by Sarah Irving, Electronic Intifada
What do a “fashion label” which celebrates the Israeli army with sexist images of scantily clad female soldiers and inflammatory plans to build a “Third Jewish Temple” on the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem have in common?
The answer: support from Indiegogo, the social media fundraising platform which calls itself “the most trusted platform in the crowdfunding industry.”
At the end of September 2014, the Jerusalem-based Temple Institute, an extremist organization which is part of the wider “Temple Movement,” successfully raised more than $100,000 to complete “architectural plans for the actual construction” of a “Third Temple” on the Haram al-Sharif. The Jerusalem site is home to the al-Aqsa mosque, the third most holy site for Muslims, and the Dome of the Rock, one of the earliest and most significant pieces of Islamic art and architecture in the world.
A better place?
Indiegogo markets itself as a supporter of “independent” initiatives. Using statements like “Indiegogo is a way for people all over the world to join forces to make ideas happen. Since 2008, millions of contributors have empowered hundreds of thousands of inventors, musicians, do-gooders, filmmakers — and other game-changers — to bring big dreams to life,” it plays on the creative, progressive images evoked by the ideas of artists and — as the company puts it — “do-gooders.”
Words like “empowering” litter the site, and staff profiles include promises that “My dream in life is to make the world a better place. Enabling people to raise capital using Indiegogo is my way of fulfilling that dream.”
But recently, these two campaigns on Indiegogo have shown that it is willing to help groups which are very far from “making the world a better place” to raise funds.
Inciting violence in occupied Jerusalem
The Temple Institute was founded in the early 1980s by a former high-ranking member of Meir Kahane’s Kach Party, which was banned for its extremist positions and links to the Jewish Defense League, a violent group regarded as a terrorist organization by even the US and Israeli governments. The institute, however, has since received hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from the Israeli government.
The Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem called the plans illegal, and coalition spokesperson Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, calling on Indiegogo to remove the Temple Institute’s campaign, told the press at the time that:
Numerous UN resolutions affirm that East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its religious sites, are part of the occupied Palestinian territory, where sovereignty belongs to the Palestinian people … this is an illegal campaign as defined by [Indiegogo’s] terms, violating international law and human rights, resulting in the destruction of property, inciting for religious intolerance, hatred and violence.
The Temple Institute bills itself as the “only one organization is paving the way for the rebuilding of the Temple,” and has already, it claims, produced a number of the ceremonial items which would be used for worship in a reconstructed temple.
The Institute’s fundraising page on Indiegogo — which features the video below — specifies the use to which money raised on the site will be put:
The Temple Institute has engaged an architect to map out the modern Third Temple’s construction. Your contribution will go towards completing this ambitious project and the continued research and development which will make the Third Temple a reality. With every detail of the future Temple’s requirements listed in the written and oral law, our architects are not only designers, but Torah scholars who will ensure that everything is built to the highest modern standards, while adhering to the letter of Jewish law.
The Haram al-Sharif has been the site of many attacks by Israeli settlers, the Israeli military and Israeli police against Palestinian worshippers, and Israeli extremists have stepped up their attempts to take over the compound in recent months.
This has led to violence in Jerusalem and has been used by the Israeli authorities in Jerusalem as an excuse for sweeping harassment of Palestinian communities and hundreds arrests, including those of many children. Observers have accused Israeli extremists — similar to those at the Temple Institute — of trying to start a “holy war” in Jerusalem.
Hardly the “better world” which Indiegogo claims to be helping to build.
Misogyny, militarism and crowdfunding
Personally, I would really like this next example of Indiegogo’s support for demeaning, discriminatory projects to be a spoof. It looks like it could be satire, but all current indications seem to be that it is real, and that its revolting combination of sexism and militarism is genuine.
MTKL calls itself a fashion label, but its first product looks set to be a calendar filled with photos of scantily clad female Israeli soldiers. Using language such as “ the chosen amongst the chosen people, real women soldiers of the IDF [Israeli army],” it claims that “MTKL was founded by 2 former soldiers that always dreamt to show the world the beauty of Israel and its people.”
Despite the nauseating misogyny of the calendar, the brand’s Indiegogo page even has the gall to claim that “the initiative also shows a side of Israelis the world rarely sees; attractive, egalitarian and determined to fight for their right to survive.”
But most disturbingly, the women aren’t just depicted half-naked, they are also shown in military “themed” clothing, camouflage makeup and carrying large pieces of automatic weaponry. Even the brand name — MTKL — is a play on the Hebrew word matkal, which means “army command.”
The sinister blend of sexuality, sexism and violence is carried through into the project’s fundraising on Indiegogo. The wording of the funding campaign’s video, transcribed by blogger Richard Silverstein, contains passages which present Israeli culture as a combination of indiscriminate violence and objectification of women, but as somehow embodying emancipation at the same time:
Shenfeld: we are now producing the world’s first Israeli army girl calendar. We recruited a real group of Israeli soldiers as our models, and we tell the stories of their actual military service while sporting the best military-inspired apparel ever designed.
Missulawin: these are not your run-of-the-mill models. These are real soldiers of an army which sees plenty of combat action. Contribute a few dollars to help us publish this calendar as a premium printed product and take a stand with us in the name of freedom, life and having fun.
Narrator: Women who handle guns, lead operations, and fight terror; highly-trained army machines by day, supermodels by night. Because when you only have one shot, it has to be a killer one [sic]. Now, MTKL: over and out.
Ducking the issues
For example, “Campaign Owners are not permitted to create a Campaign to raise funds for illegal activities, to cause harm to people or property, or to scam others” and “perks” offered to donors to campaigns must not include “any items promoting hate, discrimination, personal injury, death, damage, or destruction to property.”
Given that MTKL’s perks and other plans include blatantly misogynistic calendars and are intended to promote the image of an army which, less than three months before the campaign was launched, killed 2,100 people and destroyed thousands of homes and public buildings in its attacks on Gaza, it very much seems to violate the supposed bar on associations with “promoting hate, discrimination, personal injury, death, damage, or destruction to property.”
And the plans to build the Third Temple, as well as being illegal in relation to the status of Jerusalem, also by definition entail “damage [and] destruction to property” — in this case, some of the holiest and most artistically significant Islamic sites in the world.
In addition, the plans are part of a wider, viciously racist program of ethnic cleansing which is intended to force the Palestinian people from their land and deny them their basic rights.
Indiegogo also states that users should not use campaigns to:
“use the Services to promote violence, degradation, subjugation, discrimination or hatred against individuals or groups based on race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity”
… a list which, again, includes a number of stipulations which the MTKL and Third Temple campaigns blatantly violate.
Since Indiegogo’s terms state clearly that it “reserve[s] the right to refuse use of the Services to anyone and to reject, cancel, interrupt, remove or suspend any Campaign, Contribution, or the Services at any time for any reason without liability,” it remains unclear why both of these campaigns have been allowed to use to site to raise money.