When racism becomes too ludicrous for comfort
About a week ago, the deputy mayor of Carmiel, a man named Oren Milstein, was stupid enough to boast to a Yediot Ahronot reporter that he is operating, along with some shadowy group, a “snitch hotline”, which the good Jewish residents of Carmiel were invited to call and report neighbors attempting to rent, or – Gott forbid – even sell apartments to non-Jews. This caused a minor uproar; the ever-vigilant Mondoweiss noted it a short while later.
Now, Carmiel is not the only Israeli town where such ideas take root. The city rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliahu – son of the late, unlamented former terrorist and Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, who, among his multitude of offenses, gave Halachaic permission to loot Palestinian olives (Hebrew) – has recently made a public announcement, in which he exhorted the pious Jews of the town not to sell or rent apartments to non-Jews. A minor pogrom, led by an off-duty Border Policeman who fired his service weapon at Israeli Arab students residing in the town, ensued (Hebrew).
As rabbinical hierarchy goes, Shmuel Eliahu is small fry. Ovadiyah Yoseph, on the other hand, is a jamboree barbeque. The leader of Shas and the prominent Sephardic Halacha authority announced last week, out of the blue, that renting or selling apartments to non-Jews is verboten, “even if they give plenty of money” (Hebrew). Why did Yoseph suddenly join the choir? Perhaps he felt the pressure to. Perhaps he wanted to overshadow Eluahu and push him to the wings. The relations between the two are rumored to be rather dismal; Yoseph certainly detested Eliahu Sr., who took his place as Chief Rabbi back in 1983. A similar psak (Halachaic verdict) was delivered two days ago by Shlomo Dov Wolfa, a fixture of the extreme right, who had the gall to say he was writing “in support of Rabbi Ovadyah Yoseph”. This was certainly jumping on the bandwagon. Now, what bothers me is what started this: as Wolfa’s representative confirmed when I spoke to him, this Halacha – Lo Techanem – is very ancient. So why does it crop all over the place just now? No one could give me a good answer.
But back to Carmiel. Most Israelis wouldn’t be aware of Eliahu, Yoseph, and Wolfa’s decrees. But a Facebook post did manage to shock many. Adam Amorai sent an angry email to the “snitch hotline” of Carmiel – email address: email@example.com, literally “not for firstname.lastname@example.org” – and in response received the following email. Dena Shunra kindly translated it for me. The original can be seen here. The email is long, and I have used bold italics to note the more interesting bits of it. My comments continue after the email.
From: My home, my home <email@example.com>
Sent: Sun, October 31, 2010 2:05:36 AM
Subject: Carmiel – an initiative to preserve the Jewish/Zionist texture of life
To Whom It May Concern:
On behalf of the city of Carmiel and the nucleus of values-led residents, we want to thank everyone who has contacted us since the time we started this initiative to this day, and provided details about residents who are about to sell their apartments to Arabs.
There is, of course, no need to waste words about the great damage that is caused to Carmiel and its residents by the sale of an apartment to Arabs; we are all familiar with the filth, the bad smell, the dirt, the lack of culture, the lack of education, the violence against women, the hatred of Jews, the primitiveness, the noisy music and lack of good taste of the Arab society, and we want to stress that all we are doing is trying to prevent a “seepage” of that culture and those primitive phenomena into our pure, value-laden, Zionist/Jewish society, and that we have no intention of harming anyone or acting in a racist manner.
Since we started the initiative, we have received dozens of emails from you, with the specifics of homeowners who intend to sell their apartments to Arabs, and about apartments which have most unfortunately already been sold to Arabs.
We have also received many letters of support from residents of Carmiel from all over the country, and especially from mixed-ethnicity cities, expressing support and thanks for the initiative and identifying with the values.
We want to share with you information about the progress of the project and report that to date we have managed to prevent the sale of dozens of apartments in Carmiel to Arabs, and we’re still going strong, because the Arabs are swarming the gates of the city of Carmiel and other Jewish cities and trying with all their might and main to take over the cities and turn them into Arab villages.
Due to the dizzying success of the project, and due to the active participation of the residents in providing information about apartments being sold to Arabs, we have decided to expand the initiative, in order to form a Jewish, homogenous, value-oriented, civilized and pure society in Carmiel by making an even greater inquiry into the residents who wish to buy an apartment in Carmiel and by blocking the possibility of buying an apartment by residents who do not meet the criteria.
To avoid public pressure from left-wing organizations and the media, we intend to publish and deploy the operation gradually: every week we will publish another problematic group, which we will try to prevent from purchasing an apartment in Carmiel. The plan is to have all harmful groups on the list within two months.
Next weekend the municipality will publish an announcement in the Carmiel local papers, specifying two groups that we do not wish to accept into city limits, for fear of assimilation and the cumbling of values. We speak, of course, of the Ethiopian population and the Russian population.
Along with the specification of the populations that will be made public over the next weeks, we ask that you continue sending us names of people who sell their apartments to Arabs, Russians, and Ethiopians, so that the municipality of Carmiel along with the relevant organizations can work to prevent the sale of the apartments.
The Russian population is publicly known in Israel as a very problematic population, which does not integrate with the local society but rather, stands off from them. Entire Russian families are raised on Soviet values, Russian culture and music, and of course – the Russian language. People, young and old, speak Russian on the bus, on the street, in pharmacies, malls, and at the supermarket. Russian check-out girls give “protekzia” (first priorities in standing in lines and discounts) to other Russian residents, and the same happens in the pharmacies. The Russian youth is mostly delinquent and regularly uses alcohol and drugs, and of course one should not forget the ethnic background of most of the Russians who made aliyah to Israel in the 90’s – they are mostly not Jews at all but rather atheists or Christians, who make use of Israel’s being an advanced and enlightened welfare state and want to live off the public resources with the excuse of having made aliyah under the Law of Return.
There is obviously no need to waste words on the Ethiopian population – the many children, the broken language, the loud music and lack of culture are well-known to us all from other cities and from Carmiel neighborhoods where Ethiopians live.
The smell of Ethiopian cooking, the neglect of the children, the lack of education and the violence inside the Ethiopian families constitute a red stoplight for all residents of Israel, and of Carmiel in particular. We must avoid at all costs the assimilation and the damage to the texture of Zionist life in Carmiel, even at the price of criticism by the media (which will blow over, in any event) and from the left-wing organizations, who will surely be irate at the initiative.
Finally, we wish to thank again everyone who has contacted us and we want to ask you to continue sending us information about the sale of apartments to problematic elements. Every communication we receive is important, as the sale of a single apartment to an undesirable element constitutes a cancer, which could spread throughout the body of the patient.
We will be glad to be at the service of the residents in this matter and in any other matter, via the email address from which the message was sent or the telephone numbers of the municipal offices, which are published in the local press.
The “Not For Sale” Team – in cooperation with the Carmiel Municipality
Ok. What happened when Adam published the email was a feeding frenzy. Nobody even got to the second half of the email. Everyone focused on the first part, which was both disgusting and expected. Only as time passed, and people had the chance to read the whole thing, did first doubts appear.
The writer of the email did everything he can to push every nasty stereotype against Russian and Ethiopian immigrants into the text; he virtually went through the checklist and left no xenophobic idea unmarked. This caused people who read the whole thing to pause. Vocal expressions of racism against Arabs are common and often accepted in Israel. Racism against various sorts of Jews, not so much. The combination of racism against Arabs, Russian and Ethiopian Jews in the same text is unheard of. The phenomena certainly exists, but few people will admit to it in public.
After spending several frustrating hours trying to look into the “Lo Le’Mechira” group and finding that no one knew of it, and that it had no presence whatsoever on the net, I was almost certain this is a hoax. Oren Milstein was stupid enough, during his interview with Yediot, to drop the name of the Taa’tsumot Israel society; the chairman of the latter, while definitely a right-wing organization, explicitly denied having anything to do with either the “snitch hotline” or the email.
So, in frustration, I sent them an email. Asked them what the whole thing was about. And received the following email:
From: My home, my home <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: 31 October 2010 23:09
Subject: re: Hi
The email I sent is not real, but I’m glad you (and many others) thought it was.
After the article was published in mynet [a Yedioth affiliate site – Yossi Gurvitz] I hacked into this email address in order to bring down the initiative to alienate the Arab residents from Carmiel, and the email I sent yesterday was written cynically.
So, what do you say, it is worth publishing?
I rather think it is, yes. I don’t know who the hacker is – he or she won’t reply to my later emails – but I do think he taught many Israelis a lesson: that once you go down the path of racism, you don’t stop with the obvious targets.
Now, if we could only manage to teach that to Yoseph and Eliahu…