Shut Up, I’m Talking!

Posted on Categories International Law & Diplomacy

is the title of a great book by Gregory Levey that I read this summer about his surprising journey from law school to speechwriter for the Prime Minister of Israel. Levey is a Canadian who, after surviving his first year of law school at an unnamed New York law school decided that he needed a break and planned to join the Israeli army. I imagine that one of the reasons the law school remains unnamed is, as Levey puts it, when thinking about his reasons for joining the Israeli army, “Anyone who’s ever gone to law school will understand when I say that, at the time, the risk of being shot at or blown up by Islamic Jihad, or perhaps kidnapped by the Hezbollah and taken to Iran to be tortured and murdered, seemed almost preferable to the notion of continuing to suffer through another semester of classes.”

Luckily, none of these things actually happen to Levey (nor does finishing law school apparently.) But clearly his talents lie in telling a great story about diplomacy, negotiation, and cultural differences. Kudos for the best definition of a diplomat that I have read in a long time. Quoting the Israeli Ambassador to the UN Arye Mekel, “When a diplomat says yes, it means maybe. When a diplomat says maybe, it means no. And if a diplomat says no, it means he’s not a diplomat.”

A good part of the book is about the cultural differences of dealing with Israelis’ rather blunt mode of conversation. When Ambassador Mekel first meets Levey to interview him for what Levey thought would be an internship at the UN Mission, Mekel says, “You look perfect on paper so there must be something wrong with you.”

He also talks about what it is like to be a Canadian representing Israel at the UN. Much of this, as Levey says, entails some level of insanity. For example, Levey realizes that diplomats from certain countries-Syria, Libya, Iran-refuse to shake the hand or even make eye contact with Israeli diplomats. So to pass the time in long meetings, Levey starts to play the game of trying make eye contact only to see how fast they would break it. Definitely not the most sophisticated approach to negotiation but it does make for a great read!

Cross posted on Indisputably.

One thought on “Shut Up, I’m Talking!”

  1. I love the definition of diplomacy. It reminds me of what seems to be a convention in my wife’s family. If in response to your proposal about what to do or where to eat, a Cooley says “well, we could . . . ,” it actually means “I would rather be drawn and quartered.”
    I guess they must be a diplomatic bunch.

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