Love and betrayal behind the lines

A fascinating, if sometimes flawed, novel explores the psychological challenges of being an undercover operative in an enemy country.

By JANICE WEIZMAN
November 29, 2016 18:35
4 minute read.
Israeli espionage

Israeli espionage. (photo credit: REUTERS,JPOST STAFF)

IT’S A moment that immigrants to Israel know well. You’re speaking with a friend or neighbor, and the subject of military service comes up. “My daughter [or boyfriend, cousin, friend, neighbor, etc.] is in Intelligence,” they say, and you nod knowingly – an acknowledgment that no further details will be offered, though this could mean anything from clerical work to actual espionage. Israel, uniquely, is a country in which inspired, creative spying is both integral and crucial to its existence. In contrast to the suave glamor of say, James Bond, or Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the legend of the Mossad is made of gritty patriotism and ideological commitment.

And yet, as Yiftach Atir tells us in his recently translated spy novel, “The English Teacher,” there must be something more. “No one volunteers to go through what a solitary operative goes through only because he’s a Zionist…There’s something special in him besides the ability to assume another persona and undertake operations. He needs us. That’s the point…Such people have difficulty in identifying what it is they’re looking for, they only know there’s another reality that they can belong to, that it’s possible to go to distant places and do what’s forbidden to others, things you only dream about. There’s something intoxicating in our work; suddenly it’s permissible to lie, you can put on an act, and everything is sanctioned by the state.”

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