the 90th minute

Until September 2007, when my oldest daughter was born, this blog covered daily life and politics in Israel, as well as Hebrew-English linguistic issues, from the perspective of an American-raised journalist and translator living in Israel. Now it mostly serves as the SmunchMonk&Bear news agency, a portal into the bizarre universe of the little people. Read more at:

Monday, May 14, 2007

From black to white: the lifecycle of a mass email

An email circulating in Israel last week urged Israelis to wear black on Monday, May 14, to protest the fact that the three Israeli soldiers kidnapped over the summer have still not been returned home.

The Hebrew notice attached to the email I received reads, in translation:


"On 14.5.07, all residents of Israel, we will wear black shirts, to protest the ten months of abduction of the Israeli soldiers.

"In July 2006, 10 months ago, Ehud Regev, Gilad Shalit and Udi Goldwasser were kidnapped. ...
Almost a year has passed, and no one knows when the nightmare will end.
We won't let this subject come off the agenda!!
We, all the residents of Israel, will unite together and do everything so that the soldiers will be returned to their homes quickly!

"These are 3 soldiers who went to defend the state!! To defend us!!

"On 14.5.07, Monday, we will all be in black shirts, and we call on you, Ehud Olmert – return the soldiers to their homes, and to their normal lives as they were before!!"

I didn't pay too much attention at first, primarily because I tend to ignore mass emails, hysterical notices and the seemingly endless protests that Israelis love to hold. I did, however, point out to the friend who sent me the email, which she received from someone at her large Jerusalem company, that the three soldiers were not all kidnapped in July, as the notice said they were. Regev and Goldwasser were abducted by Hezbollah on the Lebanese border on July 12, setting off the Second Lebanon War, but Shalit was kidnapped by Palestinian militants near the Gaza border on June 25. I attributed this distortion to an oversight on the part of an overzealous protest organizer with a possible addiction to hand-lettered signs and megaphones.

But then came a twist that made the message much more interesting, by seeming to add a cleverly manipulative spin to the exhortation to wear black. A second email went around stating that the original message was actually one big hoax perpetrated by Israeli Arabs with the intention of tricking Israeli Jews into unwittingly identifying publicly with Naqba Day – the anniversary of the secular date of the establishment of the State of Israel, which is commemorated by Palestinians and other Arabs as a day of catastrophe ("naqba" in Arabic).

"The State of Israel was established on [the Hebrew date of] 5 Iyar 5708," reads the second email. "It was a difficult and traumatic event for Israeli Arabs. Every year they commemorate a day that's called Nakba. This day is commemorated on the secular date on which the state was established: 14.5.1948. Therefore, Israeli Arabs will be very 'happy' to see us wearing black on their holiday."

According to this theory, such patriotic exclamations as "These are 3 soldiers who went to defend the state!! To defend us!!" were merely a way of cynically playing on widespread Israeli feelings.

The email also said the official Web site for the abductees - which lists a calendar of events held to show solidarity with the missing soldiers and their families - mentioned nothing about the protest, and noted a couple of linguistic mistakes in the original notice that it said indicated that the writer's mother tongue was spoken Arabic rather than Hebrew.

I was left a bit puzzled, though, as to why there was a date discrepancy in the hoax theory too: Naqba Day is generally commemorated on May 15, not the 14th, even though the State of Israel was officially established on May 14, 1948. Israel, for its part, celebrates its Independence Day in accordance with the Hebrew calendar, and pays no attention to the secular date.

Lo Relevanti, an Israeli Web site that aggregates mass emails and gives the opinion of site author Hanan Cohen as to whether it's worth passing them on, appears to set everything straight.

It turns out, according to Cohen, that there was no hoax at all - only a lack of awareness of the possible confusion with Naqba Day and a lack of coordination with the abductees' families, who put out a statement saying they don't want a protest involving black shirts because of the association with death. The problem with the original protest notice was further compounded by the absence of a name or contact information, spurring apparently unfounded suspicions.

The claim that the protest was a hoax, writes Cohen, is "a great example of a mistake upon a mistake upon a mistake." According to his version of events, the initiators of the May 14 protest only made matters worse when they got wind of the email arguing that it was a Naqba Day hoax: They moved the protest to May 15, which really is Naqba Day.

But the problems have since been fixed. In response to the wishes of the families of the abductees, the protest organizer, who has since identified himself, is now calling on all Israelis to unite next Monday, May 21, by wearing white - "which symbolizes, most of all, hope," according to the revised text.

This time, the event has been coordinated with the non-profit association that runs the official Web site, and now appears on the site's activities list. In addition, the protest notice has been posted on a separate Web site set up for the purpose, which now notes the organizer's name - Ilan Spector - and his contact details. Spector has also fixed the linguistic errors that had previously cast aspersions on his intentions. The text does, however, still say that all three Israelis were abducted in July.

So what I have learned from all this? To ignore mass emails, hysterical notices and the seemingly endless protests that Israelis love to hold.



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November 21, 2009  

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