Part III Our Boys: MetaEthics – A Review [Chol NaMo-eid Sukkot: Exodus 33:12-34:26]

In this blog, I will discuss some of the ethical issues raised in the series Our Boys under the following headings:

Metaethical Issues:


Theme: terrorism versus hate crime – racism

Equality: moral superiority and self-righteousness

Viewing God and Goodness

In the last blog in this series on Our Boys, I will probe the following ethical issues:

Ethical Issues (in Part IV):





I intended to raise the issue of selection in Part I of this series of blogs on Our Boys, to discuss “The Boys” rather than just Our Boys, but decided to confine the discussion of ethics to a separate blog. However, I forgot my original intention and in a typical Freudian slip ended up sometimes mistakenly calling the series, The Boys.

The ethical issue at one level is fairly straightforward. How we interpret history, agency, choice and individual responsibility depends, in good part, on how we tell our stories. What is at stake here is a very thin slice of history that focuses very much on individual actions rather than historical patterns or structures. This slim historical event is then represented through a docudrama with its own limitations and biases. Inherently, there will be an implication from a piece of micro-history about larger events, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the development of systems of justice or just war theory, to name but a few. Such an examination will touch on human nature and the extent to which it is sociologically determined, but will not deal with issues, such as whether history has a direction, that is, whether there might be progress. At that level, a specifically focused representation is most likely to be indifferent to such larger issues or adopt an agnostic approach. Scale selection has its own built-in biases.

However, the issue of selection – and, therefore, bias – comes up in the specific slice of history represented. The murder of a sixteen-year-old Arab teenager began with grainy material from another crime, the murder of three Jewish Israeli teenagers. Excluded was the issue of teenagers killed in the Gaza War before any of these murders. In Part I, I focused on two deaths and alluded to a few others in May of 2014 after the U.S. mediated peace talks between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority imploded in April, and, therefore, to some degree between Hamas and Israel. In Operation Brother’s Keeper, the search for the missing Israeli teenagers for 18 days in June of 2014, six Palestinians were killed, none of them minors, but almost 300 minors were detained. In the 50-day summer war with Gaza that followed finding the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers, of the estimated over 2,000 killed, 490 minors in Gaza died while Israel lost 64 soldiers and six civilians, one of them a four-year-old boy.

Why focus then on one 16-year-old Palestinian teenager killed by three religious Israelis? The explanation is that the focus was on a horrendous hate crime rather than terrorism or war, and, further, one committed by Jews rather than rabid anti-Semites or anti-Israelis. Further, it was a crime of ostensible vengeance, though the target had absolutely nothing to do with the murder of the three Israeli teenagers. The suggestion of the series is that, while revenge was an immediate motive, the deeper factor was the denigration of Palestinians, particularly by some West Bank Jewish zealots.

Thus, the choice of the story has significance in the message contained in the tale. The reference in the series is to “our boys,” both our three boys who were murdered and the three Jewish Israelis, two of them just boys, who were murderers. Though a Palestinian teenager was killed, the TV series is about our Jewish boys. For as Jews, we must take immediate responsibility for both victims and murderers who are Jewish. Thus, the entire Jewish population of Israel during the eighteen days of the search became mesmerized and focused on the abduction of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel. When the bodies of the three sixteen-year-olds were found, virtually all Jewish Israelis as well as Jews around the world felt immense grief.

When it came to the Arab teenagers killed by Israeli troops in the military exchanges with Gazans prior to the murders, any possible teenagers killed during Operation Brother’s Keeper in the 18-day search for the abducted boys, and more Palestinian teenagers killed in the 50-day war, Operation Protective Edge, that followed, our “Jewish” responsibility is moved to an outer tier. Thus, the killing of Mohammed Abu Khdier that initiates the series is a matter of Jewish collective guilt and responsibility and the effects on the Palestinian family, and, to a minor degree, the Palestinian community, one step removed.

The focus on the three Israeli murderers rather than the three victims is viewed by some Jews as a travesty. Those murderers are then generally depicted as “crazed,” thereby excluding them from the “normal” Jewish body politique and placing them outside the norms of the Jewish community. There is, indeed, a selection bias. It is inherent in any document or documentary or docudrama. It cannot be avoided. But it does suggest, even if absolutely unintended, priorities.

Further, rather than simply unconcern for the three Jewish victims, implicit in the alternative focus on the murderers, particularly the two teenagers, there is the danger of a possible presumption of moral superiority. Jews don’t arbitrarily murder innocent victims. Arabs presumably do. Therefore, when Jewish boys actually do commit an atrocity of this type, it demands attention, not particularly to deter such crimes in the future, but to understand how those Jews lost their moral compass. Thus, the propensity of the narrative, again almost certainly not intended, will be to reinforce a sense of self-righteousness. The greatest significance of this series, in my mind, is that this pitfall is very largely avoided.

One critic expressed his outrage at the series precisely because it was not self-righteous in its choice of subject matter. “What makes us different in a world of violence and extremism is that we do not glorify terrorism, nor do we respond to it with joyous celebration and the distribution of sweets to children. Jews who commit acts of terrorism are not rewarded with lifelong stipends for themselves and their families nor do they have schools and public places named after them in their honor. They are punished by law, as were the killers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.” (Rabbi Benjamin Blech)

However, the role of religion, in particular, Jewish ultra-orthodoxy, did play an important role in the interpretation by the makers of the film. This is not only because the killers were Orthodox youth, but the moral understanding of those boys which emerged in the trial and derived from their yeshiva studies, gave the youngest of the boys, Avishay Elbaz (played by Adam Gabay), an ethical rationale. The intention is revealed in the action. “But,” Avishay protested, “I called out not to kill him.” But the prosecutor countered, “You held his arms down. You helped in the killing. You did not try to actually stop it.”

Another angle of insight was the inner conflict of Rabbi Shalom Ben-David (played by Yaacov Cohen), who headed the yeshiva where the boys studied. He was also the father of the uncle who instigated the act and the grandfather of the two boys. On the one hand, he wanted those individuals to own up to their respective responsibilities, particularly his own son. On the other hand, he was strongly driven to seek protection for his son and grandsons and rationalize their crime. The tension between these two polar positions also affected his shift over time from defensiveness to an ethics of responsibility.

The rabbi is not only a father and grandfather, but a moral leader. He lives as if he were Moses asking God to show him the way of righteousness so he can properly lead and, thereby, make Jews a light unto the nations – hence the inherent search for rather than assertion of moral superiority. (The two should not be confused.)  And God answers, as He did to Moses, “I will make All my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name Lord, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show.” But, He said, “you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live.” (Exodus 33:19-20)

One of the shattering moments in the series comes when the rabbi visits his son in prison and asks him to take full responsibility for what he did and not hide behind a mask of insanity, a choice that would benefit the court’s treatment of his two grandchildren. His son does not own up to what he did. The rabbi turns his back on his own son and walks out. It is as if God suddenly hid His face and would never more be seen by that son.

The dilemma is how do we see goodness? How do we transmit what we see? The answer in the tale is clear – we do so when we do not stereotype the other, when we respect the other, when we identify with the pain of the other and when we do not get so caught up in our own pain that we disregard the help we can give to the other We certainly do not engage in murder of the other, even when at war with them.

The rabbi who headed the yeshiva at Har Not clearly tried to hide his face from God, clearly tried at first to avoid his own duties and acknowledgement of his own responsibility for what happened, but he shifts and changes, not because he sees God, but because he stares evil in the face of his own son. We only see goodness pass us by when we stare directly at evil. We must not look away.

But what of the depiction of God as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness”? (Exodus 34:6) Man cannot see that God. Humans can only act by serving those very values of God. And the rabbi eventually does, even though the iniquity of fathers will be visited upon their children. (Exodus 34:7)

Where is that best done? Not simply in a psychological-sociological meeting of a son with his father and a father with his son, but in a court of law where the granting of grace and of punishment is left in the hands of a judge who must balance punishment with grace, and withhold any emotional approach to the case.

However, that is harder to do than it sounds. For the psychiatrist confronts Simon, the composite investigator (played by Shlomo Elkabetz) who comes across as the epitome of both detachment and determination, a jaded sensibility but also judiciousness. He is, in turn, justly accused by the psychiatrist of betraying, not only a promise to her, but of tricking the youngest boy into confessing by seemingly extending to him his full compassion.

This shabat portion comes in the midst of Sukkot, of the Festival of Booths, in which we welcome strangers as well as family and friends to share our hospitality. Essentially, the series, Our Boys, is about the important task of respecting strangers and the terrible consequences when this lesson is forgotten. Welcoming strangers is an action, and if Succoth is to be restored to its once mighty holy status, then good deeds will count much more than the study of words.

Our Boys is not, as some critics contend, a condemnation of Israeli society. Quite the reverse. It upholds both the Israeli system of justice as well as the religious roots of the imperatives of responsibility.  The brilliance of the series is that it does this with nuance rather than self-pride, with grey-on-grey rather than in a black and white morality.

Part II Our Boys: A Review – Side Effects and the Aftermath

In the previous blog, I gave away very little about the show. In this blog, I give away somewhat more, but the focus is on the side stories and especially the aftermath not covered by the docudrama. I advise readers not to read this blog if they intend to watch the show and have not seen it or finished watching the episodes.

One special aftermath was the reaction to the show itself, especially by the Prime Minister of Israel. The show received an unintended burst of attention when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not only dubbed the series as “fake news,” but called the show antisemitic. It is NOT. Not in the least.

Was this part of Bibi’s practice of Trumpian distraction since the Elections Committee had just denied the Likud Party request to prevent the media from reporting on the graft cases against Bibi prior to the “second” election this year? The party letter to the Elections Committee claimed that Guy Peleg, the key investigative journalist covering the investigation of Bibi, was guilty of intentionally misquoting transcripts to harm the prime minister. At the core of the four indictments were claims about Netanyahu’s efforts to control the media coverage of himself. Bibi dubbed the claims a “blood libel” and called Channel 12 a propaganda outlet.

Shlomo Filber, appointed by Netanyahu as Director of the Communication Ministry, had given testimony to police that the prime minister personally instructed him to do something about the proposed reforms in the communications and internet sector since the media tycoon, Shaul Elovitch, was unhappy about them. Similar to the proposed impeachment indictments against Donald Trump. Bibi has been accused of offering a quid pro quo to Elovitch, who controls Bezeq, Israel’s largest communications giant, in return for favourable coverage of himself.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s transcript of the charges against Bibi make up the majority of the 57-page criminal indictment put before the court at the beginning of this month. The court determined that the case should go to trial. It is the first of four charges against Benjamin Netanyahu, Mandelblit, in his summary of police allegations, charged that the prime minister and his wife, Sara, had accepted more than $260,000 worth of luxury goods and more favourable media coverage in exchange for political favours and Netanyahu’s intervention with regulators and lawmakers on behalf of media moguls, including Israeli-born producer Arnon Milchan, whose credits include Fight Club and Pretty Woman.

On Friday 30 August, Bibi called on Israelis to boycott Channel 12 and its owner for co-producing the show with HBO and airing it. He claimed that the show was a packet of lies and sought to tarnish Israel’s reputation in the world. The Likud Party pointed out that Keshet, the Israeli channel, has been the source of the greatest amount of investigative journalism on the charges against Bibi. Guy Peleg, its most important investigative journalist on the story, was accused of being a puppet of Keshet and of having launched “a terror attack on democracy.” President Reuven Rivlin, as the opening speaker at a Keshet 12 news conference on 5 September, urged Israelis not to “believe incitement and insults.” Netanyahu’s son, however, claimed that, “the series tells the whole world how the Israelis and Jews are cruel and bloodthirsty murderers, and how the Palestinians are badly done by and oppressed.” It absolutely, under any reasonable interpretation, does no such thing. Watch it and decide.

The show does omit a great deal. For example, six were initially arrested for the murder of Abu Khdeir. There is no reference to the other three in the series. In the aftermath, Tariq Khdeir, Abu’s 15-year-old Palestinian-American cousin, was beaten by Israeli undercover police officers caught on camera. He had been caught up in a protest, but had not been a participant. Another cousin, 19-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was arrested during a 28 July 2014 protest. The series vaguely alludes to this harassment of the Khdeir family, but does not zero in on it even though John Kerry suggested harassment of the family as a possibility.

There was more. Tariq was released quickly after a raft of protests, but kept under house arrest. After he returned to America to go back to school at the Universal Academy of Florida, Israeli police ransacked his East Jerusalem home though he was cleared of any wrongdoing in January 2015. The officer convicted of the assault on Tariq received a suspended sentence of 45 days of community service and a four-month suspended sentence.

The series does abbreviate a great deal, as it must. Most significantly in my mind, unless I fell asleep during a segment of an episode, the family of one of the Israeli victims, the Fraenkels, called the family of Abu Khdeir to condemn the murder and offer condolences. The other families of the murdered Israeli teenagers followed suit. Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of one of the three victims, 16-year-old Naftali, not only condemned the murder immediately, but broke her shiva to declare, “Even in the abyss of mourning for Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, it is difficult for me to describe how distressed we are by the outrage committed in Jerusalem – the shedding of innocent blood is against morality, is against the Torah and Judaism, and is against the foundation of the lives of our boys and of all of us in this country.” She declared that, “There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder. There is no justification and no atonement for murder.” The series did not cover the responses of the three families of the three Jewish teenagers killed just before the Arab boy was killed in a revenge hate crime. I would have liked a greater exploration of the bypaths and aftermath of the murder, but a marvellous production cannot accomplish everything.

However, there was one very significant inclusion. The Israeli Memorial Office, independently of the justice system and without obtaining the approval of Abu Khdeir’s family, mounted a plaque on the wall of the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial at Mount Herzl. The plaque was eventually removed at the request of the family, who viewed the action as an effort to polish Israel’s image and did not want their son memorialized alongside Israeli soldiers. One incident also not included was the Jerusalem Council order to the family to remove Abu’s image that had hung outside their home for four months and the threat of a $500 fine every day it was left hanging after the order was issued. Purportedly, hanging Abu’s image contravened Israeli municipal law.

The series ended with notes of the sentences received by the three Israelis all convicted of murder. One minor who confessed and fully cooperated with the investigators, received a sentence of 21 years. His cousin, also a minor, was sentenced to life in prison. Their uncle, Yosef Haim Ben-David, 29, owner of an eyewear shop in Jerusalem and a resident of the Geva Binyamin settlement, who instigated his nephews to commit the crime, received a sentence of life in prison plus twenty years. The three had burned Abu when he was still alive. They had beaten him with a crowbar or a heavy wrench and kicked him. The three were indicted not only for the abduction and murder, but for the unsuccessful earlier attempt to kidnap a young child from her mother’s arms, an incident only alluded to in the series. But the earlier torching of an Arab store or a series of other incidents of hate crimes were ignored. From the series, one is left with the erroneous impression that this was not only an exceptional case that led to murder, which it was, but was an exceptional case altogether. It was not.

Also omitted was the widespread instigation of revenge among Jewish Israelis after the three religious settler teenagers were killed. The graffiti painted on the house of the principle investigator of the murderers of Abu – “traitor” and even worse – was shown in full detail after the conviction of the three religious Israelis for Abu’s murder. It seemed that no lessons had been learned about incitement.

Before the murder of the Arab boy and after the three Jewish boys were murdered, in addition to Shaked, MK Michael Ben-Ari, various Jewish Agency officials, hooligan racist supporters of the Beitar football club, all incited violence against Palestinians. Rabbi Noam Perel, head of Bnei Akiva, the world’s largest religious-Zionist youth organization, called on the IDF to be transformed into an army of avengers. None of them were charged with inciting violence, though they grew quieter after the Palestinian teenager had been murdered. The IDF did threaten to punish any soldier severely who posted hate messages and/or photos supporting either racism or vengeance.

In the opening episode, at 3:45 a.m., Abu Khdeir was forced into a car by two assailants who spoke Hebrew according to witnesses, for it was Ramadan and the streets were not empty; boys had just left a local mosque to prepare for the pre-dawn morning meal. The police came, met with the family and urged them to file a formal complaint at the police station. They did not do so immediately. By morning, the police recognized that the boy had been abducted and they quickly launched a search and found his body. Further, the father had gathered video evidence of the abduction and had traced his phone; it turned out that it was in the possession of one of the abductors.

However, the father had a number of legitimate complaints that were supported in the portrayal during the series. His interrogation was lengthy and concerned very specific details of the family life – pocket money given to Abu, sibling rivalry, past misdeeds – all reflected in the first episode. The investigation seemed to be initially propelled by the suspicion that this was an honour killing, though there was virtually no evidence to support that view except for a murky allusion to a girl (?) who was to meet with Abu.

On 27 July 2014, the three main suspects were arraigned. The main suspect, Yosef Ben-David, announced, “I am the messiah” in the entrance to the court. At a second pre-trial appearance on 18 November 2014, Ben-David went silent and declined to cooperate with the Jerusalem District Court, though IsraeIi mental health officials deemed him able to stand trial. In contrast, an American psychiatrist had been imported to testify otherwise. The two minors pleaded guilty to abduction, but pleaded innocent of the charge of murder. In the most riveting part of the prosecution of the one perpetrator who fully confessed, the argument for convicting him of murder as well was powerfully made. And he along with his cousin were both convicted of that murder as well as of assault.

Abu Khdeir’s mother, Suha, throughout the proceedings remained totally pessimistic that justice would be meted out by an Israeli court. Before the trial she opined, “I don’t have any peace in my heart, even if they captured who they say killed my son. They’re only going to ask them questions and then release them. What’s the point?” In the series, she warmed up somewhat to the Israeli judicial system, but, nevertheless, both she and her husband criticized Israel for treating Palestinian terrorism with a far harsher hand than Jewish terrorism. The Khdeir family called on the Israeli government to demolish the murderers’ homes just as they demolished the homes of Palestinian terrorists. Hussein Abu Khdeir, the father of the victim, was very disappointed that the youngest boy who confessed, escaped a life sentence. The murderer could be expected to be released on parole in ten years when he would be twenty-six.  

In July 2016, the Abu Khdeir family petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice to demolish the homes of the murderers as happened to the homes of Arab terrorists. In July 2017, the Israeli High Court rejected the petition since it would be ineffective as a deterrent. Such incidents were rare and the long time lapse between the murder and any possible demolition would undermine any deterrent effect. Yet the court affirmed the principle that the home demolition policy was valid for both Jewish and Palestinian terrorists. The Abu Khdeir family simply viewed this as more window dressing.  

The family remained bitter towards Israeli politicians, including Shimon Peres who was then president. But they welcomed the condolences of the families of the three Jewish victims of Arab terror, some opposition MKs who received death threats from extremist right wingers and a contingent of Jews that travelled to the family home on a number of chartered buses. This part of the tale was not part of the series.  

There is one final observation, not about “fake news,” but about the bias of any media given the target audience. The story of the three murdered Israeli teenagers was shown from the perspective of an aggrieved nation. Our Boys does not treat the Palestinians as an aggrieved nation, even though the Palestinian segments had been directed by a Palestinian. Instead, the perspective is that of the aggrieved family and a Palestinian society that tried to use the murder for political purposes. In contrast, the Israeli media focused on the potential for further revenge attacks and/or additional Palestinian reprisals and upheavals.  

Was this somewhat skewed or a more or less honest reflection of the reactions of each of the societies? I will not dare to speculate on an answer to that question, but I will explore other ethical issues raised in my final and third blog on the series.

To be continued.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part I Our Boys: Background – A Review

Our Boys is a ten-part Israeli television series co-produced by HBO and the Israeli network, Keshet. There are almost no spoilers in Part I of my review. THIS IS A MUST SEE SHOW!

The series, made by Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar and Tawfik Abu-Wael, is a docudrama rather than a documentary of the real events it reproduces. Part of the enormous controversy generated by the show was the selection of which events to document. Why the murder of one Arab boy and not the abduction and murder of the three Jewish boys? Why open with the granular footage of the three murdered Israeli boys and not the killing of protesting Arab teenagers in Gaza in 2014? Joseph Cedar justified his focus because the show was not about terrorism but about a hate crime. But the main Israeli investigator in his court testimony called the murder of the teenage Arab boy “terrorism” and the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial in Jerusalem recognized the murder of the Arab teenager by Jewish right-wingers as an act of terrorism.

A time line:

  • May 2014: many Palestinians in Gaza killed protesting against Israel
  • 12 June 2014: three Israeli Jewish teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel were abducted and murdered;
  • in the search for the killers, “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” hundreds of Palestinians were arrested
  • 30 June 2014: the bodies of the three Jewish boys from the settlement of Alon Shvut were found in a field near Hebron
  • 1 July 2014: after the funeral, hundreds of right-wing Israelis rampaged through Jerusalem yelling, “Death to the Arabs” and were morally supported by important Jewish members of the Israeli Knesset; not mentioned in the series, Ayelet Shaked posted a quote from Israeli journalist, Ori Elitzur: “Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads.”
  • 2 July 2014: the day after the funeral of the three Jewish boys, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was abducted from outside his father’s store in Shu’afat, East Jerusalem; his charred body was found at Givat Shaul in the Jerusalem Forest only a few hours after the crime had been committed
  • 6 July 2014: the crime was solved and three Israelis were arrested
  • The same day, seven Hamas militants were killed in a tunnel explosion in Khan Yunis as a result of an accidental explosion of their own munitions or an Israeli IDF airstrike. Hamas launched 40 rockets towards Israel.
  • 8 July 2014: the aftermath, the 50-day Gaza War
  • 23 September 2014: Hamas members Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu-Isa, the murderers of the three Jewish teenagers, were trapped and killed in a shootout.

Our Boys, part investigative crime thriller and part socio-psychological drama both of the Palestinian community and the Jewish Israeli community, is also a geographical lesson about the gritty streets of Ramallah, West Bank religious settlements, the roads connecting and dividing the communities, as well as the interiors of Israeli courts and offices. However, the most memorable geographic icon is the Jerusalem Light Rail that passes through a half mile of the Shu’fat area where Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s family had their electrical repair shop as well as through other parts of East Jerusalem. In the riots after the murder, the Jerusalem Light Rail was severely damaged.

The heavy breath of politics haunts each episode. But most of all, the show is a dramatization of a complex, multi-faceted lesson in ethics and could easily serve as case material for a university course on international ethics, terrorism and hate crimes.

Who are “Our Boys”? While writing this review, my top monitor has pictures of nine boys, five of them Jewish Israelis and four of them Arabs from Gaza and the West Bank. All are teenagers. I will introduce them according to the calendar as they appear on the world historical stage.

On 15 May 2014, during the Great Return March commemorating Nakba, the name Palestinians give to the disaster that befell them with the creation of the Israeli state and the exodus of 720,000 Arabs, three Palestinian teenagers, Nadeem (Nadim) Nawara (17), Mohammad Salameh (16) and Mohamed al-Azi (15) were shot within one hour while participating in that march.  I have not included the picture of Mohamed al-Azi because he recovered from his wounds. The other two did not.

Further, because Nawara’s parents had permitted an autopsy, the world learned that Nadeem had been killed by an M16 round to the chest. Israel claimed to be using only rubber bullets. Further, because there was film footage of the incident, an Israeli border police officer, Ben Deri, copped a plea bargain and was convicted of “serious negligence.” Prosecutors definitively demonstrated that both the police and soldiers had been ordered to use only rubber-coated pellets. The prosecutors could not supply evidence that Deri had deliberately used live ammunition in place of rubber bullets when he shot Nawara from a distance of less than 200 metres after Nawara had hurled a stone. Ben Deri had two guns, one used and loaded with rubber bullet and the other with live ammunition. He claimed that he had mistakenly reached for the wrong gun. The officer received a sentence of nine months in prison and ordered to pay the victim’s family US$14,000.  

In the case of sixteen-year-old Mohammad Salameh, the parents had not given permission to have an autopsy performed and no video was produced. No one was ever charged. Did this have anything to do with the fact that his namesake had been a convicted perpetrator of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing serving time in a Florence, Colorado prison and was regarded as a martyr by many Palestinians of the Hamas creed?

In any case, there were many other pictures I could have used, such as that of Mohammad Abu Thar, named after Mohammad Abu Thar al-Ghaffari who was a very early and very important supporter of the prophet Mohammed in the early days when the prophet only had a few disciples. The sixteen-year-old was also killed for participating in the demonstrations, but not during that hour on 15 May that I selected. There was no autopsy; there was also no video and no charges.

16-year-old Mahmoud Majed Gharabli also died by real bullets when an IDF sniper used live ammunition and not just rubber bullets to quell the demonstrations in May, but died only on 4 July 2014 during the effort to gather the evidence that led to the charges and conviction of the three Israelis. The sniper was not charged.

There were other teenaged Gazans killed in those demonstrations. On 14 May alone, 60 Palestinians participating in those demonstrations died the same day, among them many teenagers. By 30 May, of the 136 who died, seventeen of these “children” had been killed during the demonstrations. I have on my monitor pictures of only two.

Their deaths are not part of the story told in Our Boys. They are not among the boys to which the series refers. The first three murdered Jewish Israelites mentioned in the series opener were Eyal Yifrach (19), Naftali Fraenkel (16) and Gilad Shaar (16). The three teens had been hitching a ride at the Geva’ot Intersection just west of the Alon Shvut (“oak of return”) settlement, a kilometre just northeast of the Etzion Bloc in the Judean Hills directly south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The boys were headed for Beit Shemesh, their initial target before dispersing to their homes.

Alon Shvut is considered part of Greater Etzion and the site is believed to be the location of the Battle of Beth Zecharia between the Maccabees and the Seleucid army following their defeat of the Seleucids in Jerusalem. The settlement was built on 920 dunams confiscated from the Palestinian village of Khirbet Zakariya. This is not irrelevant to the story.

After the Six Day War, Yigal Alon was a sponsor of the re-settlement of the location in 1970 since Etzion had been captured and destroyed by the Arabs in the 1948 war. Alon Shvut is the location of Yeshivat Har Etzion that offers a five-year program combining military studies and training alongside yeshiva study. Just as kibbutzim in the old days provided a disproportionate number of army officers, by 2014 this settlement was providing a disproportionate number of religious officers for the IDF. It is not the Har Not yeshiva depicted in Our Boys.

Amar Abu-isa Aysha and Marwan Qawasme, two Hamas “soldiers,” abducted the three young Israelis. The hypothesis was that the kidnappers intended initially to offer their captives as an exchange in return for freeing Palestinian prisoners. However, they had only expected to give one or two of the boys a ride in their relatively new Hyundai i35. When the boys got into the car and saw they were in danger, one managed to phone and say they had been kidnapped. The abductors also saw that they were outnumbered when they only expected to give one or two boys a ride. An altercation broke out and the Arabs shot the boys in the back of the vehicle, drove to a deserted field and disposed of the bodies, but only after burning their vehicle and acquiring a new one. They dumped the corpses in the Halhul area near Hebron where they were found 18 days after the killing.

Initially, the officer who had received the original phone call took it as a prank when he could not get a reply. Only seven hours later, when the boys were reported missing, was a very extensive manhunt operation launched. By 13 June, Abu-isa and Qawasme were named as prime suspects. In the wake of the murders and numerous rocket attacks from Gaza, a 50-day Israeli response code named “Operation Protective Edge” was launched.

The show opens with real-world news footage about the three missing hitchhikers. There was no dramatic re-enactment. As a viewer, if totally unprepared for what is to be unveiled, one might reasonably suspect that the series will be about the deaths of those three boys, the pursuit of their killers and the aftermath. It is not. Instead, the show takes a one hundred and eighty degree turn and focuses on the kidnapping of an Arab teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir and his murder.

The killing and burning of his corpse are not shown in the series. However, the last 24 hours of his life before his disappearance form the focus of the first episode. When the body is found and discovered to have been burnt, the Jewish terrorist unit of Shabak or Shin Bet, the internal security service rather than the Mossad, took control of the case. Initially, the unit was convinced that Jews could not have committed the crime because “Jews would not commit such an atrocity.” They suspected it was an honour killing because the boy was probably secretly gay.

Hence, a major theme of the series – “fake news.” And there is plenty of that in the series as the security services cannot control the narrative in either the Jewish or the Arab community. In the latter, the boy murdered and burned is turned into a community martyr for a cause. In the Jewish press, especially that controlled by the Orthodox Jewish Community, the murder is either justified as legitimate revenge or rationalized as the deranged and irrational response to the murders of the three innocent Jewish teenagers.

The show adopts the perspective that every one is guilty to different degrees. Responses vary with character, culture, circumstances and a century old competition over the right to return. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict becomes, thereby, effectively an unnamed character is this investigative crime drama of the discovery, investigation, trial and aftermath of the three killers, two religious teenagers from Jerusalem who are cousins and their uncle from the West Bank settlement of Geva Binyamin who operated an optical store in Jerusalem. In light of the witness testimony, the videos of the abduction

and tracking the car’s vehicle license and registration, the killers were very quickly tracked and the full confession of one led to the complete proof of the crime.

The drama is not about the crime itself but about the investigation, the trial, the side effects and the aftermath. I will describe the killers in the next blog and their conviction.

To be continued.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Spies and Traitors: A Review of Henry VIII

Three events took place the week before last. I have been writing about the least significant, our trip to Stratford (Ontario) to see three plays: Henry VIII, Nathan the Wise and Birds of a Kind; I have already reviewed the latter two. The second big event: President Donald Trump is finally headed towards his impeachment (though not necessarily conviction) for evidently trying to blackmail the President of the Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, by holding back a very large military aid package authorized by Congress and needed desperately to fight the Russians in Eastern Ukraine. Trump wanted to get Zelensky to search for possible dirt on one of the leading candidates for the Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden and his son. By association, Biden would be besmirched, not because any evidence will be found, but because Trump will claim that, because he is being investigated, Hunter Biden must have done some terrible things. “Of course, Hunter Biden discussed his nefarious business with his father,” The Donald opined, as usual projecting his own way of behaving as universal in the world at large.

But this blog is not about that contemporary most notorious and perhaps most incompetent traitor who uses foreign policy to advance his personal political agenda. I am interested in traitors who insinuate themselves in a regime to serve the foreign policy of another regime, but who maintain their disguise for a lengthy period. More generally, I am interested in the dramatization of historically very significant and able traitors as dramatized on stage and in films.

But first, the most notable event of the week previous to the last, the celebration of Brian Urquhart’s hundredth birthday. Actually, he turned one hundred years of age on 28 February 2019, but his birthday was celebrated as the UN General session opening. Brian Urquhart was hailed as one of last century’s greatest diplomats for his forty years of service to the United Nations covering both its inception and its trajectory during the Cold War. “Urquhart always brought a high level of idealism, courage, geniality, genuine warmth and sly British wit over humankind’s foibles and, most importantly, a love for the UN, to his postings.”

But the most startling credit noted in the many accolades he received was recognition as a very accomplished spy. Brian Urquhart a spy!!! Of course, as a diplomat at the UN in the immediate aftermath of WWII, he had to be a chameleon both to do his job and to serve the UN, for his boss was a Soviet apparatchik who kept instructing him to misrepresent events in service of the USSR. He did not do as he was told but as his integrity dictated, always in a way clever enough to get away with it. The reality was that he had actually been a spy, but a spy, not in the poseur mold, but as an intelligence officer in the 1st Airborne Corp of the British Army. He became famous for analyzing the incoming signals intelligence to forecast that Operation Market Garden to seize the Dutch bridges over the Rhine River was headed towards disaster. And the operation was an overwhelming catastrophe, perhaps setting back the allied victory for as much as six months. The incident, and his role in it, were portrayed in the film, A Bridge Too Far.

That is not the kind of spy who interests me, as estimable as signals intelligence is, but rather spies who are poseurs, spies who operate within one state to serve a foreign power. The play Henry VIII has as its central mover of action, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a spy in the court of Henry VIII on behalf of the pope while claiming to be a spy on the pope for the king. The disguise is deliberate; the character presents himself as an extreme loyalist to the regime. In reality, he served to undermine rather than enhance national interests. Poseur spy narratives share a common motif with a play about identity politics – Birds of a Kind and Nathan the Wise – hiding one’s true character from others. The drama in both is the reveal.

A note first on Henry VIII himself and the play. For 36 years, from 1509 until his death in 1547, Henry ruled England during the dawning of the English Renaissance and the English Reformation. He was only 17 when he was crowned king and married off to his recently deceased brother’s widow, who was six years older. Henry was a very bright and quite a dashing young man, over six feet tall and very well-built – a dramatic contrast to the very fat and ill man that he was in his older years and as we most often see him portrayed. He was athletic, energetic, and exceedingly well read for a member of the aristocracy. He was also very innovative – but often in the wrong direction:

  • Insinuated the divine right of kings in the English constitution
  • Centralized and expanded his power
  • Appointed himself head of the Church of England
  • Used charges of treason on those who fell out of favour, sometimes justly (Cardinal Thomas Wolsey), but mostly unjustly (others also named Thomas – More and Crammer)
  • Used extra-judicial means to dispose of them – bills of attainder

Though renowned for having six wives, in particular for getting his marriage to Katherine of Aragon in Spain annulled so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, in fact he deeply loved his first wife.  Martha Henry in her production understood this and conveyed it well. “Henry obviously adored Katherine. He admired her intelligence and her feistiness. When abroad, he named her regent “as he knew she had the fortitude to control the nobles and to run the country while he was away.” Martha Henry takes this insight to create in the role of Katherine, executed with a superb dramatic performance by Irene Poole, an unforgettable performance.

This king in love with his first wife is the one we meet in Shakespeare’s play, Henry VIII. He had, however, three deep flaws. He enjoyed extravagance, at great cost to the national treasury. He ventured into military adventures abroad, at even much greater cost to the national treasury, and did so mostly unsuccessfully. But most of all, in spite of his brilliance, his wilfulness and his intelligence, he was initially very naïve. By 1515, Thomas Wolsey had risen to become archbishop of York, Lord Chancellor of England and a cardinal of the church. He was easily Henry’s equal, saw himself as such, but always presented himself as Henry’s most loyal servant. He was Henry’s close friend.

The two presumably schemed together for Wolsey to acquire the papal tiara. Little did Henry know that this was a guise to hide the fact that all along Wolsey was a spy on the throne of England in service to the pope. Further, Sir Thomas More, perhaps the most brilliant of the triumvirate of Henry, Wolsey and himself, entered into the forefront of the political fray as a new councillor in 1517, but is not included in the play in a period dominated by the machinations of Wolsey. (For a drama centering in good part on the interaction of More and Wolsey, see A Man for All Seasons. Wolsey says to More, “You’re a constant regret to me, Thomas. If you could just see the facts flat on, without that horrible moral squint; with just a little common sense, you could have been a statesman.” Wolsey was characterized by an extravagant immoral squint.)

The play Henry VIII comes to a climax over two key events – Henry’s affair with Anne Boleyn and Henry’s rescinding of the 1524 tax that Wolsey tried to take the credit for even though it had been imposed upon his urging. Henry VIII, the most promising of monarchs, was now very unpopular for his unsuccessful military adventurism abroad and the fiscal disaster at home. The play is not about the rise in power of More or Henry’s break with the pope over his annulment of his marriage to Katherine, but about the discovery that Wolsey had been a mole for the pope. The play at its core is a spy story.

Martha Henry is perhaps even more brilliant a director than she was as an actor. The performance of Irene Poole as Katherine, as I indicated above, is a work of art to behold. Through Shakespeare’s brilliant words and Jonathan Goad’s exuberant Henry VIII, the play that is really a tour de force of pomp and ceremony, that cannot be realized on the tiny stage and in a small theatre, is nevertheless carried off by a combination of the most wonderful costuming and organized movements of the actors even though the drama is ultimately an episodic connection of scenes and acts that succeed more than lead into one another. And the ending has a great deal to do with history but virtually nothing to do with the dramatic action of the play. From Tim Campbell as Duke of Buckingham at the beginning of the play, who is initially an independent voice quickly squashed by Wolsey, to the host of other lords (and ladies), it is hard to find a flaw.

Except, and it is a big except, in the most important role in play in my estimation, that of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, performed by veteran Stratford actor, Rod Beattie. The performance is a disaster. Why is it a disaster and who is at fault?

Rod plays Wolsey as an example of the banality of evil. He is bland. He is unassuming. He manipulates and maneuvers in scenes “behind the scene.” He is a schemer and plotter, but comes across as a plodder. Henry VIII is enthralled by him, but by watching Rod Beattie play Wolsey, a member of the audience would never be able to figure out why a smart guy would be taken in by this overweight bore. Other than in his words and in his role, where is the demonstration of shrewdness? The suggestion is, I believe, that he used his calm and understated exterior to manage and control a mercurial Henry VIII.

However, look at the words Shakespeare puts in his mouth; they betray that characterization. Even before that, listen or re-read the Prologue addressed to the audience. For the pomp and ceremony is but a cover for a different play.

Be sad, as we would make ye: think ye see
The very persons of our noble story
As they were living; think you see them great,
And follow’d with the general throng and sweat
Of thousand friends; then in a moment, see
How soon this mightiness meets misery:

Who is the character that begins as the most successful in all of England at the time, though of relatively humble origins? None but Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Who begins surrounded by the loyalty of other lords as he organizes the execution of the one independent thinker of the bunch, the Duke of Buckingham? Who falls into the bottom of a deep canyon where “mightiness meets misery?” None other than Cardinal Wolsey. That is the core of the play that Shakespeare makes clear.

As Buckingham says, “no man’s pie is freed from his ambitious finger.” Buckingham continues:

I wonder
That such a keech [a fatty lump] can with his very bulk
Take up the rays o’ the beneficial sun
And keep it from the earth.

Vanity of vanities. A keech who darkens the earth with his overwhelming presence. Not an unassuming manipulator in the guise of a humble man. We are told to expect an overwhelming and dominant presence before Wolsey even appears on stage to reveal how, spider-like, he weaves his plots. As Lord Norfolk notes, he is a powerful and overwhelming presence.

But who does Martha Henry bring on the stage? Not a man who long ago left behind his humble origins, not a big as brass braggadocio consumed by his own brilliance, made all the more blinding by the mediocrity of the lords with their inherited titles who surround him. But a man who feigns humility, who speaks plainly and without eloquence, who cannot hide his pride in himself, whereas he is described by Norfolk as the devil incarnate, a man who made peace with the King of France (Putin?) “purchased at a superfluous rate” only to sabotage it.

Wolsey in the play and in history was a man who loved and exhibited power, who bore grudges and punished all who would defy him. Vengeful and carrying a sword with a very sharp edge, he was a man who slithers and darts hither and thither. And he enters and we expect to watch him humiliate the brave and vocal Duke of Buckingham. The expectation is there. The humiliation is there. But not the means to execute it. As portrayed by Rod Beattie, Wolsey would not be able to swat a fly, yet he is supposed to be a man that brought the whole of the English aristocracy to its knees.

Wolsey has a venemous mouth, but what emerges in the Stratford production is pap that belies the very words uttered. Even Buckingham, mistakenly, muzzles his words lest he awaken the beast in his sworn foe and enemy of the people. Wolsey reviles Buckingham, but the performance is in striking contrast to the depths and volume of his spleen. He makes Buckingham look like an outright amateur in getting the king to take his side. Buckingham plans to use honour to combat insolence and we watch in dread at the failure of such a strategy in dealing with a serpent. Except this is not how Wolsey is portrayed. And anyone both watching and listening cannot help but be thrown off by the incongruency.

I could go on and on with description after description, with speech after speech, with scene after scene, to show how out of kilter Wolsey’s portrait is on stage with that of the historical character and the one Shakespeare put on stage. What Martha Henry, with all her brilliance, demonstrated is that she has not the least clue about what it takes to be a successful spy. And certainly not on why they fail.

When Wolsey is caught out, from the production watched, you cannot figure how such a clever plotter with such great attention to detail could make such an error in allowing damning and incriminating documents to be misfiled. There is also the ambiguity of this self-pitying rascal who has great remorse, not for what he did, but because history will not remember him. There is not an ounce of true regret, for that would be totally out of character, but just another performance, just another guise. Instead, we are led to believe from the performance that he might have truly come to confess his sins before his Lord Jesus.

For me, the problem was not all of Wolsey’s frauds, as enormous as they were, but the fraud I saw on stage in the central character of the play. Why would anyone believe that Wolsey died fearing God, that he felt bad about scheming against the king, that this greedy, acquisitive manipulator was truly remorseful? Katherine, the one character of true integrity and insight, knew better.

Let me end by offering a twist on a quote from A Man of All Seasons: “I believe, when politicians forsake their public duties for the sake of their own private gain, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”

With the help of Alex Zisman

Listen: Ha’āzinû – Deuteronomy 32

For the first time in my life, I finally really read Moses’ final oration to the Israelites from Mount Nebo on the border of Israel just before he died and before his people entered the Promised Land. I read it three times. I was so upset! I phoned my daughter in Boston where she teaches rabbinics. She also happens to be a poet. I explained why I thought I was so put off. 

First, there was the context. Facing death, Moses in the previous parashat had just appointed Joshua as his successor and prophesied how God would lead them to victory when they crossed the border; every seven years at Succoth they would have to gather together to relive the experience. Moses also prophesied how, when the Israelites became comfortable, they would slide away from their faith in God, spurn Him and turn to other gods; evils and troubles would befall them. 

Then Moses recited the famous Ha’āzinû poem that constitutes this week’s portion. It makes Dante’s inferno, the first part of his Divine Comedy describing his trip through hell, feel like a spa. Beside the Ha’āzinû, John Milton’s Paradise Lost and his depiction of the human fall from grace is but a vacation cruise. For both those epic poems are, at their core, poems of nostalgic longing for Eden before the Fall, depictions of the life lost given what life will be like after we die if we do not repent our sins. With all the horrors described, the focus of these poems in contrast to that of Moses is on loss rather than the use of memory to shock and cajole, to disturb and disrupt. Then we are faced once again with a universal flood, but a flood that is the consequence of our own making. 

Ha’āzinû is a scolding screed calling on the Israelites in the midst of their wickedness to remember where they came from, to remember their history and how far they had fallen to the point where they “neglected the Rock that begot you, forgot the God who brought you forth.” (32:8) The point is not, however, to get back to where they had been, to an Arcadia, to the Israelites’ initial love affair with God in the wilderness with its frequent fights and angry separations, but to recall their responsibilities to the future, their duties under the covenant they once made with God. It is a depiction of a wasteland left as the after effects of climate change because we failed to listen, because we failed to heed and sacrificed our children’s futures to satisfy our current material needs. The poem is not an elegy, but a call to action, and all the more horrific for that.

God would then rain misfortune upon them with famine and deadly pestilence, wild beasts to attack them, venomous snakes to creep among them and wars to decimate them. One could anticipate an inversion of the Promised Land of milk and honey. Most of all, their enemies would gloat. Their God had deserted them. God would Himself pronounce that all this was His own vengeance for their betrayal. Their day of disaster would be near. 

However, it is He that deals death and gives life. It is He on Yom Kippur who chooses who will live and who will die. “I will make drunk My arrows with blood.” (32:41) Then God will wipe the earth of those who dared laugh and gloat over the suffering of His people. The waste, the death, the slaughter, the destruction of the earth will make the Great Flood look simply like a catastrophic interruption and not a horrific end. 

I hate horror movies. But there was a second and even more important reason for why I was so upset. The depiction of God turned me off, not this time because he was so wanton in the horrors He delivered upon mankind, but in His characterization.

ד  הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ,  {ס}  כִּי כָל-דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט:  {ר}  אֵל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל,  {ס}  צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא.  {ר} 4 The Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice; a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is He.
ה  שִׁחֵת לוֹ לֹא, בָּנָיו מוּמָם:  {ס}  דּוֹר עִקֵּשׁ, וּפְתַלְתֹּל.  {ר} 5 Is corruption His? No; His children’s is the blemish; a generation crooked and perverse.

God as the Rock of Ages has always turned me off. For the God I find in the first four books of the Torah is a God who changes, not a fixed being, a God who learns not a God of perfection, a God who is open to argument rather than an impenetrable fixture of the firmament. In this depiction of God as a Rock, humans, with all their failings, are viewed as a blemish, crooked and perverse, not so much because of what they do, but because of who they are. They are human-all-too-human. They are not God or even gods.

There is a third factor that repelled me. It was not just the horror show. It was not just the depiction of God and of humans by contrast. It was the poem itself. I thought it read like a string of clichés. My daughter advised me to read Isaiah again and to read an excellent 1988 essay by Harold Fisch, “Poetry with a Purpose: Biblical Poets and Interpretation.” It turned out to be a brilliant piece of academic writing on poetry as self-referential.

 At the core, I had failed to see these as the origins of the images echoed in what followed rather than as worn out images that had been repeatedly used as fading echoes of the original. For, as Northrop Frye wrote, poetry is an echo chamber, a process that at its core enables memory to work. Imitation and repetition are its modes and are its communication tools. As Rabbi Jay opined, poetry is not in itself self-explanatory. It can only be grasped in the context of the mode adopted for expression, the anti-pastoral in this case, and the reverberations with and on other poetry.

When Moses calls out, “Give ear” as heaven and earth are witnesses for all time, we in the present hear the echo, but not as a nostalgic call to the past, but as a call to take responsibility for the present and the future. Words are not dispensable and frivolous throwaways, but fraught with the weight of ages. Words bind and command. They are in all seriousness the ultimate deed. They grow like vines and establish networks, and, with wine, they transport us across time so that we can recall the terrible disasters that befell us as a people and the enormity of the utter ruin we now face.

In addition to my repulsion at a horror show, in addition to my dismissal of a version of God that I rejected, in addition to my failure to appreciate the power of these images in the original collective imaginary of the West, my daughter had observed that I had failed to put myself in the place of the author. In addition to Isaiah, read Samuel 15, she advised. Poetry as rebuke is like no other. See Moses as an avatar, she advised, a leader who sums up his life for himself as having lived as an alien among a people hostile to his and God’s message. He is espousing a post-exilic theology, a time when the first temple was seen as an exercise in idolatry for which the people had been punished both by the destruction of that temple and with their being cast into exile.

I read and corrected for the last two failures. But what of the horror? What of the depiction of God as a rock? I reread the poem once again. (My apologies in advance for any misinterpretations of either my daughter or of Fisch.) In the light of my daughter’s remarks – or at least what I took from them – and reading Fisch’s essay, I now understood the following:

א  הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַאֲדַבֵּרָה;  {ס}  וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ, אִמְרֵי-פִי.  {ר} 1 Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
ב  יַעֲרֹף כַּמָּטָר לִקְחִי,  {ס}  תִּזַּל כַּטַּל אִמְרָתִי,  {ר}  כִּשְׂעִירִם עֲלֵי-דֶשֶׁא,  {ס}  וְכִרְבִיבִים עֲלֵי-עֵשֶׂב.  {ר} 2 My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb.

Moses calls on all of nature, not just the Israelites gathered before him, to hear his words. As heaven and earth are my witness, like the rain, like the dew, hear the distilled words from my experience. Hear the lessons that I have learned from history. That is Moses’ message. The pastoral references are not cited to recall the beauty and harmony of nature with nostalgic longing, for, as in Genesis, God said, and there was. 

א  בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ. 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Or, as I would render it, in the beginning of God’s creation of heaven and earth, the word precedes the material world. Poetry in this idiom is not a call to return to the beauty and pleasantries of nature, but to remember the importance and priority of the word as poetry, which, in its conciseness and its intensity creates a new imaginary.

  •  No Return, No Refuge. Rites and Rights in Minority Repatriation.] The basic message of the covenant, as I wrote in last week’s blog on the Torah, is the sin of covering up and the obligation to uncover the cover-up, an act signified by the circumcision of Jewish males.
  • Consider the image of the stone, not as a characterization of God, but as a characterization of God by a people living in a barren place, in the wilderness, in the desert where there are only stunted dead trees and no branches and nor leaves to shade one from the beating sun, a desert of rock and stones with no water on the surface except the dew that falls in the morning. There are no roses and no lilacs. For a people in a rocky desert, God is the Rock of Ages, a solid and fixed reference for a cohort on route to the Promised Land, God is a cloudy mist that leads them or a fiery presence that protects them.
  • The horrors inflicted on the Israelites as a result of their wickedness would be to return them to exile, return them to the desert stones and their burning heat. Return is not a recovery of an Eden, for the Jewish paradise belongs to a future of aspiration rather than a recollection of an idyllic past.
  • Jewish history is not about eternal recurrence, of what goes ‘round must come ‘round, of simple exchanges in the positions of polar opposites with history depicted as a teeter-totter, but a journey which builds on past recollection to move forward. Only by recollecting that past, only by remembering, re-experiencing and re-enacting our history can we move on. The past must remain present if we are truly to move into the future and accept in full our responsibilities to society and to this planet. For our history is not a record of steady progress, nor a seesaw movement, but a record of cataclysmic interruptions and the destruction of the Promised Land that we took so much labour and time, so much sacrifice and suffering, to reach.
  • Moses, whatever his shortcomings, whatever his bitterness and disappointment at not being able to enter the Promised Land, whatever the impact of that experience on his prophecies for the future, he remained never one to engage in nostalgic memory, neither for the court comforts of his Egyptian youth nor the idyllic simplicity and passivity of his young adult life as a shepherd.
  • Poetry itself is timebound rather than timeless. In this context, the words do not transport us into another realm, but back to earth; God is the word that enables His people to survive and thrive as a nation.  

Give ear, O heavens, let me speak.

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Spy – Part II: An Evaluation of the Series

After the depiction of the series in Part I, I will now evaluate it in terms of its truth value, its presentation of ethical dilemmas and, because it is Yom Kippur this evening, its theological significance.

As Sasha Baron Cohen as Eli Cohen busily constructed his façade as a spy in Syria, the life of Nadia, his wife played by Hadar Ratzon-Rotem, very slowly dissolves into suspicion and depression. As Cohen celebrates his epicurean lifestyle, Nadia lives on the equivalent of macaroni and cheese. One is left at the end of the series with the feeling that Nadia suffered even more and more deeply and for a much longer period than Eli Cohen when he was captured in 1965. For “reasons of state,” was the Mossad, and, indirectly, the Israeli government, guiltier for what they did to Nadia even more than the willingness of Cohen’s superiors to expose their agent to ever increasing risks?

And Cohen does what almost all spies do in such circumstances as he becomes more certain of his cover and more confident in his techniques of dissembling. He gets careless. Regularity and repetition are the greatest dangers to a spy. And Cohen fell into a trap of his own and his minders’ making.

Did Cohen really have something to do with Osama bin Laden and his father, Mohammed bin Laden? Or was this a bow to Hollywood poetic license?  I already indicated my suspicion that it was the latter. Whether true or not, and it seems unlikely that it was true, the introduction of such a scene seems gratuitous and exploitive of a notorious name.

But there are far more serious questions about the verity of the series. Professor Abu Khalil, a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, treated the series as Zionist propaganda and raised a number of questions. The movie set is clearly not Damascus, but to quibble over this is to complain about any movie or series where it is rare to place it in the real setting. There are, however, more serious questions.

  • Eli Cohen never befriended Amin Al-Hafez and could not have done so since he served as a military attaché in Buenos Aries after Cohen left Argentina; however, the historical records indicate that Al-Hafez was banished to Argentina in September of 1961 when Eli Cohen was in that country – he moved to Damascus in February of 1962; is the published historical record incorrect?
  • In Syria, Al-Hafez was only the Interior Minister when Eli Cohen was there; in fact. Al-Hafez became President of Syria on 27 July of 1963 in a military coup until he too was overthrown on 23 February of 1966.
  • There is no evidence that Al-Hafez met Eli Cohen – but there is in Cohen’s reports to Mossad and in the treatment meted out to other Syrians whom Cohen met; there is every reason for Al-Hafez to deny he never met Cohen.
  • The same could be said of Abdul-Karim (Ma’azi) Zaher al-Din (Nassim Si Ahmed), a senior military officer. Khalil claimed that there is no evidence to show that he knew Eli Cohen – except the Mossad files. Al-Din had every reason to deny he knew Eli Cohen; on the other hand, critics admit Cohen befriended his nephew, Ma’dhi Zaher Al-Din, a junior officer, so that it is very likely that the nephew introduced Cohen to his uncle.
  • As one critic of Khalil wrote, “all the actions of the Syrian government around his unveiling and execution point to a deeply emotional and personal reaction from a leadership who were angry, deeply humiliated, hurt and seeking retribution.”
  • Al-Hafez’s wife was a conservative from Aleppo and it is beyond credulity that she would have reached over and grabbed Cohen by the genitals; whether she in fact did or did not, it is a gratuitous scene irrelevant to the spy story and one suspects is a bow to sensationalism and depreciates the seriousness of Eli Cohen’s mission. I cannot recall if either book made such a claim.
  • Critics can claim that it is laughable that Eli Cohen would have been escorted to the front lines of the Golan Heights while admitting that he did indeed visit the Al-Himmah area in the southern part of the Golan Heights; the evidence is pretty incontrovertible that Cohen used that visit both to report on what he saw and to use it as an entry to offering the gift of the Eucalyptus trees, to which many soldiers fighting in the Golan could attest and which the critics do not deny were there; the overwhelming evidence seems to confirm that Cohen visited a sufficient piece of the Golan to understand the fortifications and then make them very visible to the Israelis through the gift of the trees to provide shade for the Syrian soldiers, There are also the photographs of the fortifications
  • The change of plans and personnel for the Golan following the 1966 coup did not mean the fortifications were changed nor the trees
  • The critics do not deny that the plan to divert the Jordan River water was sabotaged or that the Syrian efforts to build a nuclear reactor were destroyed.
  • The Druze counter-espionage chief, Ahmad Suwaydani, may indeed not have been in Buenos Aries when Cohen was there; but this bit of poetic license was used to introduce the character early on and show how determined and resolute he was in uprooting spies; it detracts not one whit from the core narrative and compliments him for his acuity.

In sum, the general truth of the narrative and the interpretation of Eli Cohen’s role as presented in the series is generally true, though the director in the notes made clear that the episodes were based on the Eli Cohen narrative and were not an attempt to precisely represent the story. However, there are some minor incongruities on the Israeli side. Why, as Eli Cohen’s daughter complained, did the series claim that Nadia was a maid? Her daughter insisted she never was, but I cannot remember where the description took place.

What about how the Israeli characters are presented and the ethical tensions of the interpretation? A very acute one is that of Emmerich as Cohen’s handler, Dan. He is presented as both determined and smart, wary and worrisome, especially in light of a previous agent of his who was caught. He is also presented as a compassionate man sincerely concerned about the effects of Cohen’s long absences on his wife Nadia. His inner conflicts about keeping Cohen in the field, taking even more risks to gather further information and his desire to please Nadia and cut short Cohen’s exposure are both understandable and ring true. But, in the end, interests of state win out over the personal concerns. However, I found it questionable why Mossad would insist on contacts at the same time daily when Cohen could have been given a code that dictated changes in times.

The other person truly torn apart in the series is Eli Cohen himself. His role as a spy required him to suppress his deeper self, his love for his wife and family versus his passionate desire to serve the state. But he did tire. Before he went off to his final mission, he asked to come in from the cold. The effort to repress his love and his life had taken a great a toll and he appeared to be on the edge of losing it. Did he become careless? Was that why he was caught? The drama of the suffering of Nadia and of Eli Cohen as well as his handler are at the heart of the dramatic tension in the series. Conflicts over ethics, social and political priorities drive the drama. Other conflicts, such as the one between his Mizrachi versus Ashkenazi identity, are introduced but then dropped.

There is one even deeper tension that needs literally to be uncovered, though I am pretty sure it was not a conscious goal of Gideon Raff, the director. This evening, we begin Yom Kippur. In Hebrew, yom (יוֹם) means ‘day’; kippur (כִּפּוּר) (or kaphar) comes from a root verb that means ‘to atone’. Hence, Yom Kippur is usually expressed in English as the “Day of Atonement.” That is because kippur or kaphur means both to cover and to uncover, to repress and to purge, to make a reconciliation and to cover with pitch. The same word seems to have two very opposite meanings.

In the Yom Kippur service, we insist, on the one hand, that we are righteous and have not sinned and that we are arrogant, obstinate and have sinned. It is the same contradiction. For in our self-righteousness, we claim purity, but in our heart of hearts, we know that this self-righteous insistence is but a cover up of our sins. Further, the biggest sin of all is the cover-up itself. As one rabbi put it, “We pretend to be someone blameless. But we are not the person we pretend to be.” Further, we are not so arrogant and stiff-necked that we cover up the fact that we are not perfect, that we have sinned.

Rabbi Splanski, citing Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, pointed out in Torah study, that there is the all important aval (in English, “but”) that occurs only twice in the Torah.

In Genesis 17:19 –

יט  וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, אֲבָל שָׂרָה אִשְׁתְּךָ יֹלֶדֶת לְךָ בֵּן, וְקָרָאתָ אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, יִצְחָק; וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת-בְּרִיתִי אִתּוֹ לִבְרִית עוֹלָם, לְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו. 19 And God said: ‘Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.

Aval means “in truth.” And the meaning can best be grasped by the context. For preceding God’s promise that Sarah will bear a child in her old age, are six verses on the covenant and its primary sign, circumcision of the male infant.

ט  וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל-אַבְרָהָם, וְאַתָּה אֶת-בְּרִיתִי תִשְׁמֹר–אַתָּה וְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ, לְדֹרֹתָם. 9 And God said unto Abraham: ‘And as for thee, thou shalt keep My covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations.
י  זֹאת בְּרִיתִי אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְרוּ, בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ, אַחֲרֶיךָ:  הִמּוֹל לָכֶם, כָּל-זָכָר. 10 This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised.
יא  וּנְמַלְתֶּם, אֵת בְּשַׂר עָרְלַתְכֶם; וְהָיָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית, בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם. 11 And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you.
יב  וּבֶן-שְׁמֹנַת יָמִים, יִמּוֹל לָכֶם כָּל-זָכָר–לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם:  יְלִיד בָּיִת–וּמִקְנַת-כֶּסֶף מִכֹּל בֶּן-נֵכָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא מִזַּרְעֲךָ הוּא. 12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any foreigner, that is not of thy seed.
יג  הִמּוֹל יִמּוֹל יְלִיד בֵּיתְךָ, וּמִקְנַת כַּסְפֶּךָ; וְהָיְתָה בְרִיתִי בִּבְשַׂרְכֶם, לִבְרִית עוֹלָם. 13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
יד  וְעָרֵל זָכָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִמּוֹל אֶת-בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ–וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא, מֵעַמֶּיהָ:  אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, הֵפַר.  {ס} 14 And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant.’ {S}

When a male Jewish child is circumcised at eight days old, the foreskin of the penis that covers up the glans is removed. Not only does the circumcision inflict on the flesh a painful lesson that even a father who loves you as a child more than even his own life, can inflict pain. If such a father can do that, so can anyone. Therefore, we must be wary. We must not let down our guard. On the other, the circumcision is about totally revealing one’s core passions. Circumcision is an unveiling, is a statement that one will always remain open in spite of the harm inflicted on oneself, that you will always retain the consciousness that you must uncover the fact that your worst sin is to cover up your sins. 

Genesis 41:21 –

כא  וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל-אָחִיו, אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים אֲנַחְנוּ עַל-אָחִינוּ, אֲשֶׁר רָאִינוּ צָרַת נַפְשׁוֹ בְּהִתְחַנְנוֹ אֵלֵינוּ, וְלֹא שָׁמָעְנוּ; עַל-כֵּן בָּאָה אֵלֵינוּ, הַצָּרָה הַזֹּאת.
21 And they said one to another: ‘We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.’

We must come face-to-face with our guilt, with our past sins, but most of all with our refusal to admit we are sinners and our insistence on presenting a false face to the world. That is precisely why spy stories are so interesting. Because they are inherently cover-ups, wearing disguises and pretending to be who we are not, but for the sake of revealing more important truths and, in the process, coming to terms with our own fallibility as the very task we undertake is to project infallibility.

The Spy does it all. In the end it is a theological exercise exploring the relationship of cover-ups to the effort to do anything to uncover secrets. Thus, it is sad that those who accuse the series of being untruthful and Zionist propaganda continue to engage in a cover-up of what took place instead of seriously probing and questioning the presentation.

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Spy – Part I: A Review of the Series

People who serve in signals intelligence are often called spies. When the Israelites were in the wilderness, Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan. They were undercover agents using their eyes and ears to bring back impressions of the strengths and weaknesses of the other side. James Bond, in contrast is less of a secret agent type of spy, but more a fearless character of adventure with little to do with secrecy or mystery, and much more to do with a mixture of daring and charm, though his direct enemies are characterized by their disloyalty and treachery. But the spies who really interest me and I find most fascinating are those, like Smiley in a John Le Carré novel, who are poseurs and serve undercover in foreign countries over a period of time. They are traitors in the countries in which they work and loyalists to another regime.

If we are paranoid, we are always surrounded by informers planted from abroad or corrupted from within. But even if we are not, we are well versed that there may be spies on our native soil. The fact that we do not know whether they are there or not is part of the mystery. And they are a danger. Recall Guy Fawkes Day commemorating 5 November 1605 when a cabal of Catholic Englishmen plotted to blow up Parliament.

Novelists and playwrights are intrigued by spies because they are poseurs within a form of literature that is, after all, make-believe, fiction posing as reality. Like spies in reality, these writers are fascinated by covert behavior as well as undercover observation because these traits go to the heart of what they do. And in both realms, risk-taking and suspense are key to the stories, both for the teller of tales and the agents in them. Writers and spies must of necessity be devious.

Mis-direction, make-believe, masks and mapping, both of the geography of our environment and of our internal souls, all are at the core of any spy story and almost all fiction. The poseur spy must appear to be what he is not while the fictional author must make appearances and descriptions tangible, textured and real.

Among poseur spies, many are seedy and marginal characters with a black cloud of self-betrayal hanging over their heads. Though these types intrigue me, I have much more interest in spies like Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in King Henry VIII’s court and Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy working in the highest places in Damascus, Syria. They are brilliant and accomplished men who reach the highest offices in the land in which they play the role of a traitor for one side and a hero for the other. They know where their deepest loyalties lie and are not generally permeated with self-doubt. They are dissemblers par excellence and, as such, take the very methods of the spy realm to an altogether higher level by combining charm and guile, hidden feelings and glib language. They are flatterers who, in their sycophancy, hide their contempt, and, though rare because of the skill and serendipity required, nevertheless, infrequently but much-too-often, reach the highest offices in the land.  

Canada has its own history of notorious spies. Igor Gouzenko, the Soviet cypher clerk working in the Soviet Union’s embassy who defected to Canada was easily the most famous and most notorious. Currently, Cameron Otis, the high-ranking RCMP officer whose apartment was raided to reveal dozens of computers and encryption methods in the plethora of PCs found in his Byward Market condo in Ottawa, recently made his initial court appearance.

Eli Cohen was one of the best and most famous spies in history; he is the subject of a current entrancing Netflix bio-pic series released a month ago, The Spy, starring Sacha Baron Cohen. Yes, Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat and Ali G fame. In Who Is America? Sacha Baron Cohen posed as an Israeli interviewer who tricked gullible Americans into saying the most outlandish things. Borat, of course, was also a poseur in order to trick the unsuspecting into embarrassing situations and responses. Since I never watched Borat or Ali G, I did not have to discard comic expectations when watching Sacha play Eli.

If you are looking for spine-tingling suspense in a spy drama, there are only rare moments in this series. The story itself and Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance are what intrigue the viewer even if one is fully familiar with the narrative details. Sacha Baron Cohen builds on his previous straight role in Les Misérables. This is neither an adventure tale nor a deep bore into what made Eli Cohen so successful. As presented, the achievement appears to be a combination of Syrian ineptitude, Eli Cohen’s skills as a poseur, which Sacha Baron Cohen portrays with absolute conviction, as do in their roles, Noah Emmerich as Dan Peleg, Eli’s supporter but conflicted Mossad handler, his colleague, Maya (Yael Eitan) and Shlomo “Moni” Moshonov as the determined Mossad chief, Jacob Shimoni. Critics of Israel are bound to be outraged at both the exaltation of the hero and the negative depiction of Arabs. For this bio-pic is really focused on the expertise and determination of this Israeli hero and his Mossad handlers, but even more about how they wrestle with internal ethical tensions.

The occupants of high office in Damascus focused especially on Colonel Amin Al-Hafez (or Hafiz, Waleed Zuaiter), whom we first meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but subsequently as a general and member of the Ba’ath Party who became President of Syria on 27 July 1963 in a military coup until he too was overthrown on 23 February 1966. The Syrians were indeed embarrassed and absolutely enraged much more than the Americans tricked by Sacha Baron Cohen in a comic role. For Sacha Baron Cohen, in a dramatic role as Eli Cohen operating under the fake identity of Kamel Amin Thaabeth Tabat or Thabet or Thabeth (Arabic: كامل أمين ثابت‎), was presented as totally pulling the wool over the eyes of the Syrians until he was caught.  The sense of betrayal of the Syrian leadership is palpable. But smothering even that feeling is Al-Hafez’s sense of being so profoundly duped.

Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current president, Bashar al-Assad, played a critical role in the 1963 coup that brought the Ba’athists into power. He would displace the blame onto the president who succeeded Al-Hafez for the Syrian losses in the Six Day War, turn the tables and overthrow Nureddin al-Atassi in 1970 who had led the 1966 coup. Ruthlessness seems to beat embarrassment almost every time. I am mindful of that even though I strongly support the impeachment of Donald Trump. However, he plays no significant role in this series.

There are several other Arabs of note, first and foremost the intense and menacing Syrian Intelligence Colonel Ahmed Su’edani (Alexander Siddig) who disliked and distrusted Cohen and eventually caught him red-handed transmitting information to Israel. In contrast, the Syrian businessman, Sheikh Aheikh Majid al-Ard (Uri Gavriel), befriends Eli Cohen and even eventually facilitates an engagement with his daughter. Evidently, Cohen met the sheikh on a boat from Genoa to Beirut in 1962. The most colourful Arab character is perhaps Ma’azi Zaher al-Din played by Nassim Si Ahmed as the half-wild Algerian-Mexican lieutenant who paves the way for Eli Cohen’s entry into the Arab ex-pat community in Argentina.

Borat was a comic figure. Eli Cohen, however, was anything but, even though he too wore a bushy moustache. For Borat deliberately and humorously spoke in a tortured English accent while Cohen in reality spoke fluent Arabic even though the series is overwhelmingly in English. Cohen is brilliant as a tall, handsome and supposedly very rich Arab import/export businessman using Damascus as his base and both charm and money, dark glasses and expensive suits to seduce the upper echelon of rulers in Syria who attended his lavish parties. The picture below, if it can be transmitted, shows how handsome the real Eli Cohen was and how closely Sacha Baron Cohen took on his appearance in the series.

To get to peace, countries very often use two-track diplomacy, that is, secret channels for dialogue, usually using academics or other non-government officials to conduct negotiations for which a regime can at any time deny any responsibility. In the conduct of war, they use spies, undercover agents who are the critical complement to their military prowess. And none have been more critical to Israel – at least, as far as we can tell – than Eli Cohen, known best for his audacious arrangement to plant Eucalyptus trees along the edge of the Golan Heights ostensibly to shade the soldiers manning the “pill boxes” along the rim of the Golan Heights which allowed the artillery of Israel to destroy that three rows of  the “Maginot Line” with deadly accuracy in the opening of the Six Day War.

In the movie flashback from the final hanging, there are references to Eli Cohen at first as a very disgruntled former Mossad spy in Egypt in Operation Goshen that smuggled Jews from Egypt to Israel in the early fifties, possibly a player in The Lavon Affair and its botched attempt to bomb Egyptian facilities that was to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, and his flight to Israel himself in December 1956. Once there he became a depressed signals clerk in the Mossad. His opening current position is that of a resentful clerk in an insurance office after having twice been rejected as a Mossad agent.

The series follows a double-track format, one track in Israel where Mossad finally recruits Eli Cohen to be their “spy in Damascus” and, also, afterwards, to nurse and hold the hand of Eli Cohen’s long-suffering wife, Nadia, played brilliantly and totally convincingly by Hadar Ratzon-Rotem. They were married in 1959 just before he was recruited, trained and then established his Syrian identity as an ex-pat Syrian businessman in Buenos Aires in 1961. Between February 1962 and 1965, he rose in a world of flash and corruption, wealth and dissolute behaviour, in a Las Vegas version of Damascus filmed in colour, while in the depressing black and white parallel track, Nadia’s life seems to disintegrate into loneliness and, surprisingly, apparent penury in Bat Yam. Was the latter accurate? If so, it is perhaps much more embarrassing to Israel than the high-risk exposure into which they placed Eli Cohen for reasons of state.

There is another question about the verity of the series. Did Cohen really have something to do with Osama bin Laden and his father, the fabulously wealthy Mohammed bin Laden? Or was this a bow to Hollywood poetic license? The fact that I ask the question is, in itself, a minor criticism of the series. For success of a spy film about reality depends on the movie communicating masking and lying in the most honest way possible.

The latter is a major theme in the video series as well as the account, Our Man in Damascus: The thrilling, shocking, true story of Israel’s most daring spy by Eli Ben-Hanan which ends with Cohen being caught, tortured, tried and hung in the Damascus’ Martyrs (Marjeh) Square on 18 May 1965 before a derisory mob shouting the equivalent of ‘Down with Israel’ after a visitation by the elderly Chief Rabbi of Syria, Nissim Andabo. This is where the series begins with Cohen’s body left to dangle for six hours. However, the series more closely followed the French version of the tale as told by Uri Dan and Yeshayahu d’Israel in the nondescript titled The Spy Who Came from Israel.

The film series depicts Cohen’s recruitment in 1959, training, positioning himself in Buenos Aires as a Syrian businessman who longs to return to his native country (which he does in 1962), the route used to infiltrate the power elite in Syria. According to the series, rivalling his greatest exploit, the intelligence he supplied on the military fortifications on the Golan Heights, was the information he gathered on Syria’s plans to divert the Jordan and starve Israel of water and Syria’s efforts to build a nuclear reactor. Those plans were sabotaged by Israel.

However, I do not recall the Ben-Hanan book being about Nadia, but it is a long time since I read it and I must have given my copy away for it is no longer on my bookshelves – or, at least, I could not find it. But this is a core trope of the series – the disintegration of Nadia’s life into loneliness and the sole responsibility for two young children (I believe there were three) in contrast to the high life Cohen was living as a multi-millionaire in Damascus. In the series, Cohen is depicted as almost puritanical in resisting the enticements of a corrupt Lothario, but somewhere I believe I read that Cohen had a long series of mistresses. In the series, he is too much in love with his wife and family and only gets involved with the daughter of a very wealthy Syrian businessman as part of his cover and only under orders of his Mossad minder.

To be continued – Part II An Evaluation

With the help of Alex Zisman