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February 22, 1985 - Image 41

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-02-22

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

particularly Quixotic. He'd heard that one
of Begin's aides had made some unkind
comments about Robert Lipshutz. "I
knew the guy," says Charney, "and he's
a kidder but he wouldn't . have said
anything like that about Lipshutz." Com-
pelled by the injustice of the slur, Charney
arranged an introduction to Lipshutz so he
could set the record straight.
An unofficial liaison between Israel and
the United States, Charney became a
trusted source who not only relayed infor-
mation but also offered personal opinions.
For instance, while Carter, Begin, Sadat
and their respective entourages were
closeted at Camp David, Charney stayed
in New York where he got frequent phone
calls from Weizman.
"Ezer wanted certain messages and sig-
nals to get through to the Americans,"
Charney writes. "After I had mulled over
our conversation I would sort out exactly
what should or should not be passed along.
If I determined the situation called for it
I would dial the White House number and
speak to Bob (Lipshutz). Bob, in turn,
would call Camp David on a secured line
to convey to the President whatever infor-
mation I had passed along to him, usually
via Bill Quandt. Ezer's intent was to
soften the American position and make
the_Administration more amenable to an
understanding of Israel's stand."
Charney was also valuable as someone
who could gauge the volatility of the
Israeli public mood and translate it into
pointed questions of his own. One such
query, on October 27, 1978, read: "In the
negotiations the American representatives
have been much more aggressive about
the West Bank issue than the Egyptians.
If that is accurate, why is that so?"
Special Counsel offers some interesting
comparisons between the sometimes sharp
comments in Charney's memos to Lip-
shutz and the gentler versions that Lip-
shutz sent to Carter.
Also nice are the glimpses of minutia on
which political pyramids stand. For in-
stance, during a tense, anti-climatic period
_in 1978, Charney met with Bill _Quandt,
assistant to the president's national
security advisor. He assessed Quandt as
being "genuinely mystified by Menachem
Begin. It seemed...he could not plumb the
man's character." Charney suggested that
the President send Begin warm Chanukah
greetings, and though Quandt was skep-
tical, the greetings went out and were
appreciated.
Special Counsel is full of the kinds of
details that give any documentary the zing
of realism.Before the Camp David signing,
Charney recalls how the negotiators were
beset with semantic problems. To sur-
mount one such quandry, the final English
and Arabic treaties read "Gulf of Aqaba"
where the Hebrew papers showed "Gulf of
Eilat."
Unfortunately, the book has innumer-
able details of another kind. Most readers
of political history will be surprised to find
information on Charney's high school bas-
ketball successes and a bit part he once
had in a Western movie. But there they
are, photographically documented, rank-
ing along with Middle Eastern affairs of
state. A description of a party, justifiable
because of the political figures who at-
tended, rambles on to include the author's
meeting a beautiful Israeli girl and con-
cludes with: "Politics aside, it developed
into quite a party." Then there are the
names of absolutely everyone Charney

talked to, including secretaries, wives, and
children.
Most distracting of all, Charney hasn't
passed up an opportunity to toot his own
horn. He boasts in print continually about
such things as getting prized tickets to a
political dinner or about being allowed to
park his car in a V.I.P. lot. His friends
open "good" champagne and live in apart-
ments with "fabulous views of the Metro-
politan Museum of Art and Central Park."
And it seems that every kind word anyone

Friday, February 22, 1985

ever said or wrote about Leon Charney as
a special counsel is in Special Counsel.

Having read only the first third of the
book before meeting the author, I was ex-
pecting someone rather flamboyant...lots
of gold jewelry, if you know what I mean.
But in person, Charney was low-key, con-
servatively dressed, and spoke with an
earnestness that made it easy to under-
stand why he was culled from the pack.
Over coffee, Charney was unruffled by

At the White House, President Jimmy Carter congratulates Charney as his close friend, Israeli
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, looks on.

He assessed
Quandt as being
"genuinely
mystified by
Menachem
Begin. It
seemed...he
could not plumb
the man's
character."

.

Charney's "White House connection" was Bob
Lipshutz, right the President's counsel, who
posed with the attorney in the latter's office.

questions that intimated his book might
be overly-boastful.
"I wanted to show what molded me to
be in such a difficult position...what kind
of character goes and does this thing,"
Charney says to explain the highly per-
sonal parts of his book. The high school
basketball victory and the acting part, he
feels, were good experiences that formed
his character, as did the awful experience
of being stabbed by an anti-Semitic youth
at the age of 14. Charney admits he has
been criticized for name-dropping, but
says he thinks people will be fascinated to
"hear it all." Besides, he adds, "why
should I be the arbiter of who's important
and who's not. Maybe Lipshutz' secretary
thinks she did as much for the peace pro-
cess as anyone else."
Charney admits he wrote Special
Counsel because it was painful living as
"an unsung hero." "Look what Camp
David did to me," Charney says, pointing
to a back-cover photo of himself with
Carter and_ Weizman. "I was 40 pounds
heavier." The constant travelling and the
necessity of keeping his activities secret
were hardships that took their toll.
Besides that, the international commuting
and other expenses were entirely out-of-
pocket. For all of this, Charney would like
some credit. And credit he is getting, not
only from his own pen, but in the form of
glowing reviews froM the likes of Jimmy
Carter and Hamilton jordan. Yeshiva
University has awarded him its first
Distinguished Alumnus Award.
But Charney also wrote the book
because he is honestly amazed by what he
was able to accomplish and feels others
will share his wonderment. "It is incom-

Continued on next page

41

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