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Brigitte Gabriel and me

When we first met in Jerusalem, she was Hanan, early 20s, loving life away from Lebanon. The friendship lasted until it didn't

She’s crazy about Trump: he alone can save America. Come Christmas she hopes to visit him in the White House. To protect America and the military, Biden has to be impeached. The US−Mexico border must be shut to stop an invasion. She loves Israel. This is my friend, Brigitte Gabriel.

We met in Jerusalem Capitol Studios, Ulpanei haBira, where I did camera and she anchored World News, regional bureau of CBN, Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. Following the English evening report she read the day’s events in Arabic to viewers across the Middle East. In the building all day, she’d sometimes share the elevator with John Demjanjuk, the Nazi camp guard being led to the cafeteria for lunch, his trial upstairs.

The first Intifada hadn’t begun and after work, we’d occasionally scoot over to Bethlehem, no wall, for a tasty hamburger. CBN had given her the car and one weekend we drove up to Lebanon, to her hometown Marjayoun across from Metulla, and visited her parents for Palm Sunday. The house was big and stone, bathroom basic. On the rush back to Jerusalem she charmed a cop out of writing a ticket; she couldn’t be late for the broadcast. He drove off and we sped on to the capital.

She was Hanan then, early twenties, loving life away from Lebanon. She had her own apartment, a perk too of the job, and a new man, the American CBN news photographer whom she eventually married and came to the States with.

We picked up contact when I moved to the same state. She and the cameraman visited once. Although still dynamic and funny, not much was happening for her. While he had set up a production company, she was selling makeup in the mall.

9/11 launched a new career. She had a story and an identity to tell, the charisma to carry it off. She was a victim of terror.

She started out small, speaking at local JCCs, selling audiocassettes of her childhood years living in a bomb shelter, Hezbollah attacking; her mother, wounded, was healed by Israeli doctors across the border.

In 2007, changing her name to Brigitte Gabriel, she set up ACT for America, a nonprofit (“grassroots”) dedicated to warning America of Muslims. Soon her enterprise expanded with a website spelling out threats Islam posed, Sharia law high on the list. Local and congressional leaders had to be contacted, laws enacted.

Her outfit attracted thousands of followers and she traveled to audiences across the country and even Australia. She’d become a terrorism expert and Fox News welcomed her. The Southern Poverty Law Center, legal advocates and monitor of rightwing extremism put her on their hate group list and the Anti−Defamation League accused her of spreading Islamophobia. She countered she’s only against radical Islam. The New York Times ran a full-page profile.

A few times I saw her pitch. She was good. In a church in Mechanicsville, Virginia she wowed the full house including a fan in American Revolutionary apparel ─ ruffles, breeches and tricorne hat – and told her story, a Christian under siege by Islam in South Lebanon, then signed her latest book, They Must Be Stopped. A long line, friendly and diverse, queued up. A county sheriff waited his turn.

In a Sephardic synagogue in Brooklyn, on Ocean Parkway, she chatted easily with the crowd, mostly Syrian, giving her speech in Arabic. She was in New York for an address at the UN on antisemitism and asked me to get pictures. Brooklyn was a side gig. On the drive back to the city, hungry, we griped they hadn’t fed us.

We kept up from time to time. I spent a weekend at her porticoed house where on the balcony overlooking the first floor, a life-size portrait stood, painted by an admirer. She was a generous host, family welcoming. I ignored politics and enjoyed her company.

She eventually moved on to Trump, Muslims left in the dust. She met with Trump staffers at the White House and claimed a direct line to the President. When he lost on his second run, the election was stolen. On her Facebook feed, elected extremists like Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene notify us “the Democratic party is the party of domestic terrorism” and Colorado’s Lauren Boebert (recent owner of the gun-themed restaurant Shooter’s Grill, waitstaff with weapons in holsters hanging from hips – in Rifle Colorado!) warns, “Terrorists are just running around our country and Joe Biden is letting them in.”

Mexicans and other border crossers had replaced Muslims. Throughout it all she defends and praises Israel.

ACT now boasts over two million members and more than half a million Facebook followers. On the app Brigitte says “the radical left is spending MILLIONS in an attempt to take over and destroy our elections. We must stop them.” There’s a link for action alerts.

On Instagram she poses in bright fuchsia on the steps of the sweeping entrance to “the gorgeous Mar-a-Lago, the most beautiful home of our great President Trump and our gorgeous First Lady Melania” and on Newsmax, a conservative cable channel, Brigitte, in turquoise attire, is described as a national security analyst. We are told “NO ONE believes Joe Biden is running the White House including our enemies.” The founding fathers would hate what we’ve become as a nation.

She’s going strong. We’ve drifted apart. Her take on America is too much. I still can’t figure out if she believes this stuff or it’s simply marketing.

About the Author
Donna Schatz is an Israeli-American photographer, documentary producer and former TV camerawoman who worked in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon as well as Bosnia and the US.
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