Remembering Steven Sotloff
“I am Shirley Sotloff. My son, Steven, is in your hands.” So began Shirley Sotloff’s emotional appeal to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the terror group ISIS (or IS, Islamic State), on Aug. 27. The terror group had just released a video of a British-accented fighter sawing off the head of American journalist James Foley. At the end of the video, Steven Sotloff, a 31-year-old freelance journalist who was kidnapped in Syria last August, was dragged into view and threatened with beheading, too.
Shirley Sotloff continued, explaining that she has been studying Islam since her son’s capture, and tried to reason with the IS terror leader. She even addressed him with the honorific “Caliph,” as if he’d already created the Islamic caliphate across the Middle East that is his goal. “Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants,” she explained.
This assessment was shared by Steven Sotloff’s professional colleagues, too. He “lived in Yemen for years, spoke good Arabic” and “deeply loved” the Arab world, said one colleague. Another recalled how he insisted on going to Syria – where more than 70 journalists have been killed and more than 80 kidnapped in recent years – despite security concerns. Committed to recording the plight of ordinary Syrians, he slipped over the border.
“I’ve been here over a week and no one wants freelance because of the kidnappings. It’s pretty bad here,” he e-mailed to a colleague. “I’ve been sleeping at a front, hiding from tanks the past few nights, drinking rain water.” Soon afterwards, in August 2013, he was kidnapped by IS rebels.
What almost none of his colleagues realized was that Sotloff was a Jew who made aliyah to Israel. He’d grown up in Miami, the grandson of Holocaust survivors; his mother has taught in a Miami synagogue’s preschool for years. In 2005, at age 22, he moved to Israel, becoming a citizen of the Jewish state, and studied at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya.
He worked for Israeli publications, filing articles with Jerusalem Report and the Jerusalem Post, and helping colleagues in Israel with his perspective from Arab capitals. Once, an Israeli colleague asked him what a journalist like him – with an obviously Jewish name and connections to Israel – was doing in volatile countries like Libya, Yemen or Bahrain. “I don’t really share my values and opinions,” Sotloff replied. “I try to stay alive.” When the Israeli colleague pointed out that his Jewish background could be discovered in a simple internet search, he was unfazed: “Yeah, Google definitely isn’t my friend,” he acknowledged.
Read more at aish.com.