A small note on a large issue. The Iran nuclear agreement has provoked partisans on all sides of the debate to unleash extraordinary bursts of vitriol at their adversaries. It is not merely Semites and anti-Semites who are participating in this drama, though both parties have starring roles. What is unusual about this particular moment is the intensity of internecine Jewish disputation.
I’m often on the receiving end of anti-Semitic hate mail; this is what happens when your last name is Goldberg and you argue, for instance, that it’s a bad thing to murder Israelis en masse (these sorts of arguments generate toxic responses from many Twitter users in Pakistan, Turkey, and Oregon, among other places). Recently, though, I’ve been the recipient of hate-grams from my fellow Jews, for supporting (unenthusiastically, but, whatever) the Iran nuclear agreement. Some of the mail is sane, of course, and acknowledges the complexity of the issue (I know I’m waving the red cape when I say this, but I actually think the deal just might be in Israel’s best interests). But so many of my interlocutors believe that any Jew who supports the Iran deal is in league with Hitler and/or Haman and/or Satan (just witness what’s happening to Rep. Jerrold Nadler now, for instance).
This post (and, man, it’s going to be fun to be Goldblogging again, in part because I can use parentheses in wanton fashion), isn’t about the merits or flaws of the Iran nuclear agreement. This is instead a brief guide on how to write effective hate mail. It will be very brief, in fact, because most hate-mail writers make one simple mistake, a mistake that negates the effectiveness of their screeds. I will explain the mistake by posting an excerpt from recent communication:
Dear Mr. Goldberg,
How does it feel to be a kapo? How does it feel to be a shithead whose shoveling Jews into the ovens, because that is what your doing. Your buddy Obama wants Isreal to be destroyed so he’s giving the Irannians regime the bomb. Why don’t you see the truth? This deal that they negotiated by kerry lets Iran have the bomb in 10 years or less. Youre so blind because your a court jew I guess. Obama could have gotten them to give away their nuclear program but he didn’t because he’s pro-Muslim like you.
I don’t have to go on, do I? You get the point.
The first, minor, problem with this letter concerns grammar. If you are trying to convince me that I am, indeed, a kapo (for those of you not in the know, kapos were prisoners who aided the Nazis in the concentration camps), and that President Obama is “shoveling Jews into the ovens,” your cause will only be helped if you invest the time and energy into spelling and grammar. I receive a fair amount of mail from actual Nazis as well; the only ones who begin to frighten me are the ones who possess the ability to spell correctly. They are, thankfully, rare.
The second, larger, problem has to do with emphasis, and the ordering of the writer’s argument. I am prone to delete e-mails as soon as I understand that the intent of the writer is to label me a Nazi collaborator (call me thin-skinned, I don’t care). These e-mailers, writing in a kind of blinding heat, don’t take the time to understand that their goal should be to draw their targets in with sane-seeming prose, and only then bring down the hammer of insane truth on the heads of their shithead targets. I’ve occasionally received e-mail from writers who have deployed this technique, and it is much more effective. Here is a theoretical example of how this would work. Consider this imaginary letter a gift to haters:
Dear Mr. Goldberg,
I am a longtime reader of The Atlantic (and a paid subscriber as well!) and I’ve noted with interest your writing on the ramifications of the Iran deal. This is a very complicated subject, to be sure, but, if you don’t mind, I would like to bring, with all appropriate modesty, a couple of issues to your attention. I think it is fair to say that certain Jewish commentators in the American media appear to have an overly sanguine view of Iranian intentions toward Israel. You yourself have noted the anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from Tehran. And I also believe that one doesn’t have to be a Republican partisan to feel as if President Obama’s negotiating strategy has fallen short. So I am left with a question for Jewish commentators: Did they study history? Do they understand the nature of anti-Semitism and the Iranian regime? Do they understand that President Obama doesn’t have Israel’s best interests at heart? Or are they the modern-day equivalents of kapos, so hateful toward their own kind that they will sell out their own people and shovel them into the ovens, like you, you shithead.
Now that’s what I call a properly constructed piece of hate mail. By the time I realize that the writer is a lunatic, he will have wasted at least 31 seconds of my life, 31 seconds I can never get back.
You may be asking, “Why provide this sort of advice? Why help your foes?” Because, dear reader, while I admire Jewish reasonableness — a quality missing from much of the Iran debate — I also admire Jewish cleverness, and it breaks my heart to read the writings of sub-literate Jews.