One of my Facebook associates shared the now famous “flytilla” letter, presumably presented to pro-Palestinian activists upon their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. In a heady, triumphalist tone, the sharer (and many subsequent commenters) lauded the letter as a potent example of socking it to (non-violent) pro-Palestinian protesters with cleverness (instead of with, say, the stock of an M-16): Finally, the Israeli government acts with decisiveness and decorum and hasbara puts one in the win column!

Dated April 15, the letter (with official seal of Israel in the header) congratulates the activist for “choosing to make Israel the object of [their] humanitarian concern.” Then the letter goes on to ridicule the protestor for being a hypocrite. Home run!

I am not a forensic document expert, but, nonetheless, I have some doubts as to the letter’s authenticity. Frank Abagnale Jr. (of “Catch Me If You Can” fame) would surely wrinkle his brow at this letter in muted perplexity. So you have the seal of Israel in the header, nice touch…  but which ministry produced this letter? Wouldn’t Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz or Minister of Interior Eli Yishai want to take credit for this rhetorical coup-de-grace and sign his name at the bottom? Wouldn’t anyone want to put their name on the bottom of this for-the-win note?

And then, there is the choice of font. Although I have been known to comment rather derisively to friends about the misuse of fonts (particularly Comic Sans and Times New Roman), the choice of Courier for this note strikes an odd note. Was the author looking to replicate the aura of the typewritten letter, evoking the aesthetic of the Balfour Declaration as he or she struck a blow in the defense of Zionism?

Setting aside these material issues (as apparently The Times of Israel, among others, seems to think the letter is legit), I was even more perplexed by the point the note was trying to make to the “flytilla” activist.

If I understood correctly, the letter was encouraging the protester to exercise his or her freedom to speak in countries where no such freedom exists. Go protest in Syria, the anonymous letter writer urges. Go to Iran. Go to Hamas in Gaza. In each case, the letter points out, the activist would face certain death for exercising his or her freedom of speech and freedom of association.

We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region and then come back and share with us your experience.

What a difference a letter makes. An anti-flytilla activist holds a sign that reads 'Go to Syria, hypoerites' at Ben Gurion Airport, Sunday (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

What a difference a letter makes. An anti-flytilla activist holds a sign that reads 'Go to Syria, hypoerites' at Ben Gurion Airport, Sunday (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

What a helpful suggestion indeed! This is the winning argument against non-violent, peaceful protest? This is the best one of Israel’s anonymous ministries could do to respond to the charge that Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians might be worth a re-consider? One can only imagine that “flytilla” activist reading this note and saying to him or herself: “Well, golly gee willikers. You are right! Syria and Iran and Hamas are so much worsethan Israel, so, I guess, in comparison to the killing of civilians, brutal crackdowns and human-shield-using terrorism, all those Israeli policies I came to protest are just the bee’s knees! Thanks, anonymous ministry flunky, for clearing all this up! I am going home now to stand up for Israel!”

Snark aside (though the letter reeks of it), my real problem with this document is that its writer wants to have it both ways. And by “it,” I mean he or she wants Israel to be regarded as a democracy on the one hand:

…the Middle East’s sole democracy, where women are equal, the press criticizes the government, human rights organizations can operate freely, religious freedom is protected for all and minorities do not live in fear.

And then, on the other hand, the writer wants to elide Israel’s undemocratic behavior by saying that it is doing better than countries that are not democracies. This letter presents an argument rhetorically equivalent to stating that, despite the standings, the Chicago Cubs are the best team in the Rookie Appalachian League. Sadly, It just does not wash.

I agree with the letter-writer wholeheartedly about Israel’s place in the world as a democracy. I believe that Israel is the apogee of 2,000 years of Jewish yearning and hope and, in many ways, represents the promise of Jewish values. With this said, I wonder: How would this letter read with a little find-and-replace to situate Israel in a more appropriate national league?

Dear activist,

 

We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns.

 

We know there were many other worthy choices.

 

You could have chosen to protest the American government’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, a presence that continues to claim innocent lives.

 

You could have chosen to protest the British government’s brutal austerity measures, which will surely hobble the more vulnerable members of British society.

 

You could have chosen to protest the Canadian government, which is considering a law that regards refugees, regardless of the circumstances of their flight, as criminals worthy of incarceration for wanting a safe and secure future for themselves and their families.

 

But instead you chose to protest against Israel, a democracy like the previous three democracies, where women are equal, the press criticizes the government, human rights organizations can operate freely, religious freedom is protected for all and minorities do not live in fear.

 

We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems in these countries, and then come back and share with us your experience.

 

Have a nice flight.

Does this letter make any more rhetorical sense than the original?

Didn’t think so.

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