An Israeli news channel published copies of Steven Sotloff’s Israeli ID card, passport and immigration papers Thursday, seemingly confirming the slain journalist’s Israeli citizenship.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has refused to confirm that Sotloff, beheaded by Islamic State jihadists in a video released Tuesday, is Israeli, though a spokesperson tweeted out the information Wednesday.
Sotloff was raised in Miami, and according to the documents aired by Channel 2 Thursday night, moved to Israel in 2005.
Channel 2 did not say how it came into possession of the ID cards, and there was no independent confirmation of the report.
Sotloff graduated from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and spent the last several years reporting for a number of Israeli and American publications from various Middle East hotspots before being kidnapped in Syria in 2013.
On Thursday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to the family of Sotloff, and said that the young journalist was killed by members of the extremist group Islamic State because he was seen as a symbol of the West. The comment was the first from Netanyahu on Sotloff since the video of his slaying aired Tuesday. Netanyahu did not mention Sotloff’s Israeli citizenship.
A former senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel Thursday that now that Sotloff’s Israeli roots have been documented, Islamic State, the terrorist group that gruesomely beheaded him, may suspect any Westerners it manages to capture to be Zionist spies, or depict them as such for propaganda purposes. “This piece of information will also allow them to rewrite the Sotloff execution: they will say they executed a Zionist operative, and this will echo in many Muslim countries where people will willingly believe that he was a Mossad agent,” the source warned. “Never underestimate good conspiracy theories — they can undermine everything and then some, and they will.”
The revelation that Sotloff was Israeli could prove not only detrimental for future hostages, but also for international efforts to rally moderate Arab and Muslim countries against IS, the former official added. Opposed as they are to the terrorist group, the fact that IS captured an American-Israeli could raise suspicions even among Jerusalem’s ostensible partners in the fight against Islamist extremism: “Why did you send one of your men to Syria without telling us?” the source envisaged Israel being asked, however risible the notion.
These and other concerns, according to various sources, go some way toward explaining why Israel is still refusing to officially acknowledge that Sotloff was a citizen. An official confirmation that the journalist held Israeli citizenship “can only wreak damage to any future efforts” to establish an alliance of some sorts with moderate Arab states to fend off the threat posed by IS and other extremist terrorist organizations, said a former senior diplomatic official.
Other sources rejected this theory, arguing that confirming Sotloff’s Israeli identity would in no way undermine Jerusalem’s hopes to see moderate forces uniting against brutal terrorism sweeping the Middle East. The fact of Sotloff’s Israeli citizenship is now thoroughly documented, they argued. Keeping mum made absolute sense while there was even a faint hope of him emerging from captivity. It might even have been justified after he was killed because of various potential implications. But it makes no sense at all, they said, after Israel’s own officials acknowledged that Sotloff was, as one Hebrew newspaper called him, an “Israeli victim.”