Two days after the slaying of US journalist Steven Sotloff at the hands of Islamic State terrorists in Syria, Israeli papers are fully in the thrall of the story with the news that Sotloff was actually an Israeli citizen as well, a fact kept under wraps while he was held captive.
All three major papers feature a parade of Sotloff’s friends and connections from his years in Israel mourning the friendly and smart journalist.
“One of us” reads the main headline of Yedioth Ahronoth, above a picture of Sotloff lounging in a Petah Tikva pool in 2009, a sign of happier times.
The paper notes that in Israel he went by Yoel, his middle name, and provides a map of all the regional hotspots he visited as a freelance journalist penning pieces first for the Jerusalem Post and Jerusalem Report and later for Time, Christian Science Monitor and other large publications.
“We met in the debate club and we had a lot of arguments, mostly over political and ideological issues,” close college friend Greg Roman tells the paper. “He was smart and understanding and had clear ideological principles. His Judaism was important to him. We would go out for beer or to watch basketball. He loved the Miami Heat. He was a real Indiana Jones. He knew exactly what he wanted, he wasn’t an idiot. He told me about his time as a journalist in Tahrir Square, in Libya and in Arab countries. The next time I saw him was on TV, when it came out that he was kidnapped.”
Haaretz, the only paper not to lead with Sotloff (Russian and Ukranian tensions get top billing instead), quotes his old roommate, Josh Polsky, who says Sotloff would “light up the room” when he came in.
“He was always reliable, caring and a good friend for us,” Polsky says. “If I ever needed anything I knew that I could rely on him and he would drop everything to be with you.”
Israel Hayom focuses more on the fallout from the killing in the international arena, asking whether the world will now rise up against the Islamic State and quoting fiery statements from top Western officials, including US Vice President Joe Biden’s vow that “we will follow them to the gates of hell.”
Commentating on Sotloff, editor Boaz Bismuth waxes poetically on his work and how his end speaks to a larger story about the Middle East.
“Journalists don’t go out into the field in order not to return. In my 30-year-career as a journalist, I have yet to meet a reporter with suicidal wishes,” he writes. “[James] Foley and Sotloff simply wanted to go home peacefully. In their deaths, they exposed in the most exacting way what is happening in our region, Muslim extremism.”
Yedioth highlights the crossroads Washington finds itself in, with two commentaries essentially excoriating US President Barack Obama for his lack of strategy in dealing with IS, not that this is exactly an easy dilemma.
“The main question remains: What is the strategy,” former defense ministry official Alon Pinkas writes in one of the columns. “And is it even possible to consolidate, draft and enact a strategy against a group without a state, borders or shape like IS? This is a complicated, practically impossible situation. And it’s not a given that there is the will to consolidate a coherent multinational strategy against the diversity, uniqueness and frequent changing and instability that the crises in the Middle East over the past two years have brought.”
Israel Hayom writes about battles close to home, reporting that injured soldiers in Israel will now be eligible for medical cannabis to ease their pain. The paper writes that the orthopedic wing at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv decided to begin allowing the wacky tobacky, though there are some concerns about what happens after the wing has their boker toker.
“There were a bunch of requests for medical marijuana, and once one soldier asked for it, suddenly everybody else did too, “ the head of the wing tells the paper. “I didn’t want to keep them from something that can help, but I also didn’t want there to be a smoking party in the sculpture garden and for the soldiers not to make it to their appointments.”
In Haaretz, Gideon Levy writes that there’s one disease, shared by the whole country, that not even a healthy hit from the peace pipe can cure: the settlement enterprise. Levy notes that with the appropriation of some 1,000 acres of West Bank land, the government is furthering the deception that the Gush Etzion settlements south of Jerusalem should be considered a “consensus bloc,” one that even so-called peaceniks have gotten behind.
“Gush Etzion did not become just another abandoned district of deprivation and dispossession. It became a consensus. Why? Because. Because that is what the settlers said, what the politicians decided, what was written in the newspapers and what was broadcast on television. The Israelis were never asked, but they all know already that everyone agrees because that is what they were told,” he writes. “The Israelis who shout for the two-state solution say in the same breath that the settlement blocs belong to us. And they do – they are our disease, our terminal disease, which somehow has yet to be diagnosed.”