Group admins deny racism, cite 'concern for our city'

Far-right activists in Ma’ale Adumim try to curb Palestinian presence in settlement

WhatsApp group run by Otzma Yehudit candidates in municipal elections urges boycotts of businesses catering to Arabs, harasses Arabs roaming city’s streets, report shows

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Members of a patrol squad in Ma'ale Adumim, who target Arabs wandering the settlement for questioning, and Jewish teens associating with them. (Kan news screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Members of a patrol squad in Ma'ale Adumim, who target Arabs wandering the settlement for questioning, and Jewish teens associating with them. (Kan news screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Some residents of the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim have banded together in a WhatsApp group to organize various activities to reduce the presence of Palestinians in the city, including boycotting and harassing businesses that cater to them and organizing patrols to harass Arabs wandering around the community, according to a report Monday.

The Kan public broadcaster cited the Fake Reporter social media watchdog as the first to notice the group, “Restoring Security,” which is run by candidates in upcoming municipal elections — Shiran Mirzai and Moti Peretz — who represent Otzma Yehudit, the far-right party led nationally by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

One message in the group featured in the report described a gym that was being “Islamicized” by having Arab customers. It later caved to pressure and announced that it would only allow city residents to join, after the group managed to convince customers to move to another gym.

“We encourage Hebrew employment in the city, to benefit our residents first and foremost,” said Shiran Mirzai, a candidate for Ma’ale Adumim’s municipal council for Otzma Yehudit, lamenting that there were businesses in the city that preferred to employ people from neighboring Palestinian communities because it was financially beneficial.

“First of all, there’s a lot to explain — what are they bringing to our city?” she asked. “I know what to say [as an answer], but I know how they will make it a headline.”

Mirzai noted that a terrorist who shot and injured six Israelis in the settlement in August was from the neighboring village of al-Azariya.

Another user in the group complained that the Facebook page of a local mall that employs many Arab workers should be brought down because it had an Arabic translation of the page. Users warned that if this wasn’t changed, there would be a boycott of its goods, and some labeled Arabs “rats.”

When confronted by the interviewer that such rhetoric mirrored Nazi rhetoric against Jewish people in the lead-up to the Holocaust, Mirzai and Peretz said that there was “no connection.”

“There’s no racism with us. It’s only concern for our city,” Mirzai said.

Another user in the group threatened to post the names of driving instructors who brought students from al-Azariya and East Jerusalem to the city.

“Those who care more about money than our city will be hurt in the most painful place. Driving instructors that commit not to teach them in our city are invited to send me a message and will receive a free advertisement in our WhatsApp group and Facebook,” the user said.

In a post featuring a video of a gym and directly addressing Mirzai, a user claimed that there were no Arabs at the facility. The video was later deleted.

“We don’t want to hear the thing called an Arab here,” the person filming said.

“After something was said in the video and in order to prevent us from being caught, a new video will be posted,” a message read. The new video stressed the gym received customers from the surrounding area.

File: Police inspect the site of a terrorist shooting attack in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, August 1, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Kan later had a woman with an Arab name contact the facility, and she was prevented by the gym employee who answered from signing up because the facility was apparently at capacity.

When a woman with a Jewish name called minutes later, she was accepted.

“There is room, yes?” the faux customer asked.

“It’s borderline, but because you said you are from the group ‘Restoring Security,’ it’s important to us, as residents of Ma’ale Adumim, so we’d be happy [to accept you],” the gym employee said.

Both the owner and the WhatsApp group organizers denied the gym excluded Arabs.

“What we discovered in Ma’ale Adumim was one of the most blatant and abusive organizations that we have seen in a long time,” Achiya Schatz, the CEO of Fake Reporter, told Kan, adding the group had hundreds of members organizing vengeful acts towards businesses and certain people in the city because they catered to Arabs.

Schatz said similar groups were active in other cities, like Ramle and Lod, mixed Jewish-Arab cities that experienced a major wave of intercommunal violence in May 2021.

According to Kan, the Ma’ale Adumim group has also organized security patrols to question Arabs wandering around the city on what they are doing. The patrols also locate Jewish teens associating with Arabs to inform them of the potential dangers of their connections, and to convince them to break off relationships with Arabs.

Mirzai said that she consulted Benzi Gopstein — head of the extremist anti-miscegenation Lehava group, which has been tied to anti-Arab violence over the years — when organizing the patrols.

She claimed that some Arabs from neighboring communities come to Ma’ale Adumim to have sexual intercourse because they are expressly forbidden from performing such acts outside of marriage in their communities.

In one of the groups, a photo was uploaded purportedly showing such behavior in a car. The publisher said they approached the couple and told them such actions were forbidden.

“A few days ago, an Arab drug dealer was caught at the entrance to the city. They bring drugs here too. There’s a lot of harassment in the streets against teen girls,” Mirzai said.

“Once I can go into al-Azariya or Issawiya or one of their villages and feel comfortable, they will be able to come here and feel at home,” she added.

DCity Piazza, Ma’ale Adumim, January 2023. (Danielle Nagler)

Israelis who accidentally drive through Palestinian cities, towns or refugee camps are often greeted with mob violence. Some Israelis intentionally travel to such communities to purchase cheaper goods and services. However, these visits have sometimes resulted in terror attacks.

Mirzai claimed that in Herzliya, a coastal city north of Tel Aviv known for its affluent suburbs, people wouldn’t accept Arabs wandering around.

“We can’t be without them. The industrial zone without them would go silent,” said Peretz, another Otzma Yehudit candidate, adding that after Palestinian employees finish work, they should leave.

In response to the report, Mirzai said Kan attempted to make her appear like a racist, even though she and her colleague were just demanding equality.

“The patrols operate only according to the law,” she claimed, adding the group was aimed at protecting the city.

“We cannot oversee every remark made in the group. When we see comments that are illegal, we delete and block them,” she said.

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