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May 13, 2002

THE INSTAPUNDIT / ISRAELI ART

THE INSTAPUNDIT / ISRAELI ART STUDENT "SPY" CONNECTION: For months people have been asking me why I haven't written about the persistent claim that Israeli art students were travelling around the United States selling paintings -- and that those art students were really spies for Israeli intelligence. There's a pretty good wrap up of the story here. I haven't written about it because I haven't seen anything very compelling -- and because (here's the scoop, hold on to your hats in the unlikely event that you're wearing a hat) I've actually met them and own one of their paintings!

Yes, we were visited by some Israeli art students -- at least that's what they said they were -- who went door to door in our neighborhood. It was something over a year ago. We were almost the only ones in the neighborhood who would even let them in, but they were obviously genuine Israelis based on their accents and general bearing, and they sure seemed like art students to me. We chatted about techno music (they liked it; I gave 'em a Mobius Dick CD), and they sold us a painting at an inflated price, but my wife liked it and them and it went well with the decor in our den.

So what does this prove? Well, nothing, really. Were they art students or spies? Well, they looked and acted like art students, a breed with which I have some familiarity. But of course, really good spies would have, too! There were no short-wave radios or Uzis protruding from their backpacks, they didn't mutter suspicious comments in code, and they didn't ask about sensitive military matters. (The girl left her gloves behind, which a spy probably wouldn't do -- unless they contained sophisticated undetectable listening devices. I didn't detect any, but then I wouldn't detect an undetectable listening device, now would I? ("More proof that they're spies!" shouts Justin Raimondo).)

But of course, there's nobody in my neighborhood with a sensitive government job (unless it's so sensitive I don't know about it!). And there aren't any secret military bases around here that are worth spying on (unless they're so secret I don't know about them!). So the whole thing seems bogus to me. My sense was that it was, well, not a con exactly, but a way to extract too much money for ordinary art work from people disposed to be sympathetic to Israeli art students, a group that they seemed to feel was kind of small here in Knoxville. The girl was very cute, which might be proof that she's a spy sent to entrap vulnerable American men with her feminine wiles, except that most college-age Israeli women I've met were equally cute, and I rather doubt that they were all spies. I can attest to the art-student part of the story, but the whole spy aspect has the feel of an urban legend. I could be wrong, but my impression was that these folks were after money, not secrets. And now you don't really know any more than you did before, which is why I held off posting this story until now.

UPDATE: Reader Kenneth Nunney writes: "You naive man...don't you see that the Israelis who came to see you were real art students, clearly sent here to act as interference for the real spies who were just pretending to be art students. And I thought you were smart." But of course! The fact that the ones who came to see me were real art students proves that there were spies operating in the United States disguised as art students! I see it all now. . . .