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The Disastrous ‘Great Israeli Real Estate Event’

Pro-Palestinian protest in Teaneck New Jersey outside Congregation Keter Torah
Photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images

On early Sunday afternoon, local police began shutting down the streets around Keter Torah synagogue in Teaneck, a normally quiet suburb in New Jersey. A wall of cops assembled on the street in front of the building, dividing two angry throngs: on one side demonstrators with Israeli flags, and on the other demonstrators with Palestinian flags. The groups hurled increasingly familiar insults at one another ranging from “asshole” to “baby killer.” Inside, approximately 400 prospective buyers were attending a real-estate convention called the Great Israeli Real Estate Event.

The Great Israeli Real Estate Event is an annual exhibition produced by Gideon Katz, a self-described “expert in marketing Israeli real estate to the global Jewish community.” Its aim is to help American and Canadian buyers answer questions about buying property in Israel, and to showcase available properties. This year, the event had planned stops in synagogues in Montreal and Toronto before Teaneck; then it would be onto Lawrence and eventually, on March 13, Flatbush. Initially, he’d considered canceling because of the war. But ultimately, he decided to lean in instead. This was actually an ideal time for Americans to invest in Israeli properties, Katz said on local Israeli news channels, due to rising fears of antisemitism, along with the fact that real-estate experts predict that land value in Israel will increase once the war is over. “In a world where uncertainty looms and anti-Semitism shows its face more boldly than ever, the decision to invest in a home in Israel is not just wise,” he wrote in an advertisement for the event. “It’s exhilarating!

At most of the events was a company called My Home in Israel, brought along to showcase available properties in both Israel and the Palestinian territories it occupies: multiple units in a building near Givat HaMatos in East Jerusalem, townhouses in near Ari’el University in the heart of the West Bank, and a five-bedroom villa with a pool in the luxury enclave of Efrat south of Bethlehem. The latter apparently “transcends mere housing; it embodies architectural brilliance. Conceived by the esteemed architects at Shahar Ben Hamo, this project graces the slopes of Fig Hill, promising a setting of unrivaled serenity.”

From the first stop, in Montreal, protesters have shown up to condemn the sale of houses built on settlements illegally expropriated from Palestinians in the West Bank. In Toronto, a man attacked pro-Palestinian protesters with a nail gun. Things escalated ahead of Teaneck, when a video of a Jewish resident named Rich Siegel denouncing the event went viral. “There’s a genocide going on,” he said in the video. “What this real-estate event is going to do is fan the flames.” The Teaneck protests were especially large, drawing both locals and out-of-towners.

The event began getting so much attention that an unrelated company, with an extremely similar name, got caught up in the fracas. Home in Israel, a Netanya-based company that works in partnership with Keller Williams, has also been touring through Canada, New Jersey, and New York over the past month. Because of their names, people began conflating the two. After the Teaneck event, Home in Israel attempted to publicly distinguish itself from My Home in Israel. A representative from Home in Israel told the Times that they have no properties in the settlements, though some of their listings are in neighborhoods available exclusively to Jews (unlike the U.S., restrictive covenants are legal in Israel). And in response to the imbroglio in Toronto earlier this month, Keller Williams also clarified that it is not affiliated with My Home in Israel and advised agents to “stay away” from further events that might draw protests. (Adding to the confusion: There is also a third company, called My Israel Home, which has also recently been on a North American tour. Its available properties are largely in the Jerusalem area on the Israeli side of the 1949 armistice line, though its website shows one property sold in the West Bank settlement of Ganei Modiin.)

The Great Israeli Real Estate Event ultimately decided to cancel its final stop, which was supposed to be held at Flatbush’s Khal Bnei Avrohom Yaakov synagogue. “At the recommendation of the NYPD, an Israel real estate sales event that was scheduled to take place at the Shul on Avenue N and East 27th Street tomorrow will not take place at this location,” the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition wrote in a notice to its community. “The Rabbonim are asking all those who were planning to counter-protest to please not attend.” But according to the WhatsApp channel “Flatbush Scoop,” the event actually did go forward — it was just moved to Zoom. “Israel real estate event in Flatbush with planned protest MOVED TO DIGITAL LIVESTREAM,” read one message in the chat. “Recording will be available afterwards. Everything you need to know about buying in Israel!”

The Disastrous ‘Great Israeli Real Estate Event’