of Eugene, Oregon and a junior at the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn, N.Y., according to his bio at The Jewish Week where he is a contributor.” Thornton’s posting was picked up by Jblog, “the Jewish and Israeli blog network,” and is the first item now seen when searching on Google for “Joshua Fattal Jewish.” Thornton did not respond to an e-mail from The Jewish Week requesting clarification.
The mistake ought to have been obvious since the captive, in some reports, was identified as a resident of Oregon at the same time as he was identified as a student in Brooklyn.
The Associated Press, however, reported that the captive Fattal spent the last “three years living with a group dedicated to sustainable farming near Cottage Grove, Ore. … before leaving about eight months ago.” Then, “from January to June” he was traveling “overseas as a teaching assistant with the International Honors Program, visiting Switzerland, India, South Africa and China on a global ecology program,” travels that eventually led him to the Iraq-Iran border.