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Gregory Levey. photo by Rhonda Spivak


By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B. Feb 1/2009

Torontonian Gregory Levey, who as a 25 year old student served as a speechwriter for Israeli  Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, was in Winnipeg recently to share details of his unusual adventures.

 Levey, is the author of   the comical  new memoir Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government,  which was published by Simon and Schuster/Free Press in April, 2008.  He spoke at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue to a crowd that was completely entertained by his presentation.
Levey told his very unique and at times bizarre story of how he accidentally stumbled into the “nerve centre” of the Israeli government from 2004 until 2006.
Levey, a Canadian citizen was studying at law school in New York when he  applied for an internship at the Israeli consulate there.  After an Israeli named Yaron  who called him “George” did a security check on him, and another Israeli did a further check on him, including asking him ‘why  I didn’t break up with my girlfriend earlier,” he was called to the consulate.  There he was told that that “we don’t have an internship.”

However, the Israeli government needed a speechwriter and he was hired for this. 

Levey said, ‘But I’m a Canadian I can’t work in the U.S.’

In response, he said he was told by the Israeli diplomat,  ‘I can hire anyone I want.  All we do is call the U.S. State Department and say you’re an Israeli diplomat.” 

Levey  began writing speeches for the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in New York and  went on to serve as Senior Foreign Communications Coordinator and English speechwriter for  Sharon and Olmert.

“I worked for the Israeli government  from the time Ariel Sharon formed Kadima, through the disengagement,  his [Sharon’s] two strokes, the rise of Olmert, until two days before the war in Lebanon,” he said.
 As Levey recalled,  “A few weeks before I was going to leave work, I got a call that Ariel Sharon was coming to New York and he was going to be  giving a speech to back disengagement to the United States government.  It was an important speech…  I was asked if I would do the first draft. .. [Later] I was stunned to see that he [Sharon] gave my speech pretty much word for word.”

 After that speech, Levey agreed to go to  Jerusalem to become Sharon’s speechwriter. “The Prime Minister’s office made the Israeli U.N. mission look orderly,” said Levey, who  is now an Assistant Professor of communications at Ryerson University and working on his Ph.d in  creative writing in Scotland.

 The most shocking story Levey told  was  how he was asked to represent Israel at the UN assembly minutes before a vote was to be taken.  Levey tried to communicate with  the Israeli UN mission by cell phone but couldn’t get through to anyone  He didn’t know what the vote was about or how he was supposed to vote.  So, he decided to go up to the American senior diplomat, guessing that he should do what the Americans did.. 

 “I  said to  [the American diplomat] that I didn’t really know how I’m supposed to vote.  I told him there had  been some miscommunication in the Israeli mission today.  Anyways, I asked him, how are you going to vote… he leaned in… We’re voting no, he told me, and I fought back the urge to give him a high five,” said Levey.

 Levey said he  still didn’t have the guts to tell the American diplomat that he didn’t know what the vote was about.

 “So I decided to try calling again, and this time I got through to someone at the Israeli mission who  was senior enough that he should have known what  the vote was about.  He said he didn’t know, but  he’d try to get back to me.. But the vote was called [before he did]…I put my earpiece in and pressed the Red button,, NO…There were over  90 votes in favour [of  the resolution] and only  two votes against it, those of the U.S and Greg…[Afterward] I got a call from a Senior Israeli diplomat  who said he had found out what the vote was about, and  I should vote against it… Later I found out that the vote was about weapons of mass destruction.”

 Levey also shared a humorous n experience he had when he was asked by a Senior Israeli diplomat  to translate a very anti-Israel statement made by a French diplomat, even though he didn’t speak French.  ‘I used an online translation and gave it in and hoped I didn’t hear anything about it again.,” he said.
 When asked if he ever considered living in Israel, he answered  “ It’s not for me.  I like North America.’

 ‘Ultimately [my book] is about culture clash…I was a fish out of water,” he said.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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