By Sophie Eastaugh
The father of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl this week expressed his “deep condolences” to the family of Steven Joel Sotloff, the American-Israeli reporter beheaded by Islamic State extremists.
The terrorist group, which has claimed wide swathes of territory across Syria and Iraq and declared itself a caliphate, posted a video online yesterday showing the murder of the 31-year-old, who went missing in Syria last year.
It claimed his killing was retribution for continued US air strikes targeting its fighters in Iraq. It killed American journalist James Foley last month in the same manner and again threatened to kill another hostage.
Judea Pearl told the Jewish News, “We know too well the pain of such horrific loss. Once again the world has seen the horror of terrorism in action.”
Sotloff’s family was advised to obscure all evidence of their Jewish identity after he was captured in northern Syria in August 2013. The fear was that like Pearl, he could be subject to additional torture should his captors discover his religion.
It has now emerged that Sotloff had dual Israeli-US citizenship and is thought to have successfully concealed his identity from his captors, even when fasting for Yom Kippur. According to an interview in Yedioth Ahronoth with another IS prisoner that befriended him in captivity, Sotloff feigned sickness to avoid eating.
“He told them he was sick and didn’t want to eat, even though we were served eggs that day,” the friend 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.”
Oren Kessler, an Israeli journalist who had corresponded with Sotloff online, also told the paper that Sotloff hid his Jewish identity from locals, saying instead that he had been raised a secular Muslim and occassionally using the false name Chechen.
The extent to which Sotloff’s Jewish identity was covered up has been revealed in details that have emerged since his horrific murder. Sotloff was the son of Art and Shirley, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors who has worked for 20 years at the nursery school of Miami’s Temple Beth Am Reform synagogue.
Sotloff attended the synagogue’s primary school and later went on to work there himself. His schoolfriend Danielle Berrin has spoken of her dismay at finding his Facebook profile completely wiped out, his name untagged from their class photo.
Sotloff made aliyah in 2008, studying at Tel Aviv’s IDC college and going on to write for the Jerusalem Post and the Jerusalem Report. Avi Hoffman, Editor of the fortnightly magazine said, “We refused to acknowledge any relationship with him in case it was dangerous for him.”
Tributes have now poured in for the Middle East reporter, who was fluent in Arabic and had been published in TIME, National Interest, Foreign Policy and The Christian Science Monitor.
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies said: “This brutal murder by ISIS of Steven Sotloff, following on from the equally ghastly murder of James Foley is another tragic reminder of the evil mindset that motivates this group.
“For the Jewish community and Israel, this is a very personal reminder of the hatred that Islamic fundamentalists have of both western democracy and the Jewish way of life.”
Sotloff’s horrific murder painfully echoes that of Daniel Pearl. The 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter disappeared in Pakistan in 2002 while investigating links between Islamic militants and ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid.
Filmed by his killers, Danny was forced to admit his Jewish roots before being brutally killed.