Hate mail

From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)

Brian Whitaker | The Guardian | 19 January 2004

Jewish activists opposing the Israeli government’s policies face intimidation and harassment via email and on the internet. Brian Whitaker reports
Deborah Fink is a singer and music teacher living in London. She is also Jewish. Last month, out of the blue, she received a deluge of hateful emails – more than 150 in the space of a week.
One came from a rabbi in New York, informing her: “Your soul, my dear, is petrified and lost.” Another said, menacingly: “Hitler killed the wrong Jews.”
Yet another – ostensibly from a Jewish doctor of medicine in the US – elaborated on the Holocaust theme. “Too bad Hitler didn’t get your family,” it said. “With six million Jews dieing [sic] 60 year [sic] ago it’s a shame scum like you somehow managed to survive.”
What, exactly, had Ms Fink done to deserve this vitriol? The short answer is that she had been planning to sing.
Ms Fink is a member of Just Peace UK, a mainly, but not exclusively, Jewish group opposing the Israeli occupation and seeking “a viable and sovereign Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states”.
Just before Christmas, she helped to organise an alternative carol concert in Trafalgar Square, at which traditional Christmas songs were sung with new words. One of them went like this:
Oh little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie.
A wall is laid where tourists stayed,
And tanks go rolling by …
To publicise the event, organisers sent out several hundred emails. One of them fell into the hands of a man named Tom Gross, who strongly disapproved.
The furious Mr Gross passed the email to his friend, Naomi Ragen, together with a note saying that the carol singers would be handing out songsheets “filled with hatred for Israel and digusting calumnies” to passers-by.
On receiving his message, Ms Ragen circulated an email of her own, which began: “I suppose it’s fitting that self-hating Jews will be singing anti-Israel Christmas songs to curry favour with oh-so-genteel British anti-Semites.”
Her message concluded: “I hope this will give British Jews a chance to organise a counter-campaign. If, after reading what the hate-mongers are going to be saying, you’d like to contact them, here are some addresses.”
Email addresses for four of the “hate-mongering” carol singers followed, including that of Ms Fink.
For good measure, Ms Ragen sent her own personal note to Ms Fink, saying: “I hope you and your children suffer what we in Israel have suffered. And then perhaps I will sing carols praising those who blow you and yours up. Happy Holiday.”
Ms Ragen is a US-born novelist and dramatist who now lives in Jerusalem, where she also writes freelance columns for the Jerusalem Post.
Among those who received her complaint about the carol singers was an organisation called Isralert. Its exact purpose is unclear, although it describes itself as a “Jewish advocacy network”.
It also operates a private, and rather secretive, emailing list. The only way to join is by invitation from an existing member – and even then, its organiser, Harv Weiner, “may refuse a subscription to anyone for any reason”.
This was not the first time that a message from Ms Ragen had appeared on Isralert. Last May, she attacked businessman-philanthropist Edgar Bronfman and 13 other prominent US Jews for breaking with the “Jewish leadership”.
Their “offence” had been to write a letter to Congress, supporting the road map for peace in the Middle East. The peace plan is backed by the US, Europe, Russia and the UN.
“I’d like to say this to dear Mr Bronfman,” Ms Ragen wrote. “Take your money … and shove it. You are betraying us in Israel. Your recent statement makes me sick, and can in no way be viewed as a friendly or helpful gesture to Israel or Israelis. However, I’m sure Mr Arafat will send you a thankyou note.”
The day before the Trafalgar Square carol concert, Isralert posted Ms Ragen’s email about the carol singers – together with their email addresses – on think-israel.org, a website based in Bethesda, Maryland.
Among other things, think-israel.org claims that the Palestinians “have no historical, national or cultural identity distinct from other Arabs of the region”, and that the whole of the West Bank belongs to Israel.
Ms Ragen’s message, along with the note from Mr Gross, also surfaced as a special “action alert” on a website called ourenemies.org – undoubtedly one of the nastiest non-pornographic sites on the internet.
The site is registered in Bogota, Colombia, where its owner is identified only by a Hotmail address. It is hosted by a company in Florida called Aleph-Net.
Besides making crude attempts at satire (“Arafat is gay! Former paedophile outed”), ourenemies.org targets what it calls “self-hating Jews” in a vicious and highly personalised way.
Among those featured is a Jewish lawyer who defended terrorism suspects in court, and “the Jew who broke bread with Arafat on Passover … currently married to a bug-eyed Michigan-born ARAB who calls herself a ‘Palestinian’. Was it a match made in Hell? Or simply a Jew made in Hell! You be the Judge!”
An Israeli teenager who refused to do military service is pilloried as a supporter of “Arab terrorism”, with the suggestion that he should be shot for high treason.
There is also a rabbi “who supports the murders of Jewish children, and condemns Israeli action to protect its citizens”, and a list of “Other (Self-Hating) Jewish Freaks of Nature” – mainly Israeli peace organisations.
The name of one of the site’s victims is shown in large brown type with a note below saying: “Does the color of the above text remind you of anything?”
The site gives personal details of the people targeted, including their email addresses, phone numbers and home addresses, together with street maps in some cases (“so you won’t get lost”).
In the case of organisations, details of their internet servers are given – presumably to facilitate hacking. This is followed by a disclaimer urging people not to harass or threaten the targets, hack their computers, send them viruses, and so on.
Ourenemies.org says it is affiliated to another website, California-based Masada2000, which publishes a “SHIT List” of more than 6,000 “Self-Hating, Israel-Threatening” Jews.
Interestingly, most of the nastiness generated in the name of defending Israel seems to come from the US rather than from Israel itself.
It may be the work of a lunatic fringe but, according to Ms Fink, even Jewish activists in Britain who reject the Israeli government’s line can face various kinds of harassment.
Earlier, Ms Fink had come under fire from the Union of Jewish Students when she tried to set up a student branch of “Jews for Justice for Palestinians”.
Last November, a Jewish protest in Golders Green – the heart of the London Jewish community – against the construction of Israel’s West Bank wall was greeted by threatening phone calls, a counter-demonstration and cries of “traitors”.
It ended with one of the peace activists – a former Israeli soldier – being punched and knocked to the ground.