Shut up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Governmentby Gregory Levey
"We don't offer internships," the ambassador told me. Oh, wonderful, I thought. Then what exactly am I doing here? Why had I been put through their intense security procedures? And why did some disembodied voice named Yaron now know the names of most of my childhood friends, my opinions on the different law school classes I was taking, my sexual preferences, and… See more details below
"We don't offer internships," the ambassador told me. Oh, wonderful, I thought. Then what exactly am I doing here? Why had I been put through their intense security procedures? And why did some disembodied voice named Yaron now know the names of most of my childhood friends, my opinions on the different law school classes I was taking, my sexual preferences, and the nationality of my roommate? I fought the urge to start yelling incoherently out of sheer frustration.
The ambassador asked, "Do you want a job instead?" "Pardon me?" I replied, thinking I had misheard him. "The chances of you getting a job here were exactly zero," he told me, which I thought was strange after he'd seemingly just offered me a job. "There is generally no chance for a resume to reach me, and if it does, I usually just throw it away."
He paused to gauge my reaction. I must have looked like someone trying hallucinogenic drugs for the first time. "I don't know how it got to me in the first place, or how you got in the door," he continued. "It just so happens, though, that our speechwriter is leaving soon. Would you like to come on as a sort of deputy speechwriter on a part-time basis, and then if everything goes well, this summer you will become the actual speechwriter and take over?"
Slightly frazzled and more than a little bit shocked, I didn't know what to say. The ambassador smiled in obvious amusement, and repeated, "Because we don't offer internships."
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I was twenty-five years old and not even an Israeli citizen, but as a result of a bizarre series of events, I was sitting alone at the State of Israel's seat at the United Nations General Assembly, minutes before a vote on a U.N. resolution.
Worse still: I had no idea how Israel wanted to vote, and very little concept of what the vote was even about.
How on earth had I ended up in this situation?
I looked at the Irish representative on my left and the Italian one on my right. Each of them was much older than me and had several assistants sitting with him. More importantly, they both clearly knew how their governments wanted them to vote. At very least, unlike me, they were citizens of the countries that they were representing.
For something like the tenth time, I called the office of the Israeli ambassador on my cell phone and asked to speak to someone who could give me instructions, but the terrible phone reception at the United Nations meant that I got cut off before I could get any help. Again. I looked across the room at the diplomat representing the United States and thought that maybe I should just vote however he did, since Israel often followed the lead of its closest ally.
Then I looked at the door leading out of the large hall, and thought that maybe a wiser option would be to run and not look back. I thought of that famous story from the middle of the Cold War when Nikita Khrushchev took off his shoe and angrily banged it on the table at the United Nations. I considered doing the same, for no reason other than delaying the vote.
I could see that the voting was about to begin, and I quickly tried my cell phone again. Thistime, miraculously, I got through to someone with authority at the Israeli Mission.
"They're going to vote," I whispered urgently, trying to keep my voice down so that the Irish and Italian representatives wouldn't recognize the fact that I was an idiot.
"Who is this?" the voice on the other end of the phone said.
At this point, I came perilously close to throwing my cell phone across the room. Or maybe, I thought, I should slam my phone down on the table instead of my shoe.
"It's Greg," I answered. "I'm at the General Assembly, and there's going to be a vote."
"A vote? A vote on what?"
"On resolution number" -- and I told him the specific resolution at hand.
"What is that?" he asked.
"I don't really know," I answered. "I was hoping that maybe someone there had some idea of what it was, and could tell me how I should vote."
"I'll look into it, and call you back," he said, and immediately hung up.
The chairman presiding over the meeting called it to order, and began the prevoting procedure. I waited anxiously for the cell phone gripped tightly in my right hand to ring, the fingers of my left hand hovering uncertainly over the voting buttons before me.
Copyright © 2008 by Gregory Levey
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There hasn't been a portrayal of Israelis this accurate since Adam Sandler's movie "You Don't Mess With The Zohan." Unlike that masterpiece of satire, however, everything in Levey's account actually happened! For those veterans of interacting with Israelis, this book will bring back memories (some of which they may be trying to forget). For those who have never had the pleasure, this book will get you up to speed in only a few hundred fast-paced pages.
Gregory Levey's adventures as an accidental speechwriter for the Israeli diplomatic services make for entertaining reading. It also sheds light on the Israeli diplomatic process, shattering the myth of an omnipresent Israeli government, pulling the strings of the Middle East. A lot of educational information with a lot of fun.