A group of Yazidi spiritual leaders, politicians, activists and aid workers have demanded that the Jewish Montreal businessman claiming to have rescued 128 Christian and Yazidi women and children from the Islamic State, or ISIS, provide evidence that he is saving lives.
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Steve Maman has been nicknamed the “Jewish Schindler” for founding the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq project, which purports to have saved 128 women and children from sex slavery and abuse at the hands of ISIS.
In a letter published on Wednesday by Vice News, 20 advocates for the Yazidis questioned Maman’s methods and demanded that he inform Yazidi leaders about the specific people his group has rescued.
“All signatories to this letter welcome any legitimate assistance provided to the Yazidi community and any legitimate project that serves the health and wellbeing[sic] of the Yazidis will receive our support,” the letter states. “However it is imperative that any organization claiming to conduct such a high-level project, especially one that deals so visibly with such sensitive problems, recognize the need for accountability and open itself to the scrutiny of the leadership of the Yazidi community.”
Maman has said that his group, which up to Tuesday had raised $580,000 through a public GoFundMe campaign, does not negotiate with ISIS but funds intermediaries who rescue women and children.
“We don’t deal with ISIS, and that’s good enough for me,” Maman told the Canadian Broadcast Corp.
However, the letter – whose signers include the supreme spiritual leader of the Yazidis, Babasheikh Kherto Ismael; a Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament, Vian Dhakil; and the heads of Yazda, a Yazidi rights advocacy group – raises several issues with the way Maman has conducted his work.
First, the letter claims that while Maman has taken credit for rescuing Christians, there is no evidence that ISIS has abused Christian women. The signees also claim that when CYCI said it had rescued 102 people several weeks ago, it had only raised around $80,000 – a sum that seemed impossibly low, the letter’s signers said.
The letter also argues that Maman has “has brought a high level of visibility to a delicate and sensitive rescue effort that should have been kept low-profile.”
“We are concerned that this may be reckless,” the letter reads.
Maman's attorney has sent the group of Yazidi activists and spiritual leaders a cease and desist letter ordering them to stop talking to or about him, according to Vice News, threatening to sue them for $5 million if they don't.
Maman told Vice News that he has not revealed the names of all 128 people he has saved in order to protect their identities and to uphold the integrity of the work his group is doing. He said that some people, if provided with names and information about those he has rescued, might take credit for the rescues.
Maman also told Vice News on Tuesday that he was going to have journalists accompany future rescue trips, including one on Wednesday, to bear witness to his group’s work. On Friday, Maman shared the testimony of a man named Sean Moore, who claimed to have “Canadian International PRESS[sic] creds,” on Facebook.
“I can tell you Mr. Steve Maman is loved here for the work he has done,” Moore wrote. “The VICE report is not accurate at all.”
JTA could not verify Moore’s press credentials.
As of Friday, the CYCI GoFundMe campaign has been shut down, but the project was still taking donations on its website.
Maman had also told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that his Jewish roots inspired him to undertake the project.
“What motivated me is very simple being Jewish, being part of a people that actually survived the Holocaust,” Maman said.