San Francisco senior carries the FLAME for Israel
At 92, Gerardo Joffe still holds down two jobs, one paid, the other not. And the latter is the controversial one.
Joffe says he gets an average of two “nasty” letters a week telling him to quit. But he vows he won't “as long as God allows me.”
Joffe is founder and president of FLAME. You might recognize its newspaper advertisements. They are, in effect, editorials — no pictures, all text — on behalf of Israel. FLAME stands for Facts and Logic About the Middle East.
Joffe's critics dispute the facts, defy the logic and often try to intimidate the media (especially when they're college newspapers) out of running the ads. Anti-Muslim “hate” messages is the usual contention.
To Joffe, however, opponents of Israel as an alleged violator of human rights stand reality on its head. Watch out, he says, for the “big lie” undermining a basically decent society and solid U.S. ally.
Still, this is a lot of tension for a senior's avocation. Joffe's living, once quite lucrative (not so much now), is in the mail order business.
German-born, a naturalized U.S. citizen, he built Haverhill's of California into a flourishing purveyor of gifts and gadgets, and eventually sold out for good profit. New owners somehow ran it into the ground. So he launched two smaller firms and still heads one of those.
Retirement doesn't tempt him; commerce and controversy do. And current events, including Iran's rush to go nuclear, never seem to let up providing material. Joffe has penned 140 FLAME ads over the years in a hard-hitting English style that is quite a trick in itself, since it's his third language (after German and Spanish). He edits each “hasbara,” as he calls them (Hebrew for a form of teaching) down to 840 words to fit the spaces that cost FLAME about $1 million a year. Copies go to every member of Congress. “I don't kid myself they read them all,” he said.
Why all this effort for a nonprofit?
Because he remembers the irritation of seeing the pro-Arab pivot in 1980s mainstream news media even as an Israeli bigwig was airily declaring the Jewish state needed no “propaganda,” its case was so clear.
Joffe works out of a paper-strewn second-floor office in a nondescript low-rise building here, admission by doorbell buzzer.
FLAME's lessons do seem to light a match. A recent one was titled: “Why Are Christians Disappearing From the Middle East?”
Radical Islamists, Joffe says, are terrorizing Christians out of communities that have been theirs for centuries. And this amid deafening silence from U.S. and European churches, academics and media, which instead press Western companies to “disinvest” from the one true democracy in the whole sandy region.
“The abandonment of Israel by the liberal left is a mystery I can't explain except, partially, by anti-Semitism,” said Joffe, who recalls fleeing with his parents from the Nazis in the 1930s. They went to South America, where he worked for years in underground mining before eventually immigrating to earn U.S. degrees in engineering and business.
FLAME's ads solicit contributions to a San Francisco post office box. Out of 30,000-odd donors responding over the years, the all-time largest was a Pittsburgher. Self-effacing Monroe Guttman, an independent oil dealer and modest contributor, surprised Joffe to no end by leaving $1 million in his will.
Jack Markowitz is a columnist on Thursdays for Trib Total Media. Email him at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Clues to Chief Justice John Roberts’ thinking on new ObamaCare case
- Pirates enter Plan B with Martin off market
- For Steelers, a fight to finish for playoff berth
- Starkey: No explaining Steelers, AFC North
- Islanders outwork Penguins to sweep back-to-back meetings
- For Pitt men’s basketball team, trouble in paradise
- House fire doused in Turtle Creek
- Leak of grand jury information could cost Attorney General Kane
- Mears savors success, credits legendary Lange for guidance, inspiration
- Shooting victims live with bullets to survive, thrive
- Freezing rain hits Western Pennsylvania, many accidents reported