Metro Weekly

Thousands of LGBTQ Israelis get texts saying they “deserve severe punishment, death and deportation”

It remains unclear whether the text messages may be related to an attack on an LGBTQ dating service by Iranian hackers in October.

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A person texting on a mobile phone – Photo: Christian Wiediger, via Unsplash.

Thousands of LGBTQ Israelis received text messages saying they “deserve severe punishment, death and deportation” and demanding that they “repent” on Monday, according to The Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force.

“You are LGBT and an apostate. You deserve severe punishment, death and deportation from Israel,” the text message reads. “Come to Yeshiva Ohr Elhanan in order to repent. We would be glad if you undergo conversion to faith.”

The message included a phone number and a Telegram account to contact and claimed to be sent by Rabbi Chaim Aryeh Hadash, the dean of Yeshiva Ohr Elhanan, a Lithuanian-style Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem.

The rabbi denied having any connection to the message, telling KAN news that he has never talked about LGBTQ issues nor addressed them in his yeshiva, according to the Jerusalem Post. Hadash urged police to investigate who sent the messages.

The Aguda and Havruta, an organization seeking to promote tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ people within the Orthodox community, called in a letter for Rabbi Hadash to publish a public condemnation of the text messages sent in his name and to “prevent the further great desecration of God that has already been done.” They also invited Hadash to engage in a dialogue with the LGBTQ religious Jewish community.

It is unclear if the person who sent the messages used information leaked by the Black Shadow, an Iranian-based hacker group, following a ransomware attack against the Atraf dating website in October. The attack eventually forced the LGBTQ geo-located dating service to shut down permanently, and hackers began releasing users’ personal information in waves unless they were paid a ransom of $1 million.

The hacking of Atraf also underscored the vulnerability of online dating apps or websites — particularly those serving the LGBTQ community — that fail to put proper security measures into place. Earlier this year, the gay dating app Manhunt was hacked, exposing potentially thousands of users’ data.

If the text messages did indeed utilize information from the Black Shadow leak, former Atraf users could find private details or pictures exposed, subjecting them to public humiliation, or, even worse, those users who are still in the closet could be “outed” by the release of such data.

See also: Armed robbery suspects targeted LGBTQ people through dating apps, Orlando police say

In addition to leaking the information of the LGBTQ users of Atraf, the Black Shadow has also uploaded what is claimed was the full database of personal information and in-depth medical records of patients at Israel’s Machon Mor medical institute, according to the Times of Israel. Other websites affected included public transportation companies Dan and Kavim, a children’s museum, public radio’s online blog, a tourism company, and a medical service.

Yoram Hacohen, the director-general of the Israel Internet Association, also called for an investigation into who sent the text and whether they used data from the Black Shadow attack, saying it should be possible to track such information.

Israeli police subsequently opened an investigation into the text messages, saying it is looking for possible suspects.

The Aguda called on people who received the texts to report the incident via its website or by contacting Israeli police directly.

People who received the text and are seeking someone to talk to have been encouraged to reach out to the Aguda’s hotline by dialing *2982 or via WhatsApp at 058-6205591. The hotline operates Sunday through Thursday and on Saturday night from 7:30-10:30 p.m.

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