A First in Israel: Construction Firm Fined for Racist Ad

Lands Authority agrees that commercial by real-estate firm, featuring boisterous Mizrahim, is offensive, imposes $82,500 fine.

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Screenshot from ad shows an uncomfortable ashkenazi man embraced by two colorfully dressed mizrahi men.
Screenshot from ad shows an uncomfortable Ashkenazi man embraced by two colorfully dressed Mizrahi men.Credit: Ad campaign

The Israel Lands Authority has decided to impose a fine of 323,000 shekels ($82,500) on the Be'emunah construction company for a commercial it ran recently, presenting Mizrahi Jews in a degrading and racist way.

This is the first time a construction company has ever been fined for violating regulations relating to discrimination in the marketing of residential properties.

Since 2010, all housing tenders granted by the ILA include a prohibition on selling homes in a discriminatory manner. A developer who is caught discriminating may see the tender canceled or be fined by up to 15 percent of the value of the contract, according to the regulations. This is the first time this anti-discrimination clause has ever been invoked – in any fashion.

The clip was aired on television in November 2015. It begins with a light-skinned family singing Hanukkah songs as they light the holiday candles. A knock on the door disrupts the family idyll. The loud neighbors, wearing colorful hats, walk in and take over the candle-lighting ceremony, while revealing the name of one of their families: Abergil, a typical Mizrahi surname. The Mizrahi neighbors fail to pronounce in proper Hebrew the word hanukkiah, referring to the holiday candelabra – and proceed to roast marshmallows over the lit candles.

The ad’s voice-over states: “Do you want to live in a house of your own too? Do you want neighbors to your liking? Come to the Carmei Gat project.”

After the harsh response, the company took the commercial off the air.

In December, the Association for Human Rights in Israel filed suit in the court for administrative affairs in Jerusalem in December, demanding that the ILA impose sanctions on Be'emunah. The commercial related to the company's marketing campaign in the Carmei Gat neighborhood of Kiryat Gat, in the southern part of the country, aimed solely at members of the national-religious community. The practice of selling only to that public was also mentioned in the ACRI petition, in addition to the possible racist portrayal of Mizrahi Jews.

The ILA held its own hearing about the Be'emunah issue, and subsequently its tenders committee ruled that the firm had not actually acted in a discriminatory way when selling, or not selling, apartments to Mizrahim. However, the panel agreed that the commercial had discriminatory overtones which could influence those interested in buying a property in the residential project.

For its part, ACRI said the fine decided upon was much lower than the maximum allowed, “but the decision of the tenders committee still presents a clear message saying that it is forbidden to allow discriminatory advertising, and that such means for marketing is discriminatory and unacceptable."

The ILA stated in its decision that the lawsuit in question is now moot and that no further sanctions need be imposed on Be'emunah, either due to the offensive commercial or because of the practice of marketing housing only to the religious community.

Be'emunah has said it will take the criticism into consideration, and will study the ILA’s decision in depth and respond after the court rules on the suit. “We will continue to market the Carmei Gat project to the religious public,” a spokesman for Be'emunah said.

The office of the attorney general has for months discussed whether selling homes solely to the national-religious public is discriminatory, as ACRI charges, but no decision has been publicized as of yet.

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