The PJ Tatler

The Real Lesson of Steven Sotloff's Hidden Identity


This past week Jewish media was abuzz with stories of how hard journalist Steven Sotloff’s family and friends worked to hide his Jewish identity after he was captured by ISIS. It seemed strange to me that Jew haters would have such terrible Jewdar. After all, the guy’s name was “Sotloff”, but apparently that’s not a “tell” in the Muslim world:


One thing journalists quickly learn is that the Jewish “tells” in the West don’t mean much in the Middle East. Jewish names obvious in the West are not at all so in the region, and stereotypical “Jewish looks” among westerners are indistinguishable from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern features that are common throughout the Middle East.

“My name might have been Miriam Leah Goldbergstein, and I wouldn’t have worried,” said Lisa Goldman, who reported for various outlets in Lebanon and then in Cairo during the Arab Spring in 2011.

“A rose by any other name” would still be an infidel, so it would seem:

It’s not known whether ISIS was aware that Sotloff was Jewish. Colleagues believe his kidnapping by ISIS-affiliated terrorists in 2012 in Syria was one of opportunity and not a deliberate targeting. James Foley, another journalist kidnapped by ISIS and beheaded last month by the terror group, was Catholic.

Which is, perhaps, the overarching point of the latest rash of radical Islamist beheadings of Western journalists. We are all roses to be de-headed, whether we call ourselves Jews, Christians, or simply Westerners of a secular stripe. Iranian American scholar Haleh Esfandiari didn’t blink in her distinction of “The West” from the Muslim east when she commented on radical Islamist recruits:

These young men who grew up in Western cultures seem to have absorbed nothing regarding the value of human life and respect for women.



No, the only lesson they “absorbed” was the distinction between themselves and “The Other”. Which is funny when you look at the history of Jews in America. We spent decades fighting the range of anti-Semitism from obvious to latent in order to prove to gentile America that we were not “The Other” but one of their own, Americans, Westerners through and through. Over the past few decades there have been some major breakthroughs, especially where the Christian Church is concerned, albeit in some denominations more than others. Which is, perhaps, why I was shocked to receive a reader comment a few months ago that read,

Jews know what it is like to have to hide what they believe and get along. We Christians don’t know what that feels like, and I don’t think we ever want to know what that feels like. In America it’s different.

For America to be your Zion, you must first recognize that you are in no way different from “us Jews”. You could have learned that rather easily from us, but Americans, indeed the entirety of the West chose to learn it from harsher teachers. The ironic truth is that your enemies make as much of a distinction between you and your Israeli-prophesied Jewish Messiah as they did between James Foley and Steven Sotloff. As Ruthie Blum observed:

The belief guiding the people involved in this campaign to prevent Sotloff’s Islamist kidnappers from learning of his roots was that the young man’s life would be in even graver danger if the truth about him emerged. In retrospect, we now know that his days were numbered anyway. Being an American, it turns out, was sufficient cause for Sotloff, like the photojournalist James Foley before him, to be decapitated on camera by the Islamic State operative known by his comrades-in-arms as Jihadi John.


In the end, the attempts to hide Sotloff’s Jewishness were meaningless to radical Muslims who “absorbed nothing regarding the value of human life” during their tenure in “the West” because they spat on and rejected The West’s Biblical foundation. Now, as we mourn, we in The West may finally recognize that geography is not what makes us different, nor appearances, nor names. Our Biblical faith is what makes us different and sets us apart. It should be what unites us as well.

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