Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hoozajew? How I defeated an online Nazi


Today is Google’s birthday. With as much as I use Google and how totally the search engine and all of its subsidiaries have changed my life, today ought to be my birthday too. And why shouldn’t it? This is America. You can have any birthday you want. That’s what my grandfather, Leon Weinstock, believed when he immigrated. He didn’t change his name, but he wanted an all-American birthday, and chose, what else? The Fourth of July.

My name is Weinstock. Let me spell that for you, I say. Spelling out my surname, which I must do constantly, is a minor annoyance. People named, e.g., Ann Jones, have no idea what we go through, unless they impulsively commit hyphenation somewhere along the way.

We are foreigners on this earth, no matter where we go, no matter how long we stay. Forget for an instant and your name will remind you. Once, when my father bought a lake house in South Jersey, a neighbor remarked that his name might be too long to fit on the mailbox. Nine letters? Give me a break. He would never have said that to a nine-letter WASP, not even to a ten-letter one. The implication was clear: we simply didn’t belong.

My interest in Jewish names quickly brought me into contact with a brilliant anti-Semite. It started when we traveled to New York for a bar mitzvah. In our hotel room I picked up the Manhattan phone book and started to browse. Immediately what caught my eye was the astonishing variety of Jewish names. There were all the usual ones, Gold this and Silver that, Wein this and Rose that, but also others, unfamiliar but in the same onomastic vein, full of references to shiny metal and jewels, pretty flowers, delicious food and drink. I wrote down all my favorites. After the trip I pulled down my German dictionary, looked up the names, translated them into English, and wrote my poem “The Names We Took.”

The subject intrigued me, so with Google as my tireless research assistant, I swarmed the net to learn just how we got such names. To make a long story short, we took them, en masse, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, at the behest of European civil authorities who were finding it damned inconvenient to keep track of (and tax and draft and control) people who had no surnames at all, instead using patronymics of the “David Ben Schmuel” variety – “David son of Samuel.”

But as my search expanded, I also found a website called Hoozajew.org. On the site was offered, free for downloading, a piece of software called “Hoozajew 2.0” whose stated purpose was “counting Jews.” Just feed in a list of names and back comes the list with all the Jewish names flagged. The site owner had already performed this data analysis on dozens of lists, and had discovered, with alarm, that Jews were taking over the government, the law, the banks, the media, the arts and sciences, and more.

From my research, I knew that the anonymous site owner probably had not developed the software, but had adopted a program devised for a much different and more benign purpose than uncovering the workings of the worldwide conspiracy. No, it was developed by Jews for fundraising purposes, a quick and efficient way to sort a prospect mailing list for Jewish charities who wanted to target the tribe with appeal letters, rather than wasting postage and printing on unconnected strangers.

The site, perhaps a dozen pages in all, was very matter-of-fact, quite understated as anti-Semitic ranting goes, but still hateful enough for me to want to know exactly who was sponsoring it. I searched for days, checking domain name registries and every search engine I knew about, looking for clues.

Lucky for me, the Hoozajew founder had other hobbies than Jew-bashing. He carelessly included a traceable email address on the hate site. The address included the name “dimona.” Dimona is the location of Israel’s secret nuclear facility, the place they developed and build their still-unacknowledged atomic bombs.

But the Dimona address also appeared on a site about the physics of the trebuchet, a medieval war engine, a sort of catapult popular among technically minded Ren Faire geeks. On the trebuchet site, he freely gave out his real name and location. He was a scientist, living in central New Jersey. I found his address, his phone number, the names of his wife and children and brother. I found out that he had once run for the Senate as a Libertarian candidate, and that he occasionally posted consumer book reviews on Amazon. In other words, he wasn’t a solitary kook; he was a man with a job and some standing in his community, and who would have strong reasons to keep his hatred hidden.

So now I knew, but what was I going to do about it? I didn’t really object to his having his site. I didn’t write to his domain host and demand that the site be taken down. What bothered me most was his anonymity. I wanted to expose him, or something.

At that point, my quest slowed down. I just didn’t know what to do next. I dithered. I called New Jersey’s Anti-Defamation League; they listened but offered no action. I called a newspaper in the man’s town, but they did not seem interested in the story either.

Eventually, I realized that I would have to do something myself. I began to email the man, as if I were a sympathizer who wanted to chat, using an email address that did not give away my own identity. We exchanged several rounds of email over a few days; he was cautious, but once he was convinced that I was on his side, his comments grew more virulent.

And then I overplayed my hand. I told him I knew exactly who he was, using his name and everything else I had found, and challenging him to come out in the open. At that point, he panicked. He did not write back, but immediately, within a few hours that same day, scrubbed both his sites of any identifying information, and soon after anonymized his domain registration. Hoozajew.org continued for a few months after that, and then eventually disappeared.

Did my emails force him to skedaddle and contribute to shutting down the site? I hope so, and I’m glad I did what I did. I do notice, though, that the site name Hoozajew.org is in use again, this time as a sort of links page on the topic of free speech.

The poem "The Names We Took" can be read in my Sept. 28 post.

4 comments:

  1. One day recently, I stopped in at a little drugstore here in town, one that sells only generics and offers a 25% discount on Thursdays from 11-2 and 5-7. Getting the discount requires that one sign in and sign one's name. I told my name--Halvard Johnson--to the young lady who was helping me, and she began to write it in where it's supposed to be printed. J-o-h-n, she wrote, and then stopped, maybe not sure how to procede. I expressed my surprise that she got that much right, because most Mexicans, for some reason I do not know, will always start my last name with J-h-o-n. When the writing and signing had been done, she asked me "What is your name in Spanish?" I said that it doesn't exist in Spanish, but that Alvaro Hijodejuan would be close. And then we all had a laugh at that.

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  2. This is one of my favorite stories about you.

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  3. Wow David. That is powerful! Good on you my friend!

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Your comments are welcome. Or to respond privately email me at david.weinstock@gmail.com.