Flame still burns for man who breathes fire for Israel

At age 92, Gerardo Joffe still goes into the office every day, still runs two businesses, still hangs out at the San Francisco Tennis Club and still works tirelessly to defend the State of Israel.

He also offers advice to a whippersnapper reporter who makes assumptions about what a 92-year-old can and cannot do: “When you talk to a man older than you, never use the word ‘still.’ ”

Point taken. More than 75 years after fleeing Nazi Germany, Joffe has never ceased stropping his razor-sharp mind, which in recent years he has devoted to making the case for Israel.

His forum is FLAME (Facts & Logic About the Middle East), a San Francisco nonprofit he founded in 1985. Every month, FLAME runs pro-Israel ads in about 20 publications across the country, from Jewish community newspapers such as j. to large dailies such as the Washington Times to magazines such as American Spectator.

Gerardo Joffe at one of his favorite hangout spots, the San Francisco Tennis Club photo/dan pine

A few of the ads are repeats, but eight times a year the ads are new.

They are dense and text-heavy and do not mince words — and most are written by Joffe himself. Recent FLAME ads called the Palestinian refugees “a red herring,” the notion of “occupied territories” a myth and “Arab East Jerusalem” a product of the “Arab propaganda machine.”

In another, Joffe wrote: “The fact that the Palestinians are a made-up people has been established by all manner of historical research and acclamation, even by Arabs themselves.”

Uninterested in presenting both sides of the argument, Joffe says of FLAME, “We’re the only one who explains Israel’s position, contradicting hostile opinion. The only one who publicizes Israel’s position to the American public.”

Maybe not the only one. But FLAME is certainly the sole pro-Israel entity running monthly ads in publications as diverse as the liberal magazine the Nation and the decidedly conservative National Review.

The ads are not always met favorably. According to Joffe, the Nation charges him extra to advertise in its pages because the pro-Israel message is said to offend its editors and readers.

“Once in a while they run an editorial about my ads,” Joffe says of the Nation. “[They are] totally opposed to anything I have to say, but they take [the ads] because they need the money. So I wrote to their ad manager and said: If the Ford Motor Company put in an ad, would you say ‘It’s a lemon. We are ashamed to promote this terrible car’?”

Why do it? Joffe begins his answer the same way he often does: “I was born in Germany.”

He credits his experience in a Jewish scouting troop — “the most important thing in my life,” he calls it — for sparking his Zionist passion.

Yet he never made aliyah. Instead, he fled Germany in 1938 at age 18, one month after Kristallnacht, then spent eight years in Bolivia as an engineer in tin and tungsten mines. After relocating to the United States, he earned a college degree in mine engineering and worked in the oil fields of Texas, then later earned an MBA from Harvard.

A sample of Gerardo Joffe’s pro-Israel ads

Joffe and his wife, Priscilla, moved to the Bay Area

in 1958. He started a family and he prospered in the mailorder business with his company, Haverhills. The company’s catalogue offered eclectic items such as high-end cigarette lighters, fountain pens, shavers and telescopes. In the early 1970s, Joffe sold the company to Time Inc. for $1 million in stock, a move that reaped huge dividends in ensuing years.

He also bought back the company some years ago, selling it for good in 2001. Today he runs Jomira/Advance, a San Francisco book publishing company.

Joffe also wrote a seven-volume course titled “How to Build a Great Fortune In Mail-Order” and “How You Too Can Develop a Razor-Sharp Mind and a Steel-Trap Memory” as well as his autobiography, “Weaned on Carrot Juice.”

Through his years of business and writing, one thing always stuck in Joffe’s craw: what he saw as duplicitous anti-Israel ads running weekly in the Christian Science Monitor, sponsored by various Arab American groups.

“They were very stupid ads,” Joffe recalls. “I wondered why Israelis don’t counter that propaganda. Nobody did. One Israeli president said that Israel’s cause is so great, we do not need this kind of propaganda. I thought, ‘Is that man crazy?’”

He decided to run ads of his own.

Initially, FLAME aligned itself with another national pro-Israel organization, CAMERA, but soon established its own nonprofit status. Its $1 million annual budget is supported entirely by donations (average check is around $50, though it once received a $1 million bequest).

FLAME has run more than 133 ads over the years. Topics have included the hottest of hot-button issues: Jewish settlements, the United Nations’ alleged bias against Israel, Palestinian right of return, Arab anti-Semitism, Jerusalem. Joffe says he does hours of research before writing each ad.

Do the ads work? Joffe offers no metric for gauging their success. He also says he has heard little from Israelis, even after years of fighting for them (“I love Israelis,” he says, “but Israelis are tough to deal with”).

Over the years, Joffe said some publications, such as Time and Newsweek, have refused to run his ads. Others accepted the ads only to drop them following reader pressure.

“Gerardo has a tone that is pretty strident, and he doesn’t pull any punches,” says FLAME vice president Jim Sinkinson. “He’s far from diplomatic. The readership often objects and brings pressure to bear on the publisher.”

Nevertheless, he claims that 35,000 people receive his e-newsletter every week, and that of the people he sends solicitation letters to, 5 percent end up donating. Neither he nor Sinkinson, who writes some ads, takes a salary.

Joffe knows that someday he will no longer be around to guide FLAME. He has worked with Sinkinson, 65, for a decade, and will one day turn the reins over to him.

Until then, Joffe battles on because he believes strongly in the justice of his cause.

“I believe 1,000 years from now, Israel will be considered a singular accomplishment,” he says. “The creation of the state on the ashes of the Holocaust, taking in more than a million immigrants, reviving the ancient Hebrew language as the vernacular of the country — there’s nothing else I can read of in history that can compare with that.”

FLAME maintains an archive of ads and articles at www.factsandlogic.org.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.