The Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is in foreign territory in more ways than one. One of the world’s most secret organizations has a new, and perhaps unexpected, role: pop culture phenomenon. In recent years, Israel’s intelligence operatives have been the subject of bestselling books, movies and shows, receiving precisely what spies seek to avoid: attention.
As the journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman note in their 2014 book, Spies Against Armageddon: “Just as the Statue of Liberty and McDonald’s became snappy synonyms for America, ‘Mossad’ has become an internationally recognized Israeli brand name.” And so it has.
At the moment, Netflix alone has more than half a dozen shows and movies on Israeli spies, some of them—namely Red Sea Diving Resort starring Chris Evans and The Spy with Sacha Baron Cohen—attracting big names from Hollywood. Author Daniel Silva has written more than a dozen bestselling novels centered on a fictional Mossad agent and art restorer, Gabriel Allon. And on Twitter the Mossad Elite Parody Division account has, at last count, attracted nearly 120,000 followers for its ability to mock those “who blamed Israel’s intelligence agency for all sorts of bizarre things,” the Jerusalem Post reported in 2018.
All this publicity might come as a surprise to those who founded Israel’s intelligence agencies more than half a century ago. Indeed, the Mossad’s origins were nothing if not humble. And the history of the spy agency offers the first clue as to its current pop culture success.
(The rest of this CAMERA Op-Ed can be found in the October 2019 issue of Washington Examiner magazine)