Disturbing Emails

Letter from Israel the subject line read and I was startled by the words. Had my old friend left his computer and flown Chicago–Tel Aviv to see firsthand? It was hard to believe my former junior high school deskmate was in Israel, a place he’d never been and would tense at the mention of. I was baffled but hopeful. After all, he was scientifically trained, with a Master’s from Harvard and a PhD.

I was soon disappointed. My friend was not on the ground. He was still at his desk, expounding. I got his email earlier this year and was immediately outraged.

Italics started the message, the lengthy paragraph an introduction to the actual Letter from Israel. The author’s credentials were firmly established. He was a university professor, now emeritus, who my friend had known since grad school, a former kibbutznik who’d served in the IDF, a tank commander in several wars, and to add to his expertise, a daughter now serving too.

There was no room for doubt. If his friend called Israel fascist, it was. It was ridiculous, as well, my friend informed us, to believe that just because a Jew (like him) lived in the US he knew nothing.

I feared the next. Still in italics, he got in apartheid, capitalized, (along with Peace, Justice and Intractable Conflicts) before even showing us his schoolmate’s letter. What?! Had my liberal friend swung to the far left, even copying and pasting from their press? A sentence or two about how wrong it was to call criticism of Israel antisemitism (let’s call it rightly anti-Jewish he corrected us) and finally we could hear what the man had to say. I was wiped out by then, overloaded with the familiar tropes just trotted out.

My jaw dropped as I read but I cut the author some slack. After all, aside from his PhD interlude in the States he lived in Israel. I had my anti-Israel Israeli friend too, now living in Germany, also a kibbutz veteran, who never missed an opening, however routine (“how are you?”), to bash the “Zionist enterprise.”

A few of the professor emeritus’ claims I could agree with. Outrage at the rightwing, fundamentalist, corrupt government was a no-brainer. As to the meat he had no support. I would have, after calming down, wanted the facts. Israel never a democracy? An autocratic regime since 1948? Tell me more. There wasn’t anything. Unfortunately the grammar and sentence structure needed an editor and try as I might, I couldn’t make head or tails of the historic bombshell.

My friend though bought it hook, line and sinker, then dispatched the gloomy words to all his list. He may well have been pleased with the bad news, glad to see Israel go under, its own fascist fault.

But since this was an annual holiday circular we got to know the man’s family which had not been deleted. He’d had a terrible year beyond the final demise of the country he’d commandeered tanks to save. The worst health problem was his wife’s back which took months to treat. The daughter was doing better, helping disadvantaged youth to succeed. The professor hawked his new book on Israel’s slide to fascism.

I couldn’t let the email go and wrote for sources beyond the pal he’d been with 50 years ago. NPR, Washington Post, PBS, BBC, that’s all he needed he answered. To cap the dark assessment, stretching back to 1948 and Ben Gurion, he added Netanyahu’s bond with dictators worldwide. I suggested a look at the Israeli press and going to the place he seemed eager to see die.

Unsurprisingly he didn’t reply. I stayed angry. My friend who’d said he had no need to see for himself had more gripes against Israel than Palestinians I knew.

I wrote another letter I didn’t send, not ready to end the long friendship. I’d said what I had to and moved him to Spam.

When I peeked, I saw his usual and urgent recommendations for Nova and more PBS not to miss. He’d moved on from Israel.

I was curious to see what he’d say now. He sends a recommendation for a decade-old documentary and from Chicago enlightens us: diplomacy is the only answer, Hamas and the massacres not mentioned. Soon another email directs us to a fresh source: Jewish Voice for Peace (in case we haven’t head of them, he says). Credible voices are needed and a link is provided.

He’s on a roll, beyond the pale, cheering on a group supporting BDS and the return of Palestinian refugees, now clamoring for a ceasefire to “end the genocide in Gaza.” Worse, he’s urging his mailing list to do likewise.

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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