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San Francisco senior carries the FLAME for Israel

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

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 jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

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