The father of slain American journalist Daniel Pearl quoted his son’s celebrated declaration of faith, made in the moments before he was murdered by jihadis in 2002, at a moving Memorial Day ceremony in Jerusalem on Monday morning.
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"'My father's Jewish, my mother's Jewish, I'm Jewish,'"Judea Pearl said after lighting a memorial flame with his wife, Ruth, and Daniel’s widow, Mariane. “For 11 years I have prayed for the moment that I would have the honor to recite Daniel’s words in Jerusalem, the city where he celebrated his bar mitzvah.”
Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded by members of Al-Qaeda while reporting for the Wall Street Journal in Karachi, Pakistan. He was 38. His last words, recorded on a video in which he discusses his Jewish heritage and his family’s connection to Israel before being killed, became a rallying cry for Jewish solidarity and inspired a book of reflections by notable Jews on what it means to be Jewish.
“It was important for him to be a proud Jew and to be connected to Israel during the last moments of his life,” said Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, which organized the ceremony at the agency's National Institutions compound. “It is not by accident that these words inspired so many Jews around the world to speak, to write and to think about their identity and about the deep connection between Israel and the Jewish people.”
Judea Pearl, who was born in Tel Aviv during the British Mandate period and has lived with his wife in Los Angeles for many years, said in his remarks that he represents three generations of an ongoing struggle against anti-Semitism.
“My grandfather and grandmother were killed in Auschwitz, I was saved by a miracle from genocide in 1948, and the murder of our son Daniel marks the latest round of victims of xenophobia,” he said.
Then, turning toward Adam Pearl, Daniel’s 10-year-old son who was born shortly after his father’s murder and who was sitting in the audience with his mother, he added: “I want to tell my grandson who is here today that his father’s murder caused a revolution in society’s struggle against barbarism.”
Later in the ceremony, Mariane and Adam helped lay a wreath at a memorial inscribed with the names of Daniel Pearl and 200 others who were killed in attacks targeting Jews outside of Israel.
Ruth Pearl, who was born in Baghdad and attended high school and college in Israel, said she was honored to participate in the lighting of the memorial flame. “It was intense for me, reliving our tragedy and other people’s tragedies,” she said. Daniel’s sisters, Tamara and Michelle, were also in attendance.
In an interview after the ceremony, Judea Pearl, 76, said he now devotes much of his time to running the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which he and his wife established with the goal of “fighting against the hatred that took our son’s life.” The foundation promotes tolerance through a lecture series, as well as concerts and fellowships that bring journalists from the Middle East and South Asia to work for several months in the U.S.
When asked about the arrest in Pakistan last month of Islamic militant Qari Abdul Hayee in connection with his son’s murder, Pearl dismissed it a “gimmick.”
“The Pakistani police detain people occasionally, and then they release them and keep them under watch and then when the political arena demands it, they detain him or her again,” he said. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who orchestrated the September 11 terrorist attacks and confessed to murdering Pearl with his own hands, is currently on trial at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.
An esteemed computer scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Pearl also addressed comments that Sharansky made in his speech about efforts that he observed last week on a tour of American college campuses to turn Jewish students against Israel.
Pearl called these efforts “concerted, highly funded and strategically designed” and faulted Jewish leaders for not doing more to thwart the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
“Our leadership is not doing their job, to stand against that movement and to look at every activity of that sort as a violation of human rights,” he said. “We Jews could celebrate Muslim Mentality Week every year, and we have a good reason to expose their violations of human rights and their apartheid practices. We just don’t do it.”
In addition to celebrating his bar mitzvah in Israel, Daniel visited the country many times and had even considered making Israel his home, according to his father: “He told his grandmother he doesn’t know why, but he has a feeling that he’s going to eventually move to Israel.”
The memorial ceremony was presented in partnership with the World Zionist Organization, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund, Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA.