Avoda Ivrit and other Slurs

As my wife and I begin to develop an action plan for our upcoming move from Nachlaot to Old Katamon, one of the items on the relentlessly multiplying ‘to do’ list is that of finding a decent, reliable moving company. Evidently, the guys we used for our 2011 move to Nachlaot have either disbanded or were deported.

Or, perhaps they simply dropped out of the online grid and took their operation underground. Wherever they are, their punctuality, efficiency and reasonable rates are surely missed!

Be that as it may, we were rather repulsed by the following blurb that accompanied an advertisement for a local moving company that we tracked down by way of the Janglo.net business directory: “Employ Jewish workers only…”

My wife contacted the good people at Janglo.net. The response she received was brief and utterly dismissive: “We don’t moderate posts in the business directory for that type of thing. Sorry.” 

A major, much-trafficked website NOT moderating for offensive, possibly even racist, content? Strange.

Janglo.net is but one of many Israeli-based online communities that has no qualms about using such terms as “Jewish workers only”, “Israeli labor”, “Avoda Ivrit” and other more subtle variations on a common theme: “We don’t employ non-Jews”.

In all fairness, there is a historical context to such concepts as Avoda Ivrit  (Jewish labor), which was a slogan adopted during pioneering days in the Land of Israel, i.e., to do physical work, and not hire others to do it, as part of Kibbush Ha’avoda – Conquest of Labor.  

Jewish labor as a foundation for the national revival process meant that Jews would ‘redeem’ themselves by building with their own hands a new type of Jewish society.

Manual labor was also perceived to have spiritual value for Jews – both as individuals and as a people. According to David Ben-Gurion, Jewish labor was “not a means but a sublime end” for transforming the Jew and making him/her more creative.

As such, is there anything at all inappropriate about postings that innocuously invoke Jewish self-reliance? Is this is just a tempest in teapot?

At this point, it may be worthwhile to take a step away from the swirling maelstrom of history, religion and politics that gives Israel its mojo. Living in such a vibrant vortex, while always entertaining and often times thrilling, does tend to occasionally throw off one’s intellectual equilibrium.

As such, let’s pretend that a nice, sincere, earnest Jewish person living in the United States logged into Monster.com, Craigslist, or any other U.S.-based website that has sections devoted to jobs, housing and services and came across an advertisement that touted: “Christian work only”.

How quickly do you think the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) would spring into action?  Would such a posting not be open to charges of blatant anti-Semitism? Legal action would probably not even be required as the public outcry would probably lead to a swift resolution – consisting of a deletion of the odious text.

Leaving the world of thought experiments and hypotheticals, a very real landmark ruling of a French court in 2000 ordered the internet giant Yahoo! to block French web users from its auction sites which sell Nazi memorabilia. The court reasoned that French law prohibits the display or sale of anything that incites racism. Yahoo!’s subsequent appeal, in a US court, was dismissed.

However, the central issue here is not to question the legality of the Janglo.net posting. Israel, sorely lacking a Constitution, much less a Bill of Rights, has developed a concept of freedom of speech that is all its own.

Furthermore, comparisons to the laws and legal precedents established by US courts, while certainly useful as a guide for any society that values and promotes the freedom of expression of its citizens, should be taken with a grain of salt.

Still, what can and should be debated is whether the offensive posting is racist. If one defines racism as a form of moral obscenity, then perhaps we can seek out an answer in the phrase that was famously used by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964): “I know it when I see it”.

Janglo.net is a highly successful online enterprise, having proven to be a godsend for English-speakers in Israel, and is undoubtedly staffed with bright, educated and dedicated people who are committed to providing a top-notch service based on constantly updated information.

Still, it must be emphasized that there’s nothing quaint, charming or heimish about “Jews only” type postings. In fact, they’re reprehensible. 

Janglo.net, with its success and scope of influence, can be a catalyst for a much needed overhaul of all Israeli online communities by implementing a strict policy of moderating its business directory section – as well as the rest of its website.






About the Author
Gidon Ben-Zvi, former Jerusalem Correspondent for the Algemeiner newspaper, is an accomplished writer who left behind Hollywood starlight for Jerusalem stone in 2009. After serving in an Israel Defense Forces infantry unit from 1994-1997, Ben-Zvi returned to the United States before settling in Israel, where he and his wife are raising their four children to speak fluent English – with an Israeli accent. Ben-Zvi's work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).