Shalom Life | September 19, 2014

Steven Sotloff Had A Close Relationship to Israel

The Jewish-American freelance journalist, executed yesterday by ISIS, had an Israeli citizenship and studied at the IDC

By: Daniel Koren

Published: September 3rd, 2014 in News » World

Steven Sotloff Had A Close Relationship to Israel

The free world continues to mourn the death of 31-year-old American journalist Steven Sotloff, who was executed yesterday by the Islamic State.

The White House has since confirmed the video depicting his death's authenticity.

The video of Sotloff's gruesome beheading was unleashed onto the world on Tuesday, two weeks after a similar video was released displaying the execution of American journalist James Foley. It is believed that Sotloff's murderer is the same British-accent speaking man (in both videos dressed completely in black garb), which American intelligence believes is 23-year-old British national, and a London rapper, Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary.

Israel's Foreign Ministry revealed yesterday that Sotloff, as many speculated, was a Jewish American, who first visited Israel when he began studying at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

He also had an Israeli citizenship.

A grandson of Holocaust survivors, Sotloff was originally from Miami, and moved to Israel in 2008 to pursue his undergraduate degree. Ynet reports that any connection he had to Israel was deleted from his "online presence" so that the information wouldn't reach his captors.

After graduating, he began his career as a freelance journalist, writing for the Jerusalem Post and Jerusalem Report before moving on to prominent publications including TIME and Foreign Policy.

“He was an excellent journalist, and he filed great work,” said Ilene Prusher, who served as Sotloff's editor at the Post in 2011. “He was our only guy who was filing [from the region], and he was filing for a bunch of different places… In addition to covering Libya, he was covering Arab uprisings. I felt like he really cared about it, he thought it was extremely important. He was very conscientious, enterprising and brave.”

Sotloff traveled throughout the Middle East, from Libya to Yemen to Egypt, before arriving in Syria, where he went missing on August 4th, 2013. His family was aware that he had been kidnapped, but remained relatively silent.

Only after the execution of Foley was released, where Abdel Bary gave Barack Obama 24 hours to withdraw military drones from Iraq and Syria or they'd execute Sotloff next, did they, and the rest of the world, learn that he had in fact been kidnapped by ISIS.

One week after its release, Shirley Sotloff, the freelancer's mother, released an emotional video pleading for her son's release. She directly addressed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, as having authority as caliph over the Islamic State, and begged for him to find compassion. In doing so, as the New York Times notes, she became the first non-Muslim person to acknowledge al-Baghdadi's authority.

As the Times of Israel reports, according to Oren Kessler, an American-Israeli journalist currently based in London, Sotloff had never revealed to his captors that he was Jewish, and would tell locals he was raised Muslim and was of Chechen origin.

Ynet reports that though Sotloff hid his religion, he still managed to observe holidays such as Yom Kippur while captive in the Islamic State.

"He told them he was sick and didn’t want to eat, even though we were served eggs that day," a friend who was with him in captivity said. "He used to pray secretly in the direction of Jerusalem. He would see in which direction (his Muslim captors) were praying and then adjust the angle."

We send our deepest condolences to his friends and family.

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