By Scott Thomas Anderson
Mike Israel, right, volunteered to serve with a Kurdish militia in northern Syria while fighting ISIS. He was killed on Monday. Photo courtesy from his Facebook page.
The Capital city’s activist community was reeling Tuesday as reports trickled in from the Middle East that well-known labor and human rights activist Michael Israel was killed while volunteering to fight ISIS alongside a Kurdish militia.
Israel, 27, was on his second volunteer mission in two years to fight with the men and women of YPG International, or the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit, a leftist Kurdish resistance force defending the territory of Rojava from Islamic State fighters.
On Monday, a Kurdish commander with YPG told Voice of America that a volunteer from the U.S. had been killed, but did’t disclose the man’s name. In the early morning hours of Tuesday, YPG International announced on social media that Israel, along with a German volunteer named Anton Leschek, had been killed on the front lines.
An administrator of YPG International’s Facebook account confirmed separately to both SN&R and one of Israel’s friends in Sacramento, that the news was true. The same administrator told SN&R that Israel’s family in California had been notified.
The U.S. State Department has yet to issue an official confirmation of Israel’s death.
Israel is reportedly the fourth American to die this year fighting ISIS alongside Syrian Kurds.
Israel grew up 50 minutes east of Sacramento in Amador County. For more than seven years, he was heavily involved in major protests around the capital, with a passion for workers’ rights, health care reform and social justice initiatives. He was a constant presence in northern California’s Occupy movement, taking part in demonstrations from Cesar Chavez Plaza to rural Sonora in Toulumne County. He was also active with Sacramento’s Industrial Workers of the World.
Opposed to all forms of fascism, Israel was present during the violent demonstrations between white supremacists and protestors at the state Capitol on June 26.
SN&R had been in contact with Israel while he was fighting with the YPG through a messaging service. Though the internet connection was spotty and sporadic for Israel, he had agreed to sit down for an extensive interview about the conditions on the ground in Syria upon returning home. On August 20, Israel told SN&R he expected to be back in the United States around late January.