Racist NIMBYism: anti-eruv “arguments” in Australia

Est Reading Time: 9 min

[CN: Racism, propaganda]


Yesterday I posted about some far-right anti-mosque propaganda. This type of fear-mongering doesn’t stop there; the campaign against the St Ives eruv shows its wide scope.

Unlike the previous post, I should explain what an eruv is. In Orthodox Judaism, it’s essentially forbidden to carry (inc pushing a stroller) on Shabbat except for within one’s home or outside with the aid of an eruv. An eruv consists of boundary demarcations (usually poles/wires), the symbolic acts of renting space from a non-Jew and setting up a communal meal for each Sabbath. More here, and just to make it complicated there are other types of eruv that have nothing to do with this one.

The main way an eruv would affect the neighbourhood is through the boundary markings. However, most people don’t pay close attention to their urban surroundings when they’re walking, driving or commuting through streets. The image at the top of this post has a wire from the eruv of New York’s Lower East Side. As you can see, for the wire had to be visible the photographer had to shine a light on it; if you were there you probably wouldn’t have noticed.

The St Ives controversy was about a proposed eruv which had its permit denied due to an opposition campaign, and then “someone” put one up anyway, attaching 571 poles to existing electricity poles. The follow-on controversy was whether the eruv should be taken down (costing the council $50k). The eruv has since been approved. The opposition prior to this consisted of a series of pamphlets dropped in residents’ mailboxes. Here’s the first:

Council’s survey on the proposed eruv boundary
You will shortly receive from Ku-ring-gai Council papers requesting your views about the Eruv constructed in St Ives. The flyer recently distributed by “The St Ives Jewish Community” explaining an Eruv contains many incorrect and misleading statements that we believe require correcting

  • The Applicant’s statement that, “The eruv was approved by Ausgrid in writing on the 6th August 2014” is totally misleading. Ausgrid is not the concerning authority for an Eruv. It is Council under the Roads Act (NSW) and Council has not given its approval. To the contrary, Council has rejected all Development Applications from interests associated with the Eruv, being those in 2008 and 2011, and by the Land & Development Court with two dismissed appeals in February 2012 and August 2012. The truth is the Eruv boundary infrastructure was erected unlawfully and Council has sought its removal. Ausgrid’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer has confirmed in a letter dated the 21st October 2015 that, “they are of the view that the matter rests with the Council.” Note that this letter is subsequent to the 2014 Ausgrid letter referred to by the Applicant. Furthermore, it has been signed by a much more senior Ausgrid executive.
  • By their very nature, Eruv boundaries are subject to change from time to time and it is misleading of the Applicant to claim then, “will not erect a single new telegraph pole, wire or wall.” Already since the original Development Application was lodged, the proposed boundary for the Eruv has changed several times.
  • The Applicant’s claim that, “St Ives will not change due to the eruv,” is an unsubstantiated statement that provides no guarantee. The risk of an Eruv morphing into a religious enclave over the longer-term is very real. One of the underlying functions of an Eruv is to encourage those of their faith to settle in the area. Over time, this has the propensity to re-define the demographics of St Ives. It is misleading of the Applicants to claim otherwise.
  • An extract from the Jewish website [???] states, “Our goal is to help people grow and sustain the Jewish Community in St Ives by building an environment that nurtures Torah observance and growth. We aim to
    1. Ensure people in St Ives are thriving in their Torah observance
    2. Encourage new Torah observant people to move into St Ives.”
  • To claim that, “the eruv has negligible visual impact on St Ives,” is another statement of opinion. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but the fact is that the present boundary infrastructure comprises over 700 six metre high pvc pipes attached to Ausgrid’s power poles, with some of those poles having multiple pvc pipes attached. There is already a significant amount of “clutter” detracting from St Ives streetscapes, without further compounding the situation.
  • The Applicant’s claims, “we are not segregating.” By the very nature of an Eruv, the process of segregation, as opposed to integration, must take place. The segregation referred to is that within the wider St Ives community, not just that within the boundaries of the eruv itself.
  • The overwhelming majority of those residents of St Ives opposed to the eruv are responsible, hardworking, tolerant, peace-loving citizens who reflecting [sic] the multi-cultural make-up of the community. Attempts to intimidate those who speak out against an Eruv by publishing articles which accuse them of bigotry, racism, or worse still, of being anti-semitic, is deeply offensive. More importantly, it is untrue.

And the second (hold onto your potatoes!):

Aspects of the Eruv you should know about
You may have received a flyer setting out information seeking your support for retention of the ERUV that was constructed without approval from Ku-ring Gai Council and which enclosed an area of St Ives having a perimeter in excess of 20km and involving the erection of over 700 grey pvc pipes on Ausgrid power poles.

The motivation to build an Eruv has very little to do with the purpose of enabling “carrying” on the Sabbath, or mothers pushing a pram, as is so often stated. It has much more to do with establishing a modern version of the ghetto under Rabbinical control.

Some insight into the subject is described by two eminent Jewish sociologists Menachem Friedman and Samuel Heilman in their publication “Religious Fundamentalism and Religious Jews: The Case of the Haredim.” This really explains the reason for wanting an Eruv. These extracts are from pages 238-239.

“In a world in which modernity and secularity were constantly assaulting tradition, those who sought to maintain the strictures and patterns of tradition needed a sanctuary. In the past, they could depend on ghettos which not only kept the Jews out of mainstream culture but protected them from what some on the inside perceived as the destructiveness of the outside world. If life in the Pale of Settlement in Russia kept the Jews subservient, it also guaranteed they would remain dominated by a Jewish order. But the ghetto walls had been breached and broken and since the emancipation and enlightenment, the ghettos had been places the Jews had left behind.

While Haredi society, in its championing of contra-acculturation had tried wherever possible to reconstruct the ghetto, living in neighbourhoods where Jewish life was most intense and intimate, this was not always possible, especially during the extraordinary dislocations of the 20th century when mobility rather than stability became the [norm?]

In the diaspora – America, Australia and Western Europe, the Orthodox and particularly the Haredim, located themselves in separate communities.”

[Surely?] the Eruv is the foundation of the separate community. The authors go on to say:

“For Haredim, then, the challenge was to find some place where they could remain protected from the invasions of the culture they were struggling against. One way, of course, was to expel all non-Haredi elements from their neighbourhoods. This was done with increasing vigour during the 1970s and 1980s. And it was done by surrounding the foreign element, be it a non-Orthodox resident or institution, and squeezing it out by a war of attrition that included economic sanctions, violent harassment (broken windows, flat tyres etc.) and political pressure. The sanctions became possible only because the Haredi world in Israel, buoyed by the concessions of the government, had grown in size and confidence.”

The foregoing paints the picture of the desires and intent of the Orthodox. This has been true of every city in the world where an Eruv has been erected. The downstream long term consequence of an Eruv establishment is the division of the community and eventual expulsion of secular people who live within the Eruv and want nothing to do with it.

Every St Ives resident needs to understand what is at stake.

Yes the second pamphlet is much more overtly racist but the first is a great example of how seemingly-reasonable language can be just as bad. It has the classic “we’re extremely hurt by being called racists,” thereby centring the experience on the racists. But the core of the objection is this bit: “[b]y the very nature of an Eruv, the process of segregation, as opposed to integration, must take place”. This isn’t true; an eruv can of course contribute to segregation but not by its very nature.

The counterexample is…wait for it…the other eruv that already exists in Sydney! It covers a lot of suburbs. It’s hard to get very accurate stats but even generously assuming the Wentworth electorate had no population growth since 2011, Jews would make up ~20% of the population max. Maybe 30% within the eruv area since that’s a bit smaller. (Although I doubt even half are aware of the eruv in which case you’d be hard-pressed to argue they’re segregating because of the eruv.) If you have a problem with a 30% Jewish population your problem is with multiculturalism and allowing people to keep their identity. Making the entire first pamphlet disingenuous. Their objection boils down to Jews being more likely to move to St Ives because of the eruv. But this objection could be equally applied to a synagogue or even “allowing” Jews to settle there in the first place (“they’ll bring more Jews!!1!”).

The second pamphlet reads like neo-Nazi-ism. Like the anti-mosque pamphlet in the prev post, it conspiracy-mongers, saying the eruv has “very little to do with the purpose of enabling ‘carrying’ on the Sabbath, or mothers pushing a pram, as is so often stated” (“conniving Jews lying about their motives!!1!”). To them an eruv is not just an eruv and a mosque is not just a mosque. Now disingenuousness plays a regular role in all things religious (believe me I know). But the eruv really IS for carrying on the Shabbat and anyone who objects should be made to carry around the 4kg that is both volumes of the Talmud tractate Eruvin (the Aramaic plural for eruv) plus Rambam’s 680g concise summary of the laws of the eruv.

The main trick of the second pamphlet is the same as the anti-mosque pamphlet: relying on the reader’s failure to differentiate between “Judaism” and “a branch of Judaism”. It’s true that there are plenty of cases of the Chareidi community engaging in aggressive/shitty behaviour (although just like the “great plan” about fighting Wahhabism, what would banning eruv construction do to prevent this?). However, the tie-in to St Ives is ridiculous. The high-end estimated Chareidi population is maybe 1,000,000 in Israel and 700,000 in the USA. In Australia, it appears to be about 7,000 (based on the 6% of Jews who identify as “very religious”). Most of them are in Melbourne. Most of the Sydney ones are in the Eastern Suburbs — where they already have an eruv. According to the 2011 Census, St Ives had 2665 Jews. If tens of thousands of Chareidi Jews started flocking to St Ives, I agree that’s a cause for concern which may require some thoughtful policy from governments, urban planners etc. Otherwise it’s the same fear-mongering as with the anti-mosque stuff (except here it’s off by even more orders of magnitude).

The pamphlet claims that driving out non-Orthodox residents through economic sanctions and violent harassment has happened in “every city in the world where an Eruv has been erected”. This is probably the most ridiculous statement of the whole piece of dreck given that SYDNEY HAS AN ERUV, as do hundreds of cities worldwide. More insultingly, their statement is contradicted by their own citation of the academic text right above it — which specifically states how the intimidation was mainly possible because of the immense klout the Chareidi community had/has in Israel with the state (ie. not applicable in St Ives).

To review, these are the main techniques from the anti-mosque literature and they all apply here:

  • Conflating a specific religious group (ie. extremists) with “the religion” by relying on ignorance about the religion.
  • Alarmist out of context statistics that rely on racist fears about “them” coming to our neighbourhood.
  • Pointing out legitimate issues that also apply to the majority religion but that one gets a pass as part of the in-group.
  • Conspiracy-mongering.

While the overwhelming focus of white supremacy in Australia has been on Muslims, anyone who’s not a white Christian is a potential target (and many white Christians too). We need to be aware of the propaganda that’s used for each time — because it’s all the same.