Seeing Red in South Tel Aviv: Meet an Unabashed Right-wing Activist

May Golan campaigns against people she insists on calling 'infiltrators.' Yet she poses a challenge: She's young secular and photogenic.

May Golan is prepared to give you all the details about her sexual assault by two attackers at the old central bus station near her Tel Aviv home. And to retell the story about the neighbor who asked her to enter into a fictitious marriage with him so he could get a visa, and who attacked her when she refused, and punched her mother in the head. She can also eerily re-enact the bleating of a young sheep that was slaughtered in front of her in the stairwell – all acts committed by “infiltrators,” a term whose use she will never compromise on.

But when you look for the truly seminal event that turned Golan, at age 27, into one of the faces most identified with the battle of south Tel Aviv’s residents and a vocal spokeswoman, wrapped in wrenching nationalism, on behalf of expelling the African asylum seekers – you must go back many years, when the area of the old bus station was already a pocket of poverty bursting with crime and had a negative image.

It was 1996, on the popular television program “Dan Shilon Live.” Golan, then 10 years old, had been invited to appear on the talk show following a report several days earlier on Channel 1’s evening news program. The item dealt with the annual poverty report and included an interview with her mother, Rimona, a single parent living on a National Insurance allowance in the heart of an area swarming with drug addicts and prostitutes.

On Shilon’s program, May was sitting between director Menachem Golan and actress Gila Almagor, but she stole the show. “I said that I lack nothing, but that I only wanted to see a play or go to some after-school activity, and apparently it moved a lot of people,” she has said in previous reports on her Channel 1 appearance.

“Afterward all the ‘bleeding hearts’ offered to help. I can use that phrase in retrospect, because nothing happened. But Gila Almagor, who said that I was very moving and had a rare power of expression, actually kept in touch with me. She helped me make a bat mitzvah, and arranged for me to take organ lessons.

“One day, we got a phone call from a municipal representative who told my mother: ‘May has to change schools,’” Golan continues. “Apparently they saw a girl with potential, but God forbid she should stay in south Tel Aviv. She had to be removed from the ghetto.

“When I came to class in the northern part of the city for the first time, the homeroom teacher [at A.D. Gordon Elementary School] introduced me like this: ‘This is May, she appeared a few days ago on Dan Shilon’s show and said that she’s poor. She lives in south Tel Aviv and now she’ll be joining us, but she won’t be paying for school.’ Do you know how much they hated me? During my first three years there, 80 percent of the time, it was hell on earth. But you know what? Not for a second did I show them that I was going through hell. I would go to the bathroom and cry over what they said to me: ‘You’re a southerner, you’re dirty, contaminated, you live with addicts and prostitutes, you’re living at our school’s expense.’

“I continued with all of them to the Ironi Dalet High School,” she continues. “I also went there without paying, through the intervention of a social worker. On my identity card I have a middle name, Flora, after my grandmother, and also a second last name, Badra, my mother’s maiden name. I understand that the people at Gordon didn’t have anything against May Golan; that the battle was against Flora Badra, the Mizrahi girl from south Tel Aviv. From there the pride in my home developed.”

So the Sudanese and the Eritreans are a red flag for you?

“Absolutely not. The red flag was hoisted in front of me as a girl, when they told me I wasn’t good enough to be anywhere else but south Tel Aviv, and I removed it as soon as I decided to stay in the neighborhood. The red flag that motivates me to action is the danger, the crime and the audacity of the infiltrators. The red flag is the Filipina who was raped, the girl that was attacked, the old woman who’s crying.”

Let me speculate. Could it be that the Sudanese and Eritreans are paying the price for the trauma suffered by Flora Badra?

“No, and if you plan to take your article in that direction we can stop right here. I’m explaining to you where I get my strength to stand up to the infiltrators and put myself on the front lines of the struggle, which is scary and dangerous. Understand that for the residents of south Tel Aviv, the infiltrators are a terror group in every way. That girl, Flora Badra, led me to understand that there is nothing shameful about south Tel Aviv, about Sephardi-ness, about the ‘hood.

“She gave me the ability to defend my home. But the process that’s been taking place over the past five years is a self-evident crossing of a line. Paradoxically, because I got to taste the ‘golden’ north, I can knowledgeably say that the situation in the south is abnormal: that it’s permitted to ask for a different reality and that we have to fight.”

Precisely because of your background, don’t you feel any solidarity with such a disadvantaged population?

“I haven’t heard such a good joke in a long time. There is no population stronger than them in south Tel Aviv. They are organized, they are funded, they are supported by left-wing groups. The neighborhood residents look through their peepholes and think twice about going down to buy milk after 5:30. But them? Who has anything on them? They open restaurants, pubs, limousine services, bridal salons. God Almighty, these are refugees? They send hundreds of dollars to their families every month so they can buy land and build homes.”

‘Hit and run’

In the past two years, Golan has become a social media animal and the darling of the Channel 10 program that focuses on subjects related to the Internet. From there, she moved into the embrace of extreme right-wing activists Michael Ben-Ari, Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir; at the press conference launching their party, Otzma Leyisrael, which barely missed entering the Knesset in last year’s election, she sat alongside them. Golan’s rhetorical skills and natural charisma were increasingly and prominently enlisted during previous demonstrations calling for the expulsion of the asylum seekers, where she took a dominant position at the megaphone.

“If I’m racist in order to preserve my life, then I’m proud to be racist,” she yelled into it at one of the rallies. Today she argues that this comment wasn’t properly understood, and explains that she was merely trying to illustrate how the left has distorted the definition of racism. “It infuriates me when they stick a racist label on me. How can they accuse me of racism when all these years I’ve experienced it?” she shouts.

But when you speak about crime in terms of an ethnic cross-section of the population, it sounds like a racial theory.

“But it’s the truth, these are the facts. Ever since the infiltrators from Eritrea and Sudan arrived, the crime rate has quadrupled. [There was no response from the Tel Aviv Police with regard to this statistic.] There isn’t a single one of them who goes out without a knife or a penknife in his shoes. For what? In Eritrea, by law, it’s permitted to rape a woman when the man is her husband, an acquaintance or a policeman, so why are we surprised by the incidents of rape that happen here?”

The Eritrean Embassy in Israel would not respond to Haaretz’s query on this issue.

Do you distinguish between Sudanese and Eritreans?

“Sure. The infiltrators from Eritrea are the ones with the money, the ones who open businesses. They are more shrewd and brash, and their crimes are more devious. When they attack or steal, it’s hit and run. The Sudanese are not like that, after they steal your iPhone, they’ll keep on hitting you. There’s a difference in the level of cruelty.

One’s stomach turns when Golan says she avoids restaurants that employ asylum seekers not only for ideological reasons, but also for health reasons. “There was a report recently published that said one of every three infiltrators has AIDS or tuberculosis,” she explains.

You know that one can be infected with HIV through sexual contact or by a blood transfusion, not from a plate.

“Fine, I believe that infiltrators don’t have to work in restaurants. I check every restaurant before I go in and call on Israeli citizens who care about themselves and their health to do the same thing.”

While her “patron,” former National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari, a skullcap-wearing settler, is an obstacle that can be fairly easily neutralized by the left, Golan poses a challenge because she is young, secular and photogenic. One minute she attacks a bag of croissants with childish clumsiness, and the next she takes out a small lipstick and touches up her makeup. She says she relies on the Almighty, but admits, “I’m a tease,” when the photographer asks if she’s sure she wants to be photographed in a seductive pose. She yells at an ultra-Orthodox person in her building who dared to rent an apartment to Africans, and the next day appears in the studio of a foreign TV station and states her case in fluent English.

Sometimes Golan’s complexity, though authentic, manifests itself in inconsistency. For example, when she says she regrets that the struggle of south Tel Aviv residents has been politicized and identified with the right, while stating her political affiliation openly by being placed in the 10th slot on Otzma Leyisrael’s list in the last election.

“Let’s be precise. I didn’t say that I’m a right-wing extremist and that’s why we have to send the infiltrators back,” she explains. “I ran in a slot [on the party list] that I knew in advance was not realistic, to express support. I’m proud of my ideology, but I’m not going to earn any political capital from it.”

Affiliating with Otzma Leyisrael undermines your struggle. How can you persuade people when a person like Michael Ben-Ari is perceived by most of the public as extreme and illegitimate?

“My relationship with Dr. Michael Ben-Ari comes from the most human place. I very much admire him for the moral support he gives me and because of his love for the Land of Israel. For four years he had an office in the [Tel Aviv’s lower class] Hatikva neighborhood and he did amazing things for people. I’m not ashamed of this connection, and it was natural given the fact that Ben-Ari and his amazing people are fighting for the same goals, just like I’ve connected to the leftists and centrists who agree [with them]. To say this is detrimental is ridiculous; these are people whose only sin is being committed to Israel’s security.”

‘No real public activism’

Social activists who oppose Golan argue that she’s an esoteric figure.

“She’s the one who was meant to bring votes from the [impoverished] neighborhoods to Otzma Leyisrael, but in fact – and the minimal support they received from the neighborhoods proves this – there are very few people behind her,” says Sapir Slutzker Amran, who is active in an organization that seeks public housing in south Tel Aviv, as well as in the Mizrahi feminist Achoti (Sister) movement.

“I see her as a hitchhiker riding on the distress in the neighborhoods to advance in politics and in life. She has no real public activism to her credit, except for the false statuses she posts on Facebook,” she adds.

Beyond the overt connection to the people at Otzma Leyisrael, it is indeed hard to know what kind of network is behind Golan or how extensive it is. The movement she founded, Ir Ha’ivrit (The Hebrew City), declared it wanted to run for the Tel Aviv city council in October’s local elections, but was disqualified due to technical problems relating to submitting the forms. The Ir Ha’ivrit Facebook page has 3,000 followers, and Golan claims it has a core group of some 20 activists. She also writes an extensive blog in which she describes her experiences in the neighborhood.

Isn’t it true that you enjoy the attention?

“I don’t enjoy the celebrity at all. What’s there to enjoy? Being called a fascist and a Kahanist?”

It can’t be that you’re offended by the word “Kahanist.”

“Rabbi [Meir] Kahane was the first MK to be killed by terrorists and it’s a great honor to speak at a memorial rally for him. One doesn’t have to agree with his approach, but just as with Gandhi [Rehavam Ze’evi] or [the late Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin, both political figures who were murdered for their views, he also worked for the security of Israel as he saw it.

“By the way, being called a Kahanist doesn’t insult me in the least, but I have a problem with being called a ‘Kahanazi,’ or Hitler and so on – names extreme left-wing activists call me.”

What is the worst thing that people called you when you were a child?

“’Mizrahit.’ There was a Mizrahi singer named Yossi Eden, who was popular in my neighborhood. I had this pink Discman my mom bought me for my bat mitzvah, and I’d walk around school listening to his music. When the volume was loud, the kids would say: ‘She’s listening to Mizrahi music because she’s Mizrahi herself.’ As if ‘Mizrahi’ was a dirty word. They tried to make me feel embarrassed.”

So did you lower the volume?

“No. I’d take off the earpieces on purpose, so others around me could hear.”

Tomer Appelbaum
Yanai Yechiel