Sotloff’s Jewish and Israeli identity hidden from Islamic State

Steven Sotloff was beheaded by the Islamic State in this video released by the terrorist group. Credit: YouTube Screenshot.

In yet another gruesome display of cruelty, the Islamic State terrorist group released a video earlier this week showing the beheading of American-Jewish journalist Steven Sotloff. This was the second such execution by the group, after the beheading of American journalist James Foley in August. 

Shortly after the new video's release, after it was confirmed that Sotloff's execution was real, news outlets reported that he was also Jewish and an Israeli citizen. He received his Israeli citizenship after making aliyah in 2008. 

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, while imprisoned by Islamic State in Syria, Sotloff managed to perform some Jewish rituals without revealing his religious identity to his captors.

A friend who was with Sotloff in captivity described how on Yom Kippur, Sotloff "told [his captors] he was sick and didn’t want to eat, even though we were served eggs that day," and how "he used to pray secretly in the direction of Jerusalem" by looking at "which direction [his Muslim captors] were praying and then adjust the angle."

Now, it has also been revealed that while Sotloff was held captive in Syria, a network of more than 150 of his friends and acquaintances raced to delete information from the Internet and media reports that discussed his connection to Judaism and Israel.

"We've found articles on the Internet mentioning Steven's Jewish roots and we reached out to reporters and editors," one of Sotloff's friends told Reuters. "We managed to remove a mention from the New York Times, we got a lot out of newspapers in Florida. We've spoken to editors and journalists who agreed to protect Steven's life."

In Israel, a gag order that prevented the public mention of Sotloff's Israeli citizenship was lifted on Wednesday.

"Those of us who worked with him knew that he was Jewish, had Israeli citizenship, earned his degree at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and played rugby for the Raanana Roosters, but we took a collective vow of silence, fearing that his kidnappers might seize on that fascinating personal history as an excuse to kill him," wrote Haaretz columnist Matthew Kalman, who knew Sotloff.

Sadly, these efforts weren't able to spare Sotloff from his horrible death. We can hope, however, that the protection of Sotloff's identity did at least spare him some suffering before he was executed by his captors, who likely would have tortured him even more severely had they known he was Jewish and Israeli.

Posted on September 4, 2014 .