Remembering Steven

(Photo: facebook)

(Photo: facebook)

Ever since the video of American journalist Steven Sotloff’s beheading became public, I have not been able to shake the image of Steven kneeling before the camera in an orange jumpsuit, as a knife-wielding psychopath dressed in black threatens the free world before murdering an innocent man against the backdrop of a desert landscape. I was shocked and deeply disturbed when the beheading of the other American journalist, James Foley, came out, but something about the images of Steven Sotloff’s murder at the hands of ISIS refused to leave my mind.

I had this gut feeling that I must have met Steven at one time, but I couldn’t remember where or when. The truth is, though I’m certain I never met James Foley, I feel like I know him. We both grew up in the U.S., probably listened to the same rock ‘n’ roll bands, most likely enjoyed Sundays at a Six Flags with our friends, and I assume he shared my deep appreciation of the freedoms and liberties which are synonymous with the USA. In fact, every time I see James’ photo and his contagious grin, I think of dozens of college and high-school friends he reminds of.

Yet something about Steven was even more familiar, more personal, and I could not figure out what, until I read that he had gone to the same college in Israel as I did. I figured I must have crossed paths with Steven on campus and that’s why he looked familiar, but that was years ago and I could not remember ever meeting him.

I don’t have a Facebook account to keep in touch with my old college buddies, and I only have one contact in my phone from my college days. He often travels and is hard to reach, but the other day, he and I finally got on the phone for a chat, and what he told me really shocked me. It turns out Steven and I were in the same class, and although it was a…

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Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 at 8:40 AM  | Stand for Israel

How the Islamic State Funds Its Activities

(Photo: flickr/ mehdifoundation)

(Photo: flickr/ mehdifoundation)

The Islamic State (IS or ISIS) uses military equipment it has seized during its spread across Iraq and Syria, much of it leftover American materiel. To pay for its “organization,” however, The Jerusalem Post reports that IS has many sources to fund its terrorist activities:

Months before they took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul in June, Islamic State militants were already busy collecting money to finance their campaign of setting up a 7th century-style caliphate …

“The tax system was well-organized. They took money from small merchants, petrol station owners, generator owners, small factories, big companies, even pharmacists and doctors,” said the shop owner who, out of frustration and fear, closed his store and is now trying to make a living as a taxi driver.

Learning from their previous incarnation as the Islamic State of Iraq, when they received money from foreign fighters, Islamic State has almost weaned itself off private funds from sympathetic individual donors in the Gulf. Such money flows have come under increased scrutiny from the US Treasury.

Instead the group has formalized a system of internal financing that includes an Islamic form of taxation, looting and most significantly, oil sales, to run their ‘state’ effectively.

This suggests it will be harder to cut the group’s access to the local funding that is fueling its control of territory and strengthening its threat to the Middle East and the West.

Nevertheless, financing from Gulf donors may prove more critical in months to come, if US President Barack Obama’s mission to “degrade and destroy” the group succeeds and the group loses territory and finds itself looking abroad for funds …

In the end, squeezing the group’s finances will involve a mixture of intelligence and force. Ending the group’s control of a given area using military might would remove its ability to raise local taxes, for example. Tracking smuggling routes or Gulf donors, in contrast, would involve local informants.

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Friday, September 12th, 2014 at 8:46 AM  | Stand for Israel

Very Dangerous Times

(Photo: flickr/ unknown unknown)

(Photo: flickr/ unknown unknown)

Yesterday we remembered the 2,977 victims of the September 11 attacks thirteen years ago. Yet we also must realize that threats remain, and that terrorist groups still wish to do harm to those who stand for good and for freedom. Veteran newsman Izzy Lemberg writes at the Times of Israel’s blog that the Islamic State (IS or ISIS), Hamas, and their ilk are part of a cult of death that only wishes to wage war:

When 29 year-old Medhi Nemmouche shot and killed four Jews in the Jewish Museum in Brussels last May 24th, we were horrified. But now we know that he had much worse in store. Nemmouche was about to become the next Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 masterminds. A member of the Islamic State, Nemmouche was planning a much larger attack on the Champs Elysees in Paris, on Bastille Day. The attack could have been a devastating version of 9/11 for the French.

The horrifying video footage of the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff (both carried out by a masked man dubbed “Jihadi John” by the British press, who speaks with a distinctive, clipped London accent) makes clear that the Islamic State and their Jihadi ideals are a cult of death. As are their Jihadi brethren, Hamas.

While journalists and Western public opinion were not yet over being outraged by the alleged civilian death toll in the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Hamas lived it up, with wild victory celebrations in which children were given candy and posed with guns. For the press, the Islamic State and Hamas are in different categories, but in practice they are the same. The celebrations in Gaza revealed the mindset of Hamas, who do not mourn as much as they glorify death. Much like the Islamic State.

Despite their collective fantasy, Hamas clearly did not win the war in Gaza. Their real victory, however, was unleashing an international anti-Semitic tsunami, fueled…

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Friday, September 12th, 2014 at 8:22 AM  | Stand for Israel

Video: Islamic Jihad Digging New Gaza Tunnels

Operation Protective Edge damaged Hamas and other Gazan terror organizations’ capabilities – from targeting terrorists to destroying terror tunnels and weapons stashes. But the above video of a new Islamic Jihad terror tunnel – built after the latest war in Gaza – being shown off to an Al Jazeera reporter illustrates that while the IDF did much to slow its enemies, the threat is still very present:

Gazan terror group Islamic Jihad is rebuilding tunnels beneath the Strip, including some that are to burrow under the border with Israel, according to a report from Al-Jazeera TV …

At the start of the clip the reporter is shown being taken blindfolded to the tunnel entrance to conceal its location. Once inside the tunnel the reporter, who must hunch over in order to make his way along the low passageway, explains that it is being “dug by resistance fighters in this border area.”

The tunnel looks similar to dozens of others discovered by IDF forces in the past with cement blocks positioned to shore up the walls and roof.

“What is remarkable about this tunnel is that it is has been dug recently,” he says. “As you can see it is still being dug … “

“We are now in one of the tunnels of the Al-Quds Brigades,” the worker explains, using the name of Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, “on which work began as soon as the war on Gaza ended, and the ceasefire was declared. We have begun work and we are continuing it regardless of the threats by the Zionist enemy.”

“We will not be hindered by the threats of the enemy, or by the ban on importing cement and other building materials,” he adds.

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Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 at 11:50 AM  | Stand for Israel

No Surprise at ISIS Brutality in a World That Rewards Terrorism

(Photo: flickr/ mehdifoundation)

(Photo: flickr/ mehdifoundation)

The world has reacted in horror as the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) has spread across Iraq and Syria, brutalized Christians and other minority groups in the region, and beheaded at least two American journalists so far, supposedly to make a point to the U.S. Writing at The Jerusalem Post, Alan Dershowitz says that no one should be surprised, however, because we live in a world that rewards terrorist groups and the terror they create:

But we should have anticipated this, because for the last half century, the international community has rewarded precisely the kind of behavior by ISIS we now condemn.  In brief, terrorism has proved to be a successful tactic.  It works.  That’s why ISIS engages in it.  That’ why Al Qaeda engages in it.  That’s why Boko Haram engages in it.  That’s why the Taliban engages in it.  And that’s why Hamas engages in it.

Compare the visibility and success of groups that employ terrorism as the main tactic for responding to their grievances, with comparably aggrieved groups that reject terrorism.  Hamas is more popular than ever among Palestinians following their kidnapping and murder of three Israeli schoolchildren, their brutal slaughter of the Fogel family, and their deployment of rockets and tunnels against civilians from civilian areas.  The same is true of Hezbollah.

Now comes ISIS which is quickly becoming the terrorist group of choice for disaffected radicals, because their brutality is now in the headlines …

World leaders, such as Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu, demand that we treat Hamas, which is indistinguishable in its overall brutality from ISIS, as a legitimate political organization.  The United Nations General Assembly grants statehood to a group that began as a terrorist organization and continues to honor terrorists who murdered children.  The Nobel Peace Prize Committee honors Yassir Arafat, the Godfather of terrorism, who persisted in this tactic until the day he died.  European countries pay ransom to terrorists.  Any many European nations—Italy, Germany, Great Britain and others—have freed terrorists, including mass…

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Friday, September 5th, 2014 at 7:40 AM  | Stand for Israel

American Journalist Steven Sotloff Executed

(Photo: facebook)

(Photo: facebook)

Yesterday we brought you the now-confirmed news that a second American journalist has been executed by the Islamic State. The always well-spoken Michael J. Totten writes about Steven Sotloff, a man he knew though they had never met in person, and a man he greatly respected:

He and I corresponded by email and planned to meet in Libya last year, though it didn’t work out. He had to leave and I had to cancel my trip and re-route myself to Lebanon, so we never actually met. But I did introduce him to the publisher of this magazine and he wrote a few articles for us before he was kidnapped in Syria.

I sort of knew him, though not in the flesh, so I can’t tell you much about him personally, but I can tell you this: he was a hell of a lot braver than I am. I have not for even a second considered going to Syria during this conflict, and I doubt I’d be willing to go there even a couple of years from now if the conflict were to miraculously end later today.

When he lived in Benghazi and everyone was heading for the exits, he told me—and I believed him—that Benghazi was the same old Benghazi, by which he meant mostly fine aside from some unfortunate incidents. Dangerous places are often, though not always, less dangerous than they appear in the media. At least they appear that way …

Steven was brave and unlucky, but he was not stupid. He knew how risky going to Syria was and, according to Ben Taub, he planned to take a hiatus from this nasty business after one final trip and possibly apply to graduate school in Florida.

The Islamic State took that from him, and they took him from us.

I didn’t actually meet him, but I miss him anyway. Sincerest condolences to his friends and family.

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Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 at 8:19 AM  | Stand for Israel

Breaking News: Islamic State Reportedly Executes American Journalist

(Photo: facebook)

(Photo: facebook)

We earlier brought you the story of American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by terror group, the Islamic State (IS). Now The New York Times reports that a new video claims to show IS executing another American journalist:

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has beheaded Steven Joel Sotloff, the second American executed by the Islamic militant group, and posted a video of it on the Internet, the SITE Intelligence Group, a research organization that tracks jihadist web postings, said Tuesday.

The execution of Mr. Sotloff, 31, came despite pleas from his mother aimed directly at ISIS’s top leader seeking mercy for her son, a freelance journalist who was captured in northern Syria a year ago.

Word of Mr. Sotloff’s beheading came two weeks after James Foley, 45, another American journalist, was beheaded by ISIS, which warned that Mr. Sotloff would be the next to die.

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Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 at 12:55 PM  | Stand for Israel

Nipping Terrorism in the Bud

(Photo: Oren Nahshon)

(Photo: Oren Nahshon)

While the ceasefire between Hamas holds for now, frightening developments are continuing to occur elsewhere, with the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations rampaging through the Middle East, nearing Israel, and endangering the entire world. And who knows when the battle against Hamas will reignite. Avi Dichter, former Israeli Minister of Internal Security and Shin Bet director, knows the threat of terrorism better than most. Writing at Israel Hayom, he says Israel cannot be complacent or indifferent to this threat, and must wake the rest of the world up to Hamas and other terrorist groups like them:

Israel should be the one to surprise Hamas, instead of waiting for rocket fire of any scale. Israel should not be the one left to mount a response. The days of Israel being dragged into a fight by Hamas are over.

In its seven years in power, Hamas has plunged Gaza into chaos, which should remain inside the Strip, instead of affecting the kibbutzim near the Israel-Gaza Strip border and cities nationwide.

Hamas’ brutality is growing. It is oppressing the people of Gaza and doing everything within its power to ensure Gaza does not become Westernized. Hamas favors maintaining a “Wild West” in the Gaza Strip, so that it can continue to dictate who can and cannot pull the trigger in Gaza, and how …

Hamas is more calculating than ISIS. It prevents the true scope of its atrocities from being revealed, mainly because it is wary of the wrath of the families of murdered Gazans. It has no qualms about harming women and children if it suspects one of their relatives might be a collaborator, but takes great care to conceal it.

Had Hamas been able to realize its tunnels conspiracy, infiltrate one of the communities near the border and abduct Israeli men, women and children, then Israel, the U.S. and the EU would have understood the true nature of Hamas’ cruelty.

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Friday, August 29th, 2014 at 8:45 AM  | Stand For Israel

Looking to the Future, Mumbai Chabad Center to Reopen

(Photo: wikicommons/ Nichalp)

(Photo: wikicommons/ Nichalp)

In late November, 2008, right after Americans had celebrated Thanksgiving, terror struck in the heart of Mumbai, India. As Rabbi Eckstein wrote at the time:

Islamist gunmen armed with automatic weapons and grenades attacked ten separate targets, causing unimaginable terror and carnage. Nearly 200 civilians were murdered, and hundreds more injured.

The terrorists were careful to target sites where they knew there would be many Westerners … Also attacked were the local offices of Chabad, an orthodox Jewish organization we work closely with that offers religious and social activities and assistance to the poor. The Chabad house in Mumbai, like thousands of other Chabad houses throughout the world, is a place of light and life to local Jews and travelers alike – a place where Jews work to serve their fellow man and, in the words of one rabbi, to “transform the world into a place of goodness and holiness.”

Today, nearly six years after this horrific attack, the Mumbai Chabad house is set to reopen:

Despite the devastation of an attack that paralyzed a subcontinent and transfixed the world, Chabad’s crucial work in Mumbai continued unabated. The goal, say those who were involved with ensuring Chabad’s presence in Mumbai, was to make certain that the Holtzbergs’ work of spreading goodness and kindness by offering Jewish programs of every kind to local residents and visitors continued stronger than ever.

On Tuesday, Aug. 26, surrounded by guests and more than 25 Chabad emissaries in Asia who will be there for a regional conference, Chabad of Mumbai’s headquarters – also known as Nariman House – will open its doors once again.

Let’s say a prayer of thanks to God that, despite the evil done by Islamist terrorists in Mumbai in 2008, good has prevailed — and pray that this outcome will continue in other troubled corners of the world.


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Monday, August 25th, 2014 at 1:21 PM  | Stand for Israel

James Foley’s Phone Call Home

(Photo: youtube)

(Photo: youtube)

In 2011, journalist James Foley was in Libya covering the war that ultimately led to the overthrow and death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. While there, Foley was imprisoned by regime forces for 44 days, though eventually released. An alumni of Marquette University, Foley wrote this letter to his alma mater after his release, and talked about the day when, while still in a Libyan prison, he was able to make a call home to his mother:

I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.

My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.

In late 2012, Foley was captured somewhere in the Middle East by ISIS terrorists who days ago beheaded him. A video of his gruesome execution was distributed on the Internet by ISIS, supposedly as a warning to the U.S. to stop air strikes in Iraq targeting the radical Islamist group.

Perhaps Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said it best: condemning the “savagery” that claimed Foley’s life, he noted, “Hamas is ISIS. ISIS is Hamas … They’re the enemies of peace, they’re the enemies of…

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Thursday, August 21st, 2014 at 3:16 PM  | Stand For Israel

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State of Israel"

Rabbi's Commentary
Remembering the Terror of 9/11, Confronting the Terror of Today

The attacks on 9/11 were a wake-up call to the dangers of Islamist terrorism, and the swift growth of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State should wake us up to a current threat that demands not just our vigilance, but also our unity.

Read Rabbi Eckstein's message »


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