“Jewish Schindler” Draws Backlash For Campaign To Save ISIS Sex Slaves

Steve Maman’s global campaign to rescue Yazidi and Christian women from ISIS has come under fire, but he refuses to back down

Aug 28, 2015 at 6:09 PM ET

The Montreal businessman trying to rescue women and girls from being sold into sexual slavery by Islamic State militants in Iraq is facing mounting criticism for his unorthodox mission.

Steve Maman claims he has forked over thousands of dollars in the last year for the release of more than 100 Christian and Yazidi women captured by ISIS, which has been condemned for peddling female prisoners as sex slaves to the highest bidder. Maman’s cause has garnered international media attention, including in Vocativ, and hit a milestone last week when its GoFundMe page topped a half-million dollars.

The swell of donations and global awareness also triggered fierce opposition against Maman, who’s been dubbed the “Jewish Schindler” by some supporters. That opposition came to a fever pitch this week. A group of Yazidi spiritual leaders and activists are now demanding proof that Maman’s organization, called the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI), has saved as many women and girls as it has claimed. On Tuesday, GoFundMe torpedoed the group’s crowdfunding operation.

“We became aware that this campaign may violate the law,” a company spokeswoman told Vocativ in a statement. “We have suspended the campaign and are working with regulators to resolve the matter.”

Undeterred, Maman, a member of Montreal’s Sephardic Jewish community, has continued to raise money on CYCI’s website. He and his organization were not immediately available for comment on Friday. “We cannot sit and remain indifferent to what is going on,” Maman told Vocativ in an interview last week. “Honestly, there is no other option to rescue them. How much longer can we wait to save them?”

CYCI’s willingness to pay money to brokers who negotiate with ISIS could raise legal concerns, according to the RINJ Foundation, a humanitarian organization opposed to the exploitation of women and to gender-based violence. RINJ has launched a campaign on Facebook and Twitter against Maman and CYCI, accusing them of furthering ISIS’ agenda by paying them. RINJ has also asserted that CYCI’s actions could run afoul of the United Nation’s International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, which bars organizations from funneling money to terrorist groups, even for a seemingly charitable cause, and that they may also violate Canada’s Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) And Terrorist Financing Act.

“Anything that in any way that involves buying a kid from a child slave trader stimulates and invigorates the entire crime sector,” Micheal O’Brien, RINJ’s executive director, told Vocativ in an interview. “It causes there to be further kidnappings and extortions.”

This concern was also voiced by a handful of Yazidi leaders in Iraq and the United States, who outlined their criticisms of Maman and CYCI in a letter published by Vice News on Wednesday. The letter demanded that his team provide more “evidence regarding their alleged rescue activities.” 

Speaking with Vice, Maman called the criticism “mind boggling.” The Reverend Canon Andrew White, a former vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad who has helped with rescue efforts in Iraq, also came to Maman’s defense. “I couldn’t care less what they say,” White told Vice. “They’re not on the ground doing it. Of course people will say this.”

Others came out in support CYCI on Friday. Sean Moore, a Canadian journalist and humanitarian worker based in northern Iraq, said he has witnessed CYCI’s work in the field. “I personally looked into the eyes of the children rescued by Mr. Maman, and I spoke with their grateful families,” Moore wrote on Facebook. “I am not affiliated nor do I know Mr. Maman personally. I do however know first hand that he is rescuing women and children.”