Let me tell you about Baruch Marzel.
Or, more precisely, about one of the strangest phonecalls I’ve made in my career (and, after years as a high-school teacher and a writer, believe me – that’s quite a feat).
Back in 2010 at the Jerusalem Post, an email appeared in my inbox from none other than David Horovitz (who later went on to establish ToI) himself. The gist was (in my then limited understanding of the history of the Israeli political landscape) that I had to call a man who had taken offence to (Israeli supermodel) Bar Refaeli getting engaged to her then-boyfriend Leonardo DiCaprio.
After conceding that I’d lost Leo to the better woman, I read a translation of the letter sent. It urged Refaeli (in what I assumed was an acquired emotional tone due to the translation – Hebrew is a much more emotionally expressive language than English) to reconsider her decision for the sake of Jews everywhere and her great-grandmother (really). Slightly confused, but resolute that I’d wrap this up in time for lunch in ten minutes, I dialled the given number.
After almost a minute of rings, a hurried voice shouted down the phone: ‘Shalom?’
Working for an English-language newspaper, and my Hebrew being a bit shaky back then, I opened with my usual line: ‘Hello, my name’s Felicity Kay and I’m calling from the Jerusalem Post. I’m calling to ask – ‘
Or, I would have done, if I hadn’t been shouted down somewhere in the middle of all that with screams – yes, screams – in rapid-fire Hebrew, which fell on my ears as pure gibberish.
So this was the why I’d been handed the Baruch Marzel piece to write. I had been warned by a colleague that this man was a meshugana, but (as my then flawed, fresh meat reasoning had it), aren’t we all a little bit meshugana?
No, it transpired – this man really seemed to be (as I would retrospectively identify during my teaching years) somewhere ‘on the spectrum’.
I began my sphiel again, undeterred. Once more, I was screamed at. After another try and the same Hebrew-gibberish result, I changed tactic.
‘I know you’re an American citizen, Mr Marzel’, I said, more calmly than necessary for the situation, ‘speak to me in English, please.’
If I had bothered researching the Kahanist and Kach movements (and honestly, I’m glad I didn’t or I would have been too disgusted to have made the call), I would have realised what I’d politely requested was the exact shade of red to that rather angry bull.
In an interesting mix of Hebrew and English, the great man himself began to verbally abuse me at high volume. I recall catching, ‘language of the Jews’ in Hebrew, as well as ‘denying your own culture’ in English.
I gave as good as I got. Shouting back over him, alarming those around me, I returned fire: ‘MR MARZEL, I’M CALLING TO ASK WHY YOU WROTE THAT LETTER TO BAR REFAELI!’
The screaming stopped. Silence. I thought that now we’d have a lower volume and slightly more rational conversation, but no. He now began screaming at me in English. Even then, I only caught every few words.
‘She should be ASHAMED…we’re fighting to eradicate intermarriage in Israel…I have to…so many famous Israeli girls doing this…’ his rant went on, and on, and on. After the phonecall, I played back the recording I had made and timed something like five minutes of unbroken Marzel-monologue.
Eventually, when he took a breath, I cut in: ‘Mr Marzel, what gives you the right to dictate someone else’s life choices?’
Well, you can guess how that went down. Off he went again, louder (if that was possible) and along the same theme, like a broken record amped up to 11.
‘HER CHILDREN! THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW! HER ANCESTORS!’…by this point, I knew I didn’t really need to continue the conversation, not for the sake of the article anyway.
However, as a young Jew, born and educated in a modern-Orthodox and religious Zionist environment, I was disgusted. So what if this madman screaming down the line believed the insanity he was spewing? What gave him the right to give his two misguided cents to all and bloody sundry? Sure, he could dish it out, but could he take it?
Once he’d exhausted himself again, I took my chance.
‘Mr Marzel. That’s not your business. And her children will still be Jewish, if that’s your concern.’
And then, louder beyond belief, he began attacking me.
‘YOU STUPID GIRL…INTERMARRIAGE…YOU TYPES ARE THE REASON…NO FUTURE …JEWISH PEOPLE’. He was apoplectic; there was really no more point in continuing with the so-called ‘interview’. I put the phone down.
My face must have been a right picture, and I realised I had also raised my voice during my call with that charmer.
My colleagues in the room looked somewhere between amused, confused and horrified. Finally, one spoke up: ‘Felicity, did you just try to reason with Baruch Marzel?’ and, once I’d summarised the call and the banality of it sunk in, we laughed.
Later that day (after I had sustained a lesser form of abuse and not much in the way of comment from Bar Refaeli’s mother too, but that’s another story for another time), my article was published. I like to think I’ve toned down yet still conveyed a sense of how ridiculous this man was.
And is. The news earlier that both he and Hanin Zoabi (a woman equally vile, with inverted Marzel-type beliefs, and whose name doesn’t deserve the effort it’s taking me to type it) have been allowed to run for the Knesset in the upcoming elections fills me with nausea, but thankfully neither fear nor horror.
As can be seen from the so-called interaction above, and from just a quick google of Zoabi’s actions, even in the past year, I highly doubt that anyone within Israel – and maybe even outside of Israel – could ever take these two seriously. A woman whose own nephew had to flee the country for being Muslim and holding Zionist beliefs, beliefs which she opposes so vehemently, and a man who pretends to not speak a word of English aren’t a threat to this strange little country. They’re too extremist; too alienating for us and for those they seek to ally with in the Knesset. If we’re lucky, both Marzel and Zoabi will dig their own graves just by opening their mouths.
Still, I am grateful to that meshugana Marzel for one small reason: he is the reason for my first ever reference listed in Wikipedia. It might have even made the whole bizarre experience worth it.