ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Israeli real estate firm slammed for racist online ad

Clip targeted at national religious sector, advertising Kiryat Gat neighborhood, features derisively stereotyped characters of Jews of eastern descent

A still from an ad by the Be'emunah company for a housing project in Kiryat Gat (screen capture: Facebook)
A still from an ad by the Be'emunah company for a housing project in Kiryat Gat (screen capture: Facebook)

A real estate company that caters to the national religious public came under fire Monday for posting on its Facebook page an advertisement for a new housing project in Kiryat Gat, which contains ridiculously exaggerated stereotypes of Sephardim, Israelis of eastern descent.

The company quickly apologized for the ad, and withdrew it.

The ad by the Be’emunah company, for a neighborhood called Karmei Gat, portrays a middle-class family with members who have a Caucasian complexion sitting down to celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah, which begins next week.

Two neighbors knock on the door and barge in to ask whether the family has some spare Sweet ‘n Low. One of the neighbors is identified as “Abergil,” a common name of Jews from Morocco.

The “neighbors” are portrayed as crass and uncultured and are blatantly disturbing the family trying to light a Hanukkah candle.

They then wonder aloud — in what is meant as a sign of their ignorance — why the family is “doing a barbecue” inside their house.

The video, which succeeds in packing an impressive amount of racial slurs into less than 90 seconds, segues to a voice-over that calls on members of the national religious sector to buy a house in the new Kiryat Gat neighborhood and thus ensure that they will have “good neighbors” — that is, unlike the ones in the clip.

A prominent journalist from the national religious sector, Elyashiv Reichner, slammed the video in comments to Haaretz on Monday. Protesting the various racist representations of the neighbors, he said, “I don’t know who made this clip, but they’re not ‘lovely neighbors’.”

The secretary of the right-wing religious Jewish Home party, Nerya Rafael Knafo, wrote on Facebook that “since this morning, I’ve been tagged almost every time the clip was shared.”

The party’s electorate widely overlaps with the target audience of the ad, and Knafo himself from a Moroccan family.

He wrote that a friend of his “asks on his Facebook page who is more representative of the sector — those who made the clip, or those who are disgusted by it.”

“The truth is that it’s the same public. The religious public created this clip and is disgusted by it, like a person who eats bad food and vomits it right away. The clip was not made in a vacuum. It tried to reflect, in an exaggerated manner, what the national religious public thinks: that we love being with ourselves, lavishing in the wholesome image we try to project. More moral than the secular, more patriotic than the left, more cultured than the Mizrahi,” Knafo wrote.

“I am so happy that this clip came out, because as blunt, ridiculous and extreme as it is, it may also bring us to think where we went wrong; to cause us to think and to understand that closing ourselves up and creating disconnected communities — with a separate education system and a sterile world of Torah — are racism in disguise,” he added. “I am writing this in the first person plural, because I see myself as part of the national religious sector and I also often behave condescendingly. It is my shame, I wish I could fix this,” Knafo continued.

The company said in a statement: “The Be’emunah company wishes to apologize for the offensive clip uploaded to the Internet this morning.” The company “has always served the public, and the hurtful message in the video is not our way and is against our values. The clip was removed immediately by order of the company management, and a process of soul-searching and clarification began in order to understand how the clip was approved.”

In a particularly unfortunate coincidence, the ad was uploaded as Israel commemorates, for the second time, the persecution of Jews from Arab countries and from Iran, a national memorial day legislated in 2013.

The memorial day — during which the staggering number of Jews who fled eastern countries is emphasized as being equivalent to the number of Palestinian refugees who escaped during Israel’s War of Independence — was legislated as part of the country’s collective, years-long soul-searching over decades of systematic discrimination by the ruling Ashkenazi elite against Jews who were treated as second-class citizens.

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