Friends and colleagues of Elizabeth Tsurkov, a dual Russian-Israeli citizen who was kidnapped by an Iran-backed militia in Iraq earlier this year, are slamming what they describe as dangerous lies spreading online about the Princeton doctoral student.
Tsurkov, 36, went missing in March after traveling to Iraq on a research trip for her dissertation, Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement this week, adding that she was abducted by Kataib Hezbollah, a notorious militia group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.
“She is an academic who visited Iraq on her Russian passport, at her own initiative pursuant to work on her doctorate and academic research on behalf of Princeton University in the U.S.” the Wednesday statement said. “Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive and we hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being.”
But now, friends, peers, and others who follow Tsurkov’s work are speaking out against the tidal wave of social media attacks on the academic—which range from criticizing her decision to travel to Iraq as an Israeli citizen to accusing her of operating as an Israeli spy.
“I am disgusted and appalled by those attacking Elizabeth and using this as an opportunity to spread complete lies about her,” Gary Spedding, a human rights activist who has been friends with Tsurkov for over a decade, told The Daily Beast. “The people trying to defame her and smear her are aware of how precarious her situation is… It’s absolutely horrific, infuriating. They are disgusting cowards, and they really know exactly what it is they’re doing. They seem gleeful about it and it’s shameful, absolutely shameful.”
Spedding, who met Tsurkov in 2012 and has worked with her on several human rights projects in support of Palestinian refugees, said he maintained contact with the researcher even after he was banned from entering Israel in 2014. (The Israeli government reportedly deemed Spedding a “security risk” for his involvement in organizing a student protest against an Israeli lecturer in the U.K.)
“It’s absolutely horrifying. I was truly panicked and very upset that this is now a massive news piece. It’s such a horrific situation. She’s not just got detractors who are criticizing her for being a potential spy: she’s also got right-wing Israelis who despise the fact that she supports Palestinian rights calling her a traitor, and saying the Israeli government shouldn’t bother helping her. It’s all absolutely disgraceful,” he said. [Continue reading…]