Spies, Saviors and Schlemiels

How does one distinguish between a genuine spy type and a plain ordinary schlemiel?

How does one distinguish between a genuine spy type and a plain ordinary schlemiel, who lands in Cairo in the morning and thinks he's Jesus of Nazareth, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Lawrence of Arabia, who plans to save the Arab nation, and does such a good job of getting into character that his interrogators are confused by the successful performance?

If it were so easy to distinguish between the two types of people, then we ourselves, here in Israel, wouldn't have been so upset by the story of Anat Kamm, for example - the soldier who leaked classified army info, considered by some as the schlemiel type and by others as a dangerous spy. Meanwhile, nobody knows how that story will end.

Illustration (Eran Wolkowski)
Eran Wolkowski

If it were so easy to distinguish between schlemiels disguised as saviors and genuine spies, who, as we know, make a living by pretending to be someone other than themselves - in other words, people whose very essence is deception - maybe there would have been no attempt at the time to harass Tali Fahima. She was convicted for forging contacts with terrorists, and her main fault seems to have been that she took the role of schlemiel a little more seriously than necessary. And she also served a lot of time in prison, not in nondemocratic Egypt but here, in the bastion of democracy of the Middle East.

We could continue to enumerate many other cases - and they are legion - which have occurred not in Egypt but here, in the bastion of democracy, where the Shin Bet security service catches various and sundry enthusiastic young people who want both to make the world a better place and to experience the thrill of corresponding with subversive elements on the Internet. They are immediately declared to be members of terror cells, and no diplomatic entity or advocates from any other direction intervene on their behalf when they are convicted.

For the sake of fairness, then, let us admit that Israel does not have an iota of legitimacy in coming with the slightest complaint to Egypt regarding the latest schlemiel, Ilan Grapel, who was arrested this week by the security services there. All Israel can do is to ask the chief rabbi to write a new prayer to be recited in the synagogues: "May the Jewish people recall its own fervor for catching imaginary spies and sending them to prison, before it preaches to other nations, and may you, O merciful God, remember to forgive all of us for our foolishness, and release all the prisoners and captives. Amen."

The only claim Israel can make against Egypt is that, without paying copyright fees, Egypt stole from it the monopoly over the right to be considered a country that's in a state of posttrauma. This situation developed slowly but surely while nobody was looking, when the Tahrir Square revolution began, on January 25. Egypt discovered a precious resource, more important than all its oil and gas reserves: worldwide sympathy for the suffering of a nation that has gone from slavery to freedom and from darkness to light, and that for a change is not the Jewish nation.

In terms of the dispute between the two neighbors in which both claim "I'm suffering more," nothing better could have fallen into Egypt's hands than Ilan Grapel. But please, beloved Land of the Nile, don't fall into the same traps as your neighbor Israel, which in the end lost the affection of the world. One of these traps is the temptation to make a mountain out of every molehill, and a spy out of every schlemiel.

And another dangerous tendency developed by posttraumatic nations, which should be avoided before you also fall into this trap, O Egypt: Be aware that along with developing the ability to see an existential danger to the nation on every street corner, people with well-developed imaginations, particularly among the young, become convinced that they can save the day and find the absolute solution to every single problem. One goes and takes a pistol and shoots a prime minister. Another beats up Arabs or sets a mosque on fire. And a third simply makes a nuisance of himself, which is apparently the case with Ilan Grapel.

So for your own good, release him, because if not, like in a geometric progression, your country, like ours, will suffer a plague of nuisances. Then it will be too late, and even if you grovel and ask for the pesticide to get rid of the plague, we won't give it to you. Why? Because both the disc with the info and the formula for producing the material was hijacked by some schlemiel and transferred to an unknown location.