Last week, I was deeply saddened by the passing of my friend Charley Levine. During this shiva period, many have recalled how Charley was a trailblazer in the field of international public relations and hasbara in Israel.
While there is no shortage of people who decry the double standard applied by the international media in its coverage of Israel, Charley inherently understood that this outsized focus on our tiny country was an opportunity that should be used to the advantage not only of the many clients he represented, but to improve Israel’s image on a literally a daily basis.
In addition to Charley’s widely recognized skills as a writer, creative thinker, and complex problem solver, I personally often thought of him as a bridge between cultures. To native-born Israelis like myself Charley epitomized America and American Jewry. It was not just Charley’s Texas accent that never weakened over his three decades in Israel, or the suits and ties he would insist on wearing to important meetings, or even the large American cars he always drove. Charley’s unique insights and piercing analysis of American politics and culture, served as a mandatory guide for the perplexed for those of us who see great importance in never tiring from improving Israel’s relationship with the world. We knew that he could always be counted on to help us understand the nuances of a particular party’s primary system or who the next promising presidential candidate would be. Similarly, we knew that Charley would always help us to differentiate the various Jewish communal organizations, or even to point out which young Jewish leader with whom we should forge important relationships.
While Charley seemed as American as apple pie to us sabras, I know from conversations with my colleagues abroad that to them he was the ultimate decipherer of all things Israeli. Charley often served as an unofficial ambassador for Israel, explaining the complexities of the Jewish State to Jewish and Christian communities around the world. He had the uncanny ability to sit for five minutes with a foreign leader before a press conference in Jerusalem and summarize the intricacies of the Israeli media ensuring that they were properly briefed on all the nuances needed to get their message across in the most powerful manner possible. Once official business was done, Charley could then be counted on to recommend the finest Jerusalem eateries to his visitors from abroad, making sure they understood that it often was best to skip the latest chef restaurant and head instead to his favorite steakia in Talpiot.
As we say our goodbyes to Charley, I recall what I believe might be his most lasting legacy. Charley worked with many Israeli and foreign leaders who spanned the political and ideological spectrum. While he always offered his best counsel, Charley never shied away from voicing his strong-held beliefs, especially when it came to Israeli politics or his well-known feelings about the importance of aliya. What was unique about Charley, however, was that he always stayed true to the values of the Betar youth organization he proudly belonged to, and to the principle of hadar promoted by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Charley always portrayed his point of view in a courteous manner with a smile and a warm word that ensured that even if his interlocutor’s opinion’s remained unchanged, he walked away with a newfound respect for those he disagreed with.
Here in Israel, we are once again facing tense times. The security situation is looking precarious, and the debates between Left and Right over what solutions are necessary to protect the citizens of Israel are as rancorous as ever. While Charley’s counsel will be sorely missed during this trying period, it is my hope that we can all try to conduct ourselves in his spirit. Charley would never back down from his views, and neither should we. We should remember, however, the importance of dignified and respectful dialogue and that any argument made with a smile on our faces will be that much more impactful.
May his memory be a blessing.