Burning Man began in San Francisco in 1986, as an independent, anarchist, countercultural event to celebrate humanity and humanism. Over the years it became a huge and quite expensive festival, and even an organization that has branches worldwide. But the principles, as drawn up by founder Larry Harvey, remained the same: They include noncommercialism, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, community effort, civic responsibility and refraining from leaving behind traces, out of a desire to preserve the environment.
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The list of principles of Midburn — the Israeli version of Burning Man, held in the Negev every year since 2014 — is identical to that of the parent organization.
The Midburn website, like the Burning Man website, states: “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”
It is therefore somewhat hard to understand the connection between an activist in the far-right and racist organization Lehava, which encourages hatred of Arabs and xenophobia, and the tolerant, hippie and pluralist community of Midburn. But two weeks ago the organizers of Midburn hired Raphael Maoz, a Lehava field activist, to head the organization’s communications department.
A video on Maoz’s Facebook page shows him at a Lehava demonstration, wrapped in an Israeli flag. “We’re here in the Azrieli complex across from Sarona [in Tel Aviv], four men demonstrating against 5,000 leftists, the police are keeping us away. The Jew-hater Zehava Galon is here, as is Tamar Zandberg [politicians from the left-wing Meretz party],” he explained in the video, and continued with the description: “All kinds of slogans to the effect that Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies, everyone here is rabble, a fifth column, betraying their country, calling to make peace with terrorists. We came to show them that we will defend the honor of our country, we won’t keep quiet about this.”
According to his Facebook page, Maoz grew up in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion and went to Ariel University, in the West Bank. Recently he has been attacking Breaking the Silence and calling its activist traitors. Among his favorite targets are the parents of Dean Issacharoff, the organization’s spokesman, whose father is Israel’s ambassador to Germany.
Maoz also condemns at every opportunity the humane treatment of African refugees living in south Tel Aviv, whether it’s an attempt to provide them with vocational training or simply an attempt to integrate them into the community. After a television report on a relationship between an Israeli woman and a refugee, he wrote on his page, “Women like you sully pure Judaism.”
His favorite political party is Michael Ben Ari’s far-right Otzma Leyisrael, which is not represented in the Knesset. The one he hates most is Meretz, which he calls “sheretz” (Hebrew for vermin). In his free time, Maoz enjoys parties, and like the last of the liberals, not to say libertines, he gets very angry when anyone tries to stop ordinary citizens from having a good time. After the police drug raid on Tel Aviv’s Breakfast Club, a few weeks ago, he said the police operate like a crime organization in uniform.
A number of former Midburn activists said they were surprised and shocked to hear about the new hire, adding that it defies logic. A few said maybe the organization has decided to compromise its principles in order to reach a wider audience, choosing a more pragmatic and less ideological policy in light of the accelerated growth of the community.
“This is a community whose values and principles take time to understand, and there was crazy inflation here that came too fast,” said one activist. “That led to a situation in which activists from the early years have distanced themselves somewhat, because some of the principles include radical expression or radical self-reliance, and all these things were no longer happening, it simply became a nature party. It lost some of its color.” Others said that perhaps Midburn simply didn’t find other candidates to fill the position.
Bentzi Gopstein, the head of Lehava, declined to respond, claiming that he doesn’t cooperate with Haaretz.
Midburn said in a statement: “Raphael Maoz hasn’t participated in a Midburn event as yet, and like hundreds of people, he asked to volunteer for several hours a week in advance of the Midburn 2018 event. He doesn’t hold a position and at the movement is in a period of on-the-job training as a volunteer in the Midburn’s internal media department.
“There’s no change in the spirit of the organization, we aren’t political and we have no intention of being political, we have volunteers from all religions and from the entire array of opinions, we deal with inspiring people rather than in political matters. The nonprofit organization opposes and condemns any demonstration of racism or hatred, and is apolitical. The administration was surprised to hear these things, and it intends to examine the hiring process for the position and will hand down its decision in the near future.”
Update: Following the Haaretz report regarding Lehava member Raphael Maoz's appointment as head of Midburn's internal communications department, the organization's management committee decided following a conversation with Maoz that he would not take the position with the festival.