Zvi Rafiah was born and raised in Israel. He attended the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, majoring in the History of Modern East and also Arab Literature and Language. After serving his compulsory time in the military he joined the Israeli foreign service where he served in Teheran, Iran and Ankara, Turkey. He was then sent to Washington where he was was asked to institutionalize the Congressional Liaison Office of the Embassy. While serving in Washington, Rafiah attended Georgetown University where he got his Master's Degree. After serving six years, three more than the average, he retired to Israel and started his own business as a consultant to Israeli businesses in dealing with the United States, mainly in Washington.
Rafiah met Wilson during both of their service in Washington. Rafiah felt that Wilson was unusual because unlike most Congressmen, Wilson took a hands on approach when it came to business, rather than delegate and expect everyone to come to him. Rafiah served as a means of communications between Wilson and Israel and often attended official meetings with him in Israel as well as other countries.
Interviewers' Names: Paul J. P. Sandul and Laura Blackburn
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted via telephone with the interviewers in Nacogdoches, Texas and Rafiah in Washington, D.C.
Context Notes: As this interview takes places via a landline and cell phone, at times the phone cuts out and some words cannot be heard or are muddled. At times it is also possible to hear a conversation in the background or on another line and it is also possible to hear the interviewers writing notes. Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas
Tapes and Interview Record: The original recordings of the interview and a full transcript are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. [Session 1, March 3]
Transcription Notes: The policy of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project has been to eliminate false starts and crutch words from transcriptions when determined not to affect the meaning and flow of the spoken word. Obviously, and admittedly, this is a subjective endeavor and all care was taken to maintain the integrity of the interview.
The interviewers Paul J. P. Sandul, M. Scott Sosebee, and Laura Blackburn are identified as SANDUL, SOSEBEE, and BLACKBURN, respectively. Kathleen Murphy is identified as MURPHY.
SANDUL: Hello Zvi. Can you hear me?
RAFIAH: I can hear you very well, can you hear me?
SANDUL: Yes we can.
RAFIAH: Great. Excellent. So we can start.
SANDUL: Yes, yes we can start. I'm just going to make an official statement for the recording so later on when we listen to it people will know who we all are and what we're doing.
RAFIAH: Including me, they will know who I am right?
SANDUL: Exactly, exactly.
RAFIAH: I want to know how you are going to describe me. . .
RAFIAH: . . . be nice to me when you describe me [laughter].
SANDUL: Well, actually you going to, I'm going to do that by asking you some questions about your background so you can do it yourself. How's that?
RAFIAH: Now before we start, do you think we will be finished by noon time at the latest?
SANDUL: At the latest. Usually these things go about an hour, I've had them go two hours but I will make sure. . .
SANDUL: . . . it will not go any longer.
RAFIAH: Two hours or one hour, I'm asking no more than two hours please.
SANDUL: Okay. Done.
RAFIAH: I have [unintelligible to go?] to an engagement that I have to attend to and I must leave at twelve at the latest.
SANDUL: Of course, understood.
RAFIAH: Thank you. Thank you. Okay, I'm ready.
SANDUL: Okay, well my name is Paul Sandul, it is March 3, 2012. I'm an assistant professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, which is home to the East Texas Research Center that houses Representative Charlie Wilson's official archival collection. And I am the director of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project. I'm here with graduate student Laura Blackburn and we're interviewing. . .
RAFIAH: Hello, Laura.
SANDUL: . . . and we're interviewing Zvi, uh, how do I say your last name?
RAFIAH: What's your last name?
BLACKBURN: Yes, sir.
RAFIAH: Thank you. And you are a student or a teacher?
BLACKBURN: I'm a student.
RAFIAH: Okay. Good luck [laughter].
SANDUL: She had, she is, writing, you will be happy to know, a thesis on Charlie Wilson and she is the first student researcher to be using these oral histories.
RAFIAH: Ah. When you have something published please send me a copy, I am very interested in Charlie.
BLACKBURN: I will.
RAFIAH: Thank you. Okay. . .
SANDUL: She is smiling ear to ear [laughter]. Umm okay. Well I wanted to start off with asking a little bit about your, your own background if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and maybe take us up to the time when you first met Charlie but it would really help us to know a little bit about your own background.
RAFIAH: By all means. My name is Zvi Rafiah, I am Israeli, born in Israel, grew up in Israel, took my Bachelor's degree at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, majoring in modern, in the History of Modern East and also Arabic, Arab Literature and Language. And I, after doing my military service, which is compulsory in Israel, we, I joined the Israeli foreign office, foreign service and my first assignment abroad was in Teheran, Iran but of course under the Shah not under the Mullahs, that was in the, I would say early sixties. As you can see I am not a very young man anymore [laughter]. And from Teheran I was posted in Ankara, Turkey. . .
RAFIAH: . . . and then I went back to Israel, spent some years in the Israeli foreign service in Israel and then I was sent to Washington and I started, I would say, I, I was asked to institutionalize the Congressional Liaison Office of the Embassy.
SANDUL: Now what year was this?
RAFIAH: I arrived in Washington in 1973, in the heat of summer [laughter] with my wife and three children, first time ever in the United States, never been there before, nor as a student, no relatives or family, no one [unintelligible] you know, whatever, I, I want to make sure, when I say I started the Congressional Liaison Office note, I don't mean to say that there were no contacts before with Congress but they [unintelligible].
RAFIAH: I started in as an office that had to maintain contact for the Embassy with both houses of Congress and both parties, in addition to that I also maintained contact with the dual political parties, the Republican and the Democratic. And no sooner had I arrived in Washington in 1973 war, which we call the Yom Kippur War. . .
RAFIAH: . . . started.
RAFIAH: And I felt like I was thrown, I mean I had taken lessons in swimming and all of a sudden somebody comes from behind and pushes me into the water, [laughter] here I am in a position that whether you can swim you survive, if you don't know to swim you drown.
RAFIAH: I survived and instead of staying for three years, which is the normal term, I mean period that you spend abroad as a diplomat, they kept me in Washington for six years. . .
SANDUL: Oh wow
RAFIAH: . . . and [we? they?] signed the peace treaty with Egypt.
RAFIAH: That was under President Carter.
RAFIAH: [Unintelligible, sounds like "On the White House lawn"] I went back to Israel and I retired from the diplomatic service and I started my own business as a consultant to Israeli businesses in dealing with the United States, mainly in Washington.
RAFIAH: I pretend to my Israeli contacts that I know how Washington works and. . .
RAFIAH: . . . they, for Israeli businesses and for the Israeli people in general, United States is a major, major area of concern, of dependence in a way if you wish and so I have been doing that for, since I left the government in 1980s so it's thirty, almost thirty-two years.
RAFIAH: Coming and going to Washington and other places in the United States. So much for myself [laughter]. Besides I should say that I am randomly called to comment on the Israeli radio and television on U.S.-Israeli relations. . .
SANDUL: Oh, okay.
RAFIAH: . . . and U.S. domestic politics, like elections and things like that.
SANDUL: Yeah I see you are a commentator quite often, is there a particular outlet that you continuously work for or is it just. . .
SANDUL: . . . various ones call you independently?
RAFIAH: No I don't work for any outlet.
RAFIAH: They know me, I am on the, a commentators list so to say.
RAFIAH: Now they will call me if I am available, if I am willing to talk about the certain subject, then I will say, 'alright' and I will go into the TV studio or speak on the phone from home if it's a radio interview and I do it, you know, I have no commitment to anyone.
RAFIAH: My only commitment to myself is to know what's going on here because it's also part of my business to know what's going on here.
SANDUL: Of course, of course.
RAFIAH: So much for myself [laughter].
SANDUL: Well now, I was led to understand, of course from George Crile's book that you first encountered, first met Charlie Wilson when he came calling to the Congressional, or you as the Congressional Liaison about the Yom Kippur War in '73.
RAFIAH: Yeah. That was [laughs] very unusual because normally we diplomats go to Congress, go to Capitol Hill if we have any business, any dealings with members of congress or staff members.
RAFIAH: Congressmen, Senators, they don't go to the Embassy, only if there is you know, Independence Day party or Prime Minister is having, I mean the Ambassador is throwing a party for a Prime Minister or something like that.
RAFIAH: That's more a kind of entertainment but if an Ambassador wants to talk to a member of Congress he goes to the Capitol Hill, the Prime Minister of Israel who's coming here next Monday . . .
RAFIAH: . . . he wants to meet with members of the Senate he [sound goes out on call] Senate and meet with them there.
RAFIAH: Very unusual, very unusual for a member of Congress to visit an Embassy or, during working hours [laughter]. If you are invited to a cocktail party at the Ambassador of Israel, that's normal, of course you will go there but you wouldn't come for a meeting at an Embassy, the Embassy will go to you. But low and behold [phone rings] I am getting a call when I am in my office, it's. . .
RAFIAH: . . . it's October some-1973, I get a call from our defense attaché's office at the Embassy and asking me if I know Charlie Wilson, the Congressman Charlie Wilson, to be honest at the time I didn't know who is Charlie Wilson. And he said, 'he says he coming, he's coming' you know this is Charlie Wilson's way, 'listen I'm coming,' he's coming to my office to get a briefing on the Yom Kippur War. So the defense attaché invites me to come up to his office and be there because I am the Congressional Liaison.
RAFIAH: So I go there and I wait and here is [laughs] a knock on the door and he is being introduced to us, a tall man with a Texan hat, [laughter] [unintelligible] boots, and something we never saw in an Embassy premise before. And he comes with a very, you know for me, it was a special accent.
RAFIAH: And he is coming in and introducing himself, 'I am Congressman Charlie Wilson from Texas. I am member of this and that committee,' by the way very important committees. . .
RAFIAH: . . . and, 'I would like to get a briefing on the war.'
SANDUL: And this is him, he's on Defense at this point right?
RAFIAH: He was, yeah, Defense Appropriations and Foreign Aid
RAFIAH: [Unintelligible] two. All, you know congress in general is very important to everyone and to every country but to Israel in particular it too important, more important committees, the Foreign Aid and the Defense Appropriation.
SANDUL: Of course.
RAFIAH: And so the Defense Attaché gives him the briefing and everything is fine and we chat a little bit and he left. And then a few days afterwards, I don't remember of course the exact date, it was in 1973, we get a call, I get a call as the Congressional Liaison from Mr. Wilson telling us that he is going to the Middle East. Middle East means Israel. So I remember saying, 'Hey, there are many unexploded bombs and mines and everything around, you know, he wanted to visit the battlefield.
RAFIAH: And the battlefield was still smoking but he said, 'No I am going.' And there he went! [Laughter.] I don't remember the exact date, you know of course we can find out when was it but it was very early, I mean, we were taken by surprise. And there he went, he went to Israel and of course he was treated very well as a Congressman by the Israeli authorities. . .
RAFIAH: . . . and he was taken to the South where the Egyptian front and then we was taken to the North, the Syrian front.
RAFIAH: And when he got back he gave me a picture, I don't know who took the picture, maybe him, maybe somebody else, of a destroyed Syrian tank.
RAFIAH: In, on the Golan Heights where was the main battlefield between Israel and Syria and he inscribed beneath "In the hope that this was the last war."
RAFIAH: Well was it? [Laughter.] I'm afraid not but at least that, it touched a lot, I must say, I showed it my friends at the Embassy and . . .
RAFIAH: But that's how it all started.
SANDUL: Well how, well okay, so speaking of Charlie giving you that picture, you know again, listening to other interviews and reading some literature on him, they talk often about he's motivated to be a champion of Israel out of both Cold War strategic concerns and out of a genuine affection for Israel. What was his conversations with you or what was your sense for why he was such a champion of Israel?
RAFIAH: Well, indeed he was a champion. I mean, I have been, he became my key contact in the House. We have many friends. We had many friends, we have many friends but Charlie was really a key friend. And we had many discussions, we used to see each other a lot socially.
RAFIAH: Me and my wife and our children, he knew each and every one of us. And of course this issue, the question that you raised came up. I think there were two moti-, you mentioned them actually.
RAFIAH: One, he saw Israel as the David against the Arab Goliath. He'd say it in this way, this is my expression, I don't recall him saying that but he gave the very distinct impression that Israel is a small country threatened, surrounded by enemies who attack her every now and then and Israel defends itself with its own blood and not asking for American troops to come to its rescue and he was impressed by the, how should I say this, tenacity, the courage of the Israelis.
RAFIAH: And of course Israel was on the right side of the map for Charlie.
RAFIAH: And so I believe this is the combination and he was very, so unusual in his approach but we touch on it later maybe.
RAFIAH: So that's my answer, I mean . . .
RAFIAH: . . . East, West, Israel on the right side of the map and David against Goliath.
SANDUL: Okay. Well you know, again, reading through some of the material it discusses that he sort of became dismayed after the eighty-two Lebanon situation and really in the book, George Crile was talking about how much he confided in you personally about all of this and I was wondering if you could speak to that a bit.
RAFIAH: Ah. When he came first to Israel in 1982 when the war with Lebanon started, he was very much enthusiastic because he was with us against the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] terrorist group.
RAFIAH: And he went to Lebanon and came back and was quite impressed so his first reaction was very positive and he conveyed his good reaction, his positive reaction to the Prime Minister of the time Menachem Begin and others and of course everybody knew he's great friend of [Tetra? Petra?]. But when Israel stayed, I don't know, and didn't quit, and stayed there longer than needed and then it became entangled in all kind of, what should I call it, mishappening, entangled, I put it this way, he didn't like the idea that Israel is occupying Lebanon.
RAFIAH: And he became angry and at some point he told me, "Look, I'm not going back to Israel." In the past he used to visit Israel a few times a year . . .
RAFIAH: . . . not just once. He loved Israel and he loved Israelis and he had many friends in Israel. All walks of life live, and culture, and politics, and military, and whatever. Then he told me one day, "You see," he said, "I am your friend. You can come and visit with me any time you want and we are the same friends that we used to be and will be but I am not going back to Israel because I don't like the way you handled the Lebanon war." And I conveyed it back to Israel, obviously. And I told them but you know, a Prime Minister doesn't make a decision based on what a Congressman or a Senator likes or dislikes.
RAFIAH: But it was, we all grieved over that I can say because he, we knew he was a great friend but over time I think they reconciled and then he started coming back and it, there was one development in the meantime. . .
RAFIAH: . . . he became very friendly with Egypt and Pakistan. . .
RAFIAH: . . . and I have to say to his credit, I was aware of all of his, not the details of his dealings but I was aware that he's visiting Egypt, visiting Pakistan, he has good relationship with the leadership there in Tetra [phonetic] but he insisted in keeping his close relationship and friendship with Israel and he told me many times, not that he had to, that by befriending Egypt and Pakistan, it does not affect his support and friendship for Israel.
RAFIAH: And indeed that's the way he acted when anything came up which was an Israeli matter.
SANDUL: Okay, actually you bring me to a great point, in his relationship with Egypt there's a, quite a scene described in the book and then portrayed in the movie, although I want to ask you about and a little later your reaction to the movies and book, but there's a scene described early in 1983 which Wilson brings in Carol Shannon, the belly dancer, first to Israel and then you join them . . .
RAFIAH: [unintelligible, sounds like "yes"].
SANDUL: . . . to Egypt. And I really want to know if you could elaborate on what was described there, we have everything, you know, from secret, sensitive dealings going on to a belly dancer present and I wanted to know if you could elaborate a little bit on that.
RAFIAH: Yes. I would say [laughs] I'm thinking how to say it. Charlie, as far as I can remember, never came to Israel alone.
RAFIAH: That means, he was accompanied by a lady friend.
RAFIAH: But, and we met all of them. He introduced them to us, to me and my wife. I have to say that as close as I was to Charlie, so was my wife because we became really very close friends. I don't want to family but you know, close to family.
RAFIAH: A very special relationship that I don't have with anybody else on Capitol Hill as I had with Charlie. And because it's also a matter of his character, of his personality, no, just me being a charmer, it's him that, excuse me if I call myself a charmer, which I don't mean to [laughter], I mean to say, Charlie was a special human being. Okay, so one day he comes with a belly dancer [laughter]. A belly dancer! "Zvi I am going to Egypt," had the invitation of the Minister of War, forgot his name, anyhow it's in the book. . .
SANDUL: Yeah, it's Muhammad Abu Ghazala?
RAFIAH: Ghazala. Muhammad Abu Ghazala, Field Marshall or Marshall, something like that.
RAFIAH: Okay and he invites me, my wife Maria [phonetic], and we have common friends, good friends of ours, very, the leading, I would say the star actress on the Israeli stage and movie . . .
RAFIAH: . . . Ellal Magor [phonetic spelling] and her husband Jankale [phonetic spelling]
SANDUL: Oh, okay.
RAFIAH: He invites all the two couples to come with him to Egypt as guests of the Egyptian government or the Egyptian Minister of War.
SANDUL: Wow and that was quite . . .
RAFIAH: Very unusual.
SANDUL: . . . a lot for you right?
RAFIAH: Very unusual but we had to take it but I said to my wife and to Ellal Magor [phonetic spelling] who came with us, eventually her husband couldn't come but she came with us and I said, "Look," no Charlie would tell her, "Don't worry, you are under the protection of the U.S. government."
RAFIAH: And I said to my wife and our friend, "Let's go! I mean what can be wrong with Charlie? We will be always with him. We won't move without him and beside, the Ministry of War is protecting us." So we went there but before that Sharon, she was practicing in our room . . . [laughter]
SANDUL: Oh wow.
RAFIAH: . . . I have a couple of friends, others who didn't go with us, who happened to be at our home in Jerusalem at the time that we used to live and she, she, she took, she carried a tape recorder with her . . .
RAFIAH: . . . to play the tapes and she dance [laughter]. To her it was a rehearsal you know, an exercising. For us it was a performance [laughter] and we, to tell you the truth, that was the first time and the last time in our life that somebody danced in our room, you know? [Laughter.] Then we went to Egypt and they put us in a special quarter at the Marriott Hotel, which is a very nice hotel and we received at the airport by Defense people, I don't know who they were, took, drove us to the hotel and we had, I don't remember how many days, close to a week.
RAFIAH: Beautiful. I mean we enjoyed it very much and they drove us, flew us over to the Southern part of Egypt and visited [famous archaeological] excavation at Petra. However, let me put it, you asked me about the event in Egypt.
RAFIAH: First of all, we, they put us in a quarter in a kind of, you know with a closed entrance that leads to different rooms.
RAFIAH: Shannon, who wanted to practice for the big event [laughter] took the tape recorder into the corridor, which was empty . . .
RAFIAH: . . . turned it on and started dancing [laughter]. The guards, the guards who were guarding the entrance to the quarter have never seen [in their life?] a belly dancer in the corridor of the hotel so [laughter] the left their posts and went to look at Shannon. But Shannon didn't care, she was a very nice, she is believe, I lost contact with her after that, she is, she's a very nice lady, very gentle, very easy going. You wouldn't believe that's she's a dancer if you talk to her [laughter]. And then one evening we went to restaurant and a nightclub I [unintelligible] exactly as guests of the Deputy Minister of War.
RAFIAH: And there she danced. It was the best, the peak of the visit as far as Shannon was concerned.
RAFIAH: And everybody looked and applauded and she did, you know I know, we were mesmerized by her performance [laughter]. She was a true dancer and everybody was happy and the happiest of all was Charlie.
RAFIAH: So that's about Shannon.
SANDUL: Okay. Well you know, going on to Egypt with him . . .
SANDUL: . . . and this being the sort of, obviously the escalation of his involvement with what's been described as Charlie Wilson's War and his involvement in aiding the Mujahedeen . . .
SANDUL: . . . in Afghanistan, how did Wilson talk to you and specifically perhaps Israel on the plight of the Mujahedeen?
RAFIAH: Yeah. First of all when we were in Egypt you mentioned it, we didn't stay with him twenty-four hours obviously. At some point we were going to the archaeological museum and he had his own meetings and as I understand he was exploring the possibility of getting some military equipment from Egypt to ship over to Pakistan to the Mujahedeen. He told me about his support for the Mujahedeen with the declared aim of pushing the Russians out of Afghanistan.
RAFIAH: I was aware of it of course. I was not aware of the details of his dealings with the Egyptians or the others but what kept him busy, he told me about it, at some point when he came to Israel, he asked me if I could put him in touch with one of the defense companies in, there are three major government owned defense companies in Israel.
RAFIAH: One is Rafael, which is the missile defense house of Israel. One is the Israel Aircraft Industries, which specializes, among other things, in drones. And on is the Israel Military Industries, which is the main manufacturer in weapons, [unintelligible] kind of weapons.
RAFIAH: And he asked me to get him in touch with Israel Military Industries, which is called I.M.I., the initials I-M-I.
RAFIAH: And I arranged a meeting and he asked them whether they can build a kind of a mortar that can be de-assembled, mounted on a mule, taken up to wherever, and then assembled again and able [unintelligible] shooting, firing.
RAFIAH: And they went into some research and they told him, it all was done through me, and they said, "Okay, we are ready to do this," but then he said, "Call it off."
RAFIAH: And I was wondering, why call it off? And later on I found out that because the CIA was involved in that . . .
RAFIAH: . . . all this, apparently, and I got it second hand . . .
RAFIAH: . . . but Charlie confirmed it, the soldiers didn't want any Israeli involvement in fighting the Mujahedeen, I mean helping the Mujahedeen to fight out the Soviets.
RAFIAH: And okay, Charlie said, "No deal, no deal." That's how it all ended. Other than that, I, to the best of my knowledge and if it relates to Charlie, I was aware of everything that Charlie did in Israel, there was no other involvement of Israel as such in the fights against the Soviets . . .
RAFIAH: . . . in Afghanistan.
SANDUL: Well that, that raises the questions which. . .
RAFIAH: [unintelligible] which will, how should I say, clarify my role here.
RAFIAH: Charlie, out all those years and throughout all his visits and there were plenty of visits, as I've said before, except for those years which he didn't come but when he came, he came a number of times a year, I was his unofficial ambassador.
RAFIAH: I mean he would be met at the airport by a representative of the Embassy, collect his per diem or instructions or whatever, I don't know what was there, and then all the meetings with the Israeli officials from the Prime Minister down I would attend, I would arrange and at his request I would attend.
RAFIAH: And I was happy to do that.
SANDUL: What was the motivation I guess, on your part or perhaps Israel's or perhaps IMI's part to want to help the Mujahedeen?
RAFIAH: That's very important that you raised it. Our interest was helping the United States of America.
RAFIAH: Actually that's the prime concern of Israel then and now and I for one, if I may interject, I will, I always in my commentaries or otherwise when I speak to this group or another I say, "America is protecting Israel, we should take American interest into consideration as well."
RAFIAH: And when you ask us, through a Congressman that is a great supporter of Israel and we know that he is not doing it single handedly, I mean he does but with the cooperation of the CIA or whatever and much of it is written in the book, obviously, we consider it a must to help.
RAFIAH: It's not against the Soviets for the Mujahedeen, we did not know the Mujahedeen, and the Mujahedeen unfortunately after Charlie's period at work, they are not a great friend of Israel to say the least.
RAFIAH: It is for the United States of America.
SANDUL: Yeah, okay. Well mentioning this stuff being in the book, I'm interested, how did you feel how you, as well as Charlie, were portrayed in both the book and the movie?
RAFIAH: Okay. The movie is based on the book.
RAFIAH: I was told when I consulted, some friends happened to meet a lawyer who was happening to visit Tel Aviv University, I don't remember his name but he was a lawyer from L.A. who was very familiar with [unintelligible] business.
RAFIAH: I consulted with him and I asked him, the movie based on the book and is not accurate in a few ways that I'll mention right away and I asked him, they didn't consult me . . .
RAFIAH: . . . before you know, producing the movie and they played my roles anyway they wanted and he told me, "Look, if you have a lot of money and you want to fight Hollywood, go ahead and spend your money on that," but he didn't recommend to me to file a lawsuit and conduct a long, you know . . .
RAFIAH: . . . trial with them. In any event, I can tell you for a fact, I am not, have never been a Mossad [Israeli secret service] agent.
RAFIAH: As I am portrayed in the movie. I am also not an arms dealer. I am a consultant to Israeli defense and other industries but my contribution, my, I mean my contributions so to say is I know the political scene in Washington. How do you get the budget approved or appropriated. I am not the maven in technical matters, I don't know how to fire a pistol even.
RAFIAH: If I have meetings in Washington that deals with a weapons systems somebody comes with me and introduces it! So these two points I, it's very important for me to clarify, I have never been a Mossad agent and I have never been an arms dealer and I am not.
SANDUL: Now did you ever have conversations with Charlie about this and about what was written in the book and I know the timing may have not been too long but about the movie as well.
RAFIAH: Well as for the book, Charlie himself requested that I sit down with George Crile the author and tell him anything I wanted.
RAFIAH: I did sit down with George, we had a long conversation only once, I wasn't very happy in talking about myself for a book, I [unintelligible] to tell the truth, I don't like to be exposed, you know?
RAFIAH: Charlie, Charlie insisted that I do and I also guess that he, that George was getting information from everybody else so there's no point in not telling him. So I told him all I think, all I knew about Charlie, everything he asked me. And I read the book, obviously afterwards, and the War in Afghanistan, the Mujahedeen you know, that prompted the, I think it was, wasn't it 9/11 that prompted the publication of the book and . . .
SANDUL: Yeah it was not too far after. I think Crile had been working on it for quite a while but you're right, it came out right in the aftermath of 9/11.
RAFIAH: Right. No, the book was written before but didn't come out for some reason [unintelligible] became a hit because of 9/11.
SANDUL: Yeah that sounds about right to me too.
RAFIAH: I read the book and I have to tell you my impression, the book, as far as I know, what I know about Charlie and his dealings and, of course, dealings with me, the book I can say is more or less accurate.
RAFIAH: It's a good source, it's a good resource and if anyone asked me "What should I know about Charlie," the first thing I would tell them, "Read the book." 'Well, do I need to see the movie?" I will tell them, "Yeah, go and see the movie for your pleasure but don't take it as an historical resource that you can build any theory on or anything on it." I would say that, "The movie is, you know, entertaining."
RAFIAH: Nothing more. Charlie I must say to my, I regret it to this very day, he at that time he was already after his heart transplant and not in very good shape . . .
RAFIAH: . . . he would go to Hollywood and be there on the scene and invited me over and meet Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks and all the big names . . .
RAFIAH: . . . the reason I declined and I regret it. Anyhow.
SANDUL: Fair enough. You know, you were mentioning how close you were socially, your wife, your children are friends with, [clears throat] excuse me, with Charlie Wilson, and at the same time you're talking about him bringing a new girl with him to Israel. How much of the "Good Time Charlie' moniker is really something of an invention of the media versus something that was real and how did you feel about that as his friend?
RAFIAH: Well Charlie, about the media, I didn't notice, you know, great stories about Charlie in the media except when he was investigated about, you know, the story about. . .
RAFIAH: . . . he was acquitted of course about cocaine and I believe it was in [unintelligible]. Charlie Wilson was not a media story in Israel every time he came for a visit. For no particular reason as I recall. In the United States, you know, I can make no comment because I was not here continuously, I came and went and Charlie, I can say one thing or a few things about Charlie, which I think is important. Charlie is, was a good man, a good heart man. He was very generous . . .
RAFIAH: . . . in treating other people including the girls that came with him and the staff of his, I mean I'm sure you've talked to his staff members . . .
RAFIAH: . . . you have talked to, and I saw him, how intrigued he cares about the private life, he can be of help you know, if they needed this and needed that. He was extremely generous man. Extremely. And that's why both my wife and myself, we fell in love with him, with this human being.
RAFIAH: And it went along very well with his crisis and problems. You know we knew his first wife?
SANDUL: Okay Jerry?
RAFIAH: Jerriwell. Jerry. And they parted amicably. And at least when we talked to Jerri or we talked to Charlie, they didn't get along well and they parted but they were both, how can you not be friendly with Charlie Wilson? That's the question [laughter]. And he, he took, he stood strong even in very dire times. I remember when he was under investigation he was very stressed even in one of his visits to Israel. He was late to a party I threw at my home for him and a lot of people came to meet Charlie Wilson, he became a legend in Israel [laughter] and he was late and late and late and late and you know, and I called and the line was busy in his hotel room and then he came an hour later [phone cuts out] waited for him and he was on the phone with his lawyer in Washington.
RAFIAH: But anyhow, he came out of it and we remember the "Good Time Charlie" in the broad sense of it.
SANDUL: Okay. Now you maintained your relationship, did you also get to know Barbara as well?
RAFIAH: Oh yeah very much so. Barbara we knew through Charlie of course in the beginning of our relationship with Charlie.
SANDUL: Oh okay.
RAFIAH: She was dating him or they were dating, I don't remember exactly the circumstances but we met Barbara then, she was a ballet dancer and very pretty, still is, and then she disappeared from the horizon of Charlie.
RAFIAH: So we remember her well but our paths didn't cross and then one day Charlie tells us that he is dating Barbara and one, oh no no no, [laughter] yeah, remind me of telling you about a wedding ceremony in the [unintelligible] in Afghanistan.
RAFIAH: But that's before that. But then he told us he's going out with Barbara, one day I get an invitation to Charlie and Barbara's wedding.
SANDUL: Oh okay.
RAFIAH: And I was invited and I came over, it was a very limited, closed you know, kind of ceremony, very few people came, really close friends and I was a friend, honored and privileged to be one of the close circle you know?
SANDUL: Yeah, yeah.
RAFIAH: It was in an inn in Virginia and all the night there, it was a very nice celebration, Charlie was as happy as I could see him happy and ever since then we used to see Charlie and Barbara, Charlie and, even today we meet with Barbara every now and then when we are here. Yeah. And we knew her from before.
RAFIAH: Was no surprise except that she was as pretty as she was years ago [laughter].
SANDUL: Well speaking as a friend, how did you see Charlie as a family and friend, as a family man? As a friend? His relationship with not only you but his own family and friends?
RAFIAH: I met his sister in Waco I believe she lives. . .
SANDUL: Oh yeah, yeah Sharon.
RAFIAH: Sharon. That's the only think I knew about his family. . .
RAFIAH: . . . and I met [unintelligible] through him of course. But Charlie was very generous to our family. He loved kids.
RAFIAH: Once when we were at the Embassy here he invited Maria, my wife, and me to go with him to a [unintelligible] area in West Virginia and it was a weekend and I don't know how it came out, we couldn't leave our little child, our son he was six or seven years or eight years old, I'm not sure. And we drove together in his car to West Virginia.
RAFIAH: And he was very kind to our son and our son made, he was teasing our son about something and our son low and behold he didn't have any respect for a Congressman. You don't address a Congressman like this [laughter]. Said, "Charlie, I am going to give you a quiz about the capitals of the states of America."
RAFIAH: I'm not sure whether Charlie asked him and he gave the answer or my son asked Charlie about it but there was quite a fight and Charlie lost [laughter]. And, but you know the interaction between the two was fantastic. I mean you could see that he likes children I mean, you know how you treat people that. . .
SANDUL: Do you think he regretted that or wanted children or he just enjoyed genuinely other people's children.
RAFIAH: He never confided his things about children.
RAFIAH: He came to the conclusion, this is my interpretation, that after he had his heart troubles and after he got, you know it's written in the book, that he was embarrassed and there was a problem and he was that, we knew that he was not very well.
RAFIAH: I think he decided enough with the you know, travelling each time with somebody else, he needs to find a place [phone cuts out] place. Barbara was a beautiful, perfect match for him.
RAFIAH: Saw them a lot together and they, we, you can't miss a feeling of happiness and a feeling good etcetera. I don't know if he missed a family or not, he never told us about it.
RAFIAH: One could guess from the way he, you were watching him treating other people that probably he did.
SANDUL: Okay. Now you said to remind you to ask you about a wedding ceremony in Afghanistan?
RAFIAH: The girl that he was dating, I'm trying to remember a name, I know she was of Ukrainian family.
RAFIAH: In the United States and he was dating her. One day Charlie tells me, 'Mark the date,' whatever it was I don't remember the exact date.
RAFIAH: "The date and what should be . . . marked at the date, I'm going to marry this young lady."
SANDUL: About what year was this?
RAFIAH: It was after of course the Mujahedeen drove away the Soviets [circa 1989].
RAFIAH: And sometime in the eighties.
RAFIAH: I don't remember really. I can find out you know because it's written somewhere. He invite me and my wife to a wedding ceremony [unintelligible] Peshawar, the passage between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
RAFIAH: I tell him, "Charlie," said, "Yes? Peshawar." I said to him, "No, no. I am an Israeli, excuse me, I am not going there." "Hey! You are under the protection of the American government, I am a Congressman, you will be protected. Don't worry." And he insisted.
RAFIAH: And I say to my wife, my wife said, "Over my dead body. I am not going there to the Peshawar Pass. Never mind if it were in Kivachi [phonetic] or you know, some other place." Eventually the wedding was called off and Charlie left her and now it's just a fairytale from the history of Charlie Wilson [laughter].
SANDUL: How funny. Now actually there was a couple of other questions I was going to let Laura ask you if that's alright?
RAFIAH: Sure. Of course.
BLACKBURN: There's some people who, I guess there's different political philosophies attributed to Charlie . . .
BLACKBURN: . . . in regards to the war in particular, some people consider him a warhawk, like the Cold Warrior against Russia and that was why he insisted on helping whereas others kind of see him as a man of the people, like it was a humanitarian issue. Where or what was your impression? Which side did he fall on? Was he more of the conservative or liberal on that front?
RAFIAH: First of all I have to say that Charlie was an avid reader of all histories. He read many books on Churchill and others, all related to war. He may have read also fiction and others, I'm not saying he didn't, but what I knew of his was war was of much interest for him, graduate of the Naval Academy of course, etcetera. Now as for his, I would say, breaking character, I've seen, based on my experience of course, my experience may have been very limited concern, I mean in comparison with others. On defense matters, on security matters, on foreign affairs he was very conservative. Defense, Soviet's our enemy, we have to push them out from everywhere they have some stronghold or footstep or whatever. On domestic issues I found him to be very liberal. How else can a gentleman from a district in East Texas which is made of a black community and not so [unintelligible] and rednecks, etcetera, you know that better than me of course [laughter].
SANDUL: Oh yeah we live with it every day.
RAFIAH: How could he be elected if he were not good for them on domestic matters? And you know, thanks to Charlie, he once invited me to his district and I flew over there, he wasn't there [coughs] but other people took care of me and I am realize each community represents and I am saying, it's not only because of that, he was liberal in domestic matters of health care, social security, jobs, etcetera, etcetera, and very hardliner, conservative on security and defense matter and foreign affairs. That's my impression.
BLACKBURN: Okay. Let's see. Did Charlie ever discuss any particular political issues concerning Texas or the United States in general with you?
RAFIAH: Oh yeah a lot, a lot. Because when you support Israel as strongly as he did, you have to talk to him [unintelligible] etcetera. Charlie Wilson, and I speak for all Israelis, I take the liberty to do that, Charlie has been a strong supporter for Israel upfront, [unintelligible hitting?] members of Congress in his support for Israel and we talked about it at the beginning of our conversation why. But I say that it was no matter that related to Israel that wasn't brought up not first then among the first with Charlie. He [unintelligible] the foreign policy matter, foreign aid matter, security matter, Charlie for instance in that, in this, I was involved, was very interested in defense cooperation between the two countries. And Israel had a lot of technologies that were being developed in Israel because of these reasons, we were facing threats of the time and we had our own defense industry. But he was always interested in how to get Israeli technology into the United States, how to form you know, what kind, he was not getting into the business part of it but he was getting about, how can the United States benefit from Israel as much as Israel benefits from the United States, mainly in the defense area. Was very much interested in that. And when he was unhappy with Israel we had long discussions and sometimes I agreed with him. I am not, you know, an official representative, a spokesman for the government. I am Israeli, I love Israel, and I will always try to defend Israel when it is unjustly criticized. But our relationship was very open. He did not hesitate to criticize the government of Israel and I did not hesitate to tell him that "you are wrong on this or that" [laughter]. That's, you know when you have true friends, you speak freely. That's the way I felt with Charlie. Charlie got a reputation among the Israeli community here and in Israel in general that he is a true friend you can rely on and criticism, I don't remember any particular time except when he was unhappy with the was that we conducted the Lebanon business and he left no doubt in the mind of anyone because he just didn't come and people were asking 'Where is he?' Before I forget, there is one element that I should mention and that's the Lavi plane project in Israel. I don't know if it came up in your questions but I think if we talk about Israel we should mention that.
SANDUL: Yes. The fighter jet.
RAFIAH: Sure. The fighter jet that didn't come into being. Eventually.
SANDUL: Yeah, okay.
RAFIAH: Laura did I answer your question maybe?
BLACKBURN: Oh yes you did. I wasn't sure. . .
SANDUL: Well okay speak of that because it's, it's very interesting that there, and then we'll dovetail into a second question . . .
SANDUL: . . . so that is, so he's working with you to get the Lavi fighter jet because U.S. funds are not usually given to buy or usually only given to buy U.S. made weapons and he's trying to get this waved and after you maybe answer the, his involvement in trying to get the Lavi built. Also did he ever discuss with you or what were your perceptions about his sort of straddling the line of what was appropriate for a Congressman to be doing based on his Constitution, Constitutional powers?
RAFIAH: Oh. I took it for granted that a Congressman knows what is right and what is wrong.
RAFIAH: I did feel that this is, although I took my Master's Degree at Georgetown University in American Government and I learned the Constitution and thank God for that, and all the others, you know the elements of that serve as a background to daily work on The Hill, as I did for the Embassy and then later on as a consultant. But it was not for me to tell Charlie 'you are right or you are wrong,' I mean I would assume that he knows what's good and what's bad and what should be done and what should not be done. So, it's respect, I think what, I did ask for his help when I thought he could help and he was a great helper and it didn't come in the way of his doing any other things with any other Israel- I mean American companies or his constituents or, there was never a conflict. I for one would never put him in a conflict situation of course. That much I knew. But never check his [unintelligible] he knew what he was doing and you know, even today if talk to a Congressman or a member of the administration do I ask him if it's right, is it wrong? If it's wrong he must tell me it's wrong but I never raise it, I try to know in advance what is right and what is wrong. So the issue didn't come up.
RAFIAH: I trusted him. Now the Lavi. The Lavi was a, maybe I can say of a gentleman in Israel who is, whose name is Moshe Arens, at the time he was Minister of Defense, he was also Ambassador to the United States at a certain time.
SANDUL: How do you spell his last name?
RAFIAH: His last name was Arens, A-R-E-N-S as in showgirl.
SANDUL: Thank you.
RAFIAH: And first name was Moshe, M-O-S-H-E. Big name is Mischa, we call him Mischa.
RAFIAH: I mean those that know him well would call him Mischa. And Mischa was a great supporter, he's an engineer, he worked at the Israeli Aircraft Industry, and he was a great supporter of producing the Lavi fighter jet in Israel. But Israel did not have the money so. . .
RAFIAH: . . . they start of getting to Congress. One day at a restaurant named Charlie's Trap. . .
RAFIAH: . . . Charlie and I, well no I was having dinner there with a friend who was a staff member of the House Appropriations Committee. Charlie was there as well, I don't remember, he came by, happened to be there but the three of us were sitting together at the table and discussing Lavi. I was not a mission for the Lavi. I knew about that but nobody else need to get involved and I wasn't.
RAFIAH: At dinner. I think it was reported in the Washington Post at the time. It was a story, a full story of the, how the Lavi was created and financed [phone glitch] of the meeting at Charlie's Trap is there. You look at the Washington Post archives I'm sure you'll find it. But I saw it, I read it at the time. And we were kind of confirming how to help Israel and Charlie said, 'Ok we'll do it.' And when Charlie says 'We'll do it,' it's done. And eventually the United States appropriated 500 million dollars.
SANDUL: Okay. Wow.
RAFIAH: But it, the end of the story is that the government of Israel cancelled it.
SANDUL: Did it? Okay. And what was the, was there a particular reason for that?
RAFIAH: I think it was the relationship, American considerations, I would put it this way.
RAFIAH: I think your government was not very happy with that. I know that at the time Dov Zakheim, Mr. Dov Zakheim who was the at the Pentagon was . . .
RAFIAH: . . . very opposed to that. And he reflected the view of the American Defense Department, etcetera, and we didn't want to, the government of Israel didn't want to get into a crisis with the U.S.
SANDUL: Sure, sure.
RAFIAH: So they cancelled it.
SANDUL: Okay. Well talking about the United States' sort of political landscape in that regard, I know Laura had another question in that regard.
BLACKBURN:As the political landscape shifted from more liberal dominated to conservative, particularly following the [Republic Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt] Gingrich Revolution, did you notice any changes in Charlie or did he speak to you just about how that influenced him or possibly limits to what he could do as for, in comparison to before?
RAFIAH: You mean domestically here?
SANDUL: Domestically or even internationally was, how did he react both politically and personally to the Gingrich Revolution?
RAFIAH: I have to admit that I don't recall, maybe my memory fails me but I don't recall any, doesn't come to mind any particular reaction to that. I'm not sure about his relationship with Gingrich, I have to tell you. I don't want to speculate on something that I'm not, I will have to. . .
SANDUL: Of course.
RAFIAH: . . . ask for forgiveness for not answering the question. I just don't, I don't remember.
SANDUL: Oh no problem, no problem. Well actually as he was retiring did he give to you any reason why he was retiring?
RAFIAH: Yeah. Yeah. He said that he had enough. I know one thing he didn't like he was complaining to me, no sooner had he been elected, he had to start again fundraising. And he didn't like very much, he had to do it, he didn't like very calling and asking for money and he said, 'enough is enough,' and there was one, one where he had a tough competition . . .
RAFIAH: . . . tired and not physically but you know, I can understand it, I mean you have to be nice to people and I don't want to use other terms but sometimes [laughter] you don't like what you are doing and he confided in me that it was very hard on him and we know, we all know that every member of Congress, the House, the Senate, has to do it otherwise where will he get the money for the campaign? And Charlie said, "Okay I leave and I'll do and I'll be a consultant here and there and make some money and then retire." He had the plan to retire.
RAFIAH: But married he said, "That's it, I'm going back to Texas and I am going to spend the rest of my life there and make speeches," you know, like every other member, not the consultants any more once he goes to Texas. . .
RAFIAH: . . . but when he was here. And I used to meet a lot of him [unintelligible].
SANDUL: Okay, okay.
RAFIAH: [unintelligible] 700, that were . . .
SANDUL: Yeah, yeah. Now following his retirement and then of course following the events of 9/11, often people had criticized Charlie for getting weapons to the Mujahedeen. Did he ever discuss with you those charges that people were leveling against him for what later takes place in Afghanistan?
RAFIAH: Yeah. Well this is the way that he described it to me when we had conversations, I am now putting together comments from different conversations because we, never have a, hold a brainstorming of an issue. We meet, we go to dinner, we talk about different issues, but you know. . .
RAFIAH: . . . collect from here and from there. He did what he did helping the Mujahedeen with the blessing, eventually with the blessing of the U.S. government. He started it the way described in the book and then he got the government, the U.S. government behind him, of course Congress behind him. So [unintelligible] Charlie did it clandestinely or you know, singlehandedly, singlehandedly he did, he started it.
RAFIAH: His, he was very unhappy with the fact that after the Soviets left so the U.S. left as well.
RAFIAH: And that, I think it's reflected in the book and it also reflected in the last [laughs] seconds in the movie I think.
SANDUL: Yeah, yeah, yeah [laughter].
RAFIAH: Which is correct. He was very unhappy with that but you know, he did what he did and probably didn't say, "I'm tired," or whatever, but probably he said, "Enough is enough." How, you know how can a human being conduct two campaigns like the one he did? I mean one is enough for a human being in my view.
RAFIAH: What he did was a historical phenomenon you know?
SANDUL: Yeah, yeah.
RAFIAH: So he was unhappy that you left Afghanistan, that you should have stayed there, but we didn't go into the details, if you stayed what would you do? Etcetera, etcetera. But the idea was at that time, get the Russians out. Period. The job was done and the rest of it somebody else will take care of.
SANDUL: Okay, okay. Now to your knowledge did, did anybody in the Bush or even I guess for a small window there the Obama administration, did anybody ever contact him to ask him his thoughts on a region that he was, for the United States and for the Congress for all intents and purposes the expert?
RAFIAH: I'm not sure I got your question. Did anyone of us . . .
SANDUL: No. To your knowledge, did he ever discuss with you, if anybody ever from either the Bush or a small window of time Obama administrations ever try to contact him about Afghanistan or Pakistan with involvement over there? Because he's, he obviously would be someone to talk to.
RAFIAH: I don't recall him telling me anything about it. He may have, again you know, it's years ago. I don't recall that he told me about the administration contacting him, either Bush or Obama. No. The answer is I do not recall. The answer is not no. The answer is [laughter] I don't remember if he told me.
SANDUL: Okay. Okay. Now is there something in the course of us asking you a bunch of questions, something we've failed to ask you and that you're thinking to yourself "Wow this is, there is something that I really want to share and you just haven't asked the right question?"
RAFIAH: Well [laughs] I, you know, when you think of Charlie, what comes to mind is very unusual person. I repeat what I said before but this is Charlie that I remember, a very good-hearted person, very generous one, very, and then with strong views [phone glitch] with strong on defense and then liberal on domestic matters, charming, likable person, always it's a pleasure spending time with him. I can tell you a story; it's more about me than about Charlie. . .
SANDUL: No, please do.
RAFIAH: But with me it always connected with Charlie. I was taking my Master's Degree at Georgetown University.
RAFIAH: Two years, the last two years of my stay at Embassy, I went to evening classes, etcetera and then I go to, I was given the option to take a final oral examination for provided I read tons of books and everything about Congress and I mean, Political Science, American Government. And I spent days and nights in libraries and at home reading and reading and reading trying to digest as much as I can. And there comes the day of the examination and I go to Georgetown University and there is a room, an office, three professors sitting behind a desk, one of them I knew because he was my teacher and the other two I didn't know where they came from and still don't know who they were [laughter]. For one and a half hours because I looked at the watch when we started, they bombarded me with like a machine gun. Question! Question! Question! Question! And then came a question, 'When a Congressman is elected, what is his prime goal as a member, as an elected member of Congress?'
RAFIAH: And I thought to myself in a split second, "Well [unintelligible], apple pie, you know this and that," and then I said, "I think his prime goal is to get re-elected" [laughter]. All three of them said, "Really?" [Laughter.] I think to myself, "Zvi Rafiah, two years you worked so hard writing papers, [laughter] tons of books, why did you have to say that?" [Laughter.] A [unintelligible], apple pie, and the good of the people [laughter]. And I was hoping that they will ask me another question, why couldn't, you know, come back to the question and try to make it look better [laughter]. What they said is, "Really?" And I said, "Thank you very much." And "Wait in the Dean's office and we'll come back and let you know something" [laughter]. I went to the Dean's office, the secretary's there, she knew me of course because I was there for two years coming and going, asked me, "Mr. Rafiah, why do you have ashen face?"I confess to you that I didn't know what ashen means.
RAFIAH: That word. So she explained to me. I said to her, "Lady," I don't remember her name, "I goofed." "No, no. You are a great student," etcetera, etcetera. Okay. After five minutes, which looked like five hours the three came, "Congratulations. You got your degree. You did very well." And I was a happy man. What do I do next? [Laughter.] I drive up Capitol Hill, who do I go to? Charlie Wilson.
SANDUL: [Laughter.] Gotcha.
RAFIAH: And I say to him, "Charlie this is what happened." They didn't tell me when they came to congratulate me that I was right, they just congratulated me so you know, I thought maybe to some of our, some [unintelligible] and all together he passed.
RAFIAH: And I wanted to know the truth. So I drove up to Capitol Hill and I went to Charlie and I told him the story and I told him, "Charlie, did I goof?" "No way! What are you talking about? You know the first day after I get reelected I am fundraising for my next election because I want to get reelected."
RAFIAH: I said, "Charlie, thank you very much. Probably you saved my career" [laughter]. So that's how I got my Master's Degree and I think I learned from Charlie how it works you know, because he was the closest friend so I saw him in action fundraising, calling, you know, telling me about calling, and at one point I was invited to a fundraiser, of course I didn't participate but I just saw a fundraiser in New York, how it's done. Wow. I mean you have to be very, how should I say, courageous person to talk to people and be nice to them, etcetera. But Charlie to be nice was, you know, like saying, "Hello, good morning," he was very polite.
SANDUL: Yeah. Yeah. Do you have, along with the story you just shared, is there a, sort of a favorite memory, just a singular memory you have involving you and Charlie?
RAFIAH: The first memory is what I told you at the beginning of our conversation, showing up at the Embassy. And by the way, since then no Congressman or Senator shows up at the Embassy [laughter]. It's a fact. They don't do that. So this was very unusual of I think something in particular, I think the whole life of Charlie as I know it, particular event. Charlie is unusual. I'm trying not to be sentimental, I have to tell you honestly, I have many friends on Capitol Hill, I don't try to, to boast or be self promoter. I have many friends, Charlie is unusual. I don't have any particular moment. Any dealing with Charlie was particular. Really [laughter].
SANDUL: Well that's a good answer there.
RAFIAH: That's the way I see him.
SANDUL: Yeah. Yeah. Well thank you so much for taking the time. I've seen we've gone a good hour and fifteen here. Again I want to offer you any chance to add anything that you think we may need to inquire about, otherwise I think that I want to thank you for agreeing to sit down and talk with us.
RAFIAH: Sure. Do you see, I'll be honest with you, I told my wife, "It's my duty" [laughter] really, to share with you because you are doing a great, you have a great project on your hands.
SANDUL: I tell you it's been a wonderful project, having gone around and talked to so many people. As you know we're going to D.C. in about a week in a half and . . .
SANDUL: . . . It's been humbling. My only regret is I never got to meet him personally.
RAFIAH: I mean, you know, I would say this, first of all I said two hours, if you insisted in getting another half an hour I would for Charlie, for Charlie's sake I would sit again. I would say this, if I come across, I may look into some of the, what should I say, I don't have an archive but I have something related to Charlie, I would go through that again and if I find out or it strikes something that is worth taking to or telling you, tell me how can I get in touch with you and what do you, when is the last, what is the deadline for your project or your . . .
SANDUL: Sure, sure. There's no deadline. I'm committed to keeping the project open. We've been doing this now for over a year and we've collected well over twenty interviews. . .
RAFIAH: How long is that?
SANDUL: . . . We've been doing it for over a year now.
RAFIAH: Over a year, ah.
SANDUL: Well actually we're coming up on a year.
SANDUL: And we've collected about twenty-one interviews with everyone from district office staff, to his sister, to his nephew, to friends like Buddy Temple, we interviewed Joanne Herring, we've interviewed all the A.A.s except for Charles Simpson, which we'll be doing in just a week now. We're just trying to get anybody and everybody and try to really get a full, more robust picture of Charlie Wilson, whether it's Representative Charlie Wilson or my buddy Charlie Wilson. A fuller understanding. So there's no time limit onto it.
RAFIAH: I see. Okay.
SANDUL: So we welcome anything and this is a genuine commitment to the historical record, we are the official repository of his archives.
SANDUL: So we take our charge very seriously and sincerely.
RAFIAH: You know, first of all, I have your email address.
RAFIAH: I'll be more than happy if I come across something any time in the future I will just send you an email and we'll arrange how to convey whatever I want to tell you to you.
SANDUL: Yeah. No problem. Email in today's world is the absolute best way to get a hold of me.
RAFIAH: But we can, no we can always talk on the phone it is not a big deal for me. . .
RAFIAH: . . . I'll be coming to, I'm going to be back here on the fifteenth of April or I can call you from home, it's not a big deal for me.
RAFIAH: The charges are not that high that I can't afford to burden.
SANDUL: Sure, sure. Well make me, me call. Like right now I'm calling from the university. We'll just do it on the university's dime so you can tell me when to call you.
RAFIAH: Right. We'll find a way. That will not be a problem. So I'll be glad to add if I can think of anything. I can do one more thing, I can consult with one or two people, and maybe they can come up with something that reminds me of what I may have forgotten or just didn't think of. Let me, I want to help. And I want to help Charlie's memory.
SANDUL: Yes. Yes.
RAFIAH: Very important for me on a personal basis and I'm really telling you the truth. It's not just sharing in a project you know?
RAFIAH: I don't like talking about U.S.-Israel relations and I am the expert. It's about my best friend Charlie, that's the way I see that so I'll be happy to add of if there is anything of value that I could do.
SANDUL: That would be wonderful. We're always interested in . . .
RAFIAH: So wait, there's one, you mentioned Joanne Herring . . .
RAFIAH: She was [unintelligible, sounds like "exceptional"] that came with him to Israel. That's where we met her.
RAFIAH: Normally, he would come with young, young you know what it means.
RAFIAH: Young, I mean not old, young is not old.
RAFIAH: Girls or ladies, I had to call them girls. Joanne was not so young, not old of course but she was a different kind of person. She visited us with him at our home, I mean he treated her like all other companions he brought with him.
RAFIAH: Like she was something special and if I can, I mean this is for history now [coughs] not for the Houston Gazette or the Austin Chronicle or something.
RAFIAH: I had a feeling and so did my wife that her was more serious.
SANDUL: Ah, okay.
RAFIAH: This is our feelings, I'm not sure that it's. . .
RAFIAH: . . . him anymore unfortunately but Joanne was different. She was a different lady altogether and I flew all the way from Israel to Arlington for his funeral. . .
RAFIAH: . . . I was let, they told me I could do that and I met Joanne there and we reminisced. I don't know if you consulted her but maybe you should.
SANDUL: We, well yes we have.
RAFIAH: You did?
RAFIAH: May I ask you, did she say something more sentimental, I don't know how to say it, personal about him?
SANDUL: Well she obviously had an affection that was evident and she, her personal feelings was pretty much as conveyed in the book, saying that they had a romantic feelings but it never went too far and then of course she wound up getting married herself.
RAFIAH: She wanted.
SANDUL: Well that's the way it seemed.
RAFIAH: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You said she wanted to get married.
SANDUL: Well she certainly was un-committal in statements. If I were to review it again she certainly expressed an affection towards romantic feelings but that it never matured beyond. . .
SANDUL: . . . well beyond, never matured into anything else.
RAFIAH: Yeah. We just concerned our perception of the relationship and I, in this case I count more on my wife because she can [unintelligible] you know, and track . . .
SANDUL: Well that's something I would, to help there's two things, one is if you can ever think of anybody whom we should be talking to, help us out with contacts. And the other is maybe having another conversation with your wife.
RAFIAH: That's a possibility. Let me talk to her if she's willing, ready, and if she has something to add to it. I mean she wouldn't, I am all for it as far as I'm concerned, it depends on her.
SANDUL: Yeah, exactly. Just, and I preaching to the choir, you know this, we're just trying to get all perspectives and anybody who had a relationship with Charlie in any way I think is best for the historical record.
RAFIAH: I tell you what I think I have in mind, this gentleman Mischa Arens. . .
RAFIAH: . . . Ambassador and Minister of Defense and related to the Lavi . . .
RAFIAH: . . . When I go back home, he speaks fluent English of course, better than me, with no heavy accent as mine, I will tell him about the interview, the conversation we had here and about your project and if he is willing I will give you his number or we will make the arrangements and. . .
SANDUL: That would be great.
RAFIAH: . . . I think it would be worth talking to him. By all means.
SANDUL: See and that's exactly what we're looking for. That would be great, thank you.
RAFIAH: [unintelligible] as an Ambassador as well.
SANDUL: Oh okay.
RAFIAH: So. Let me talk to him but you will have to wait three weeks at least because I won't be back home, I'm going from here to London, etcetera. But sometime in early April I will be contacting you and tell you if he is willing and ready and we'll take it from there.
SANDUL: That'd be great. Thank you so much.
RAFIAH: When you have any document coming out, made published in one way or another . . .
SANDUL: Sure, sure. Let me tell you about some of the immediate plans and then the longer term plans.
SANDUL: The first immediate plans is to conduct these oral histories and then get them transcribed. That is put into text.
SANDUL: And we've been doing very well on that front. Yes, because they're in an archive, they will be public however if you note the example of the release form I've sent you, you can place restrictions on that though I would encourage you not to but of course you could because it is to be open for research.
SANDUL: With that said, some of the immediate small things we're doing is we're putting together museum exhibits, we're putting together web based information, that's the smaller stuff, important stuff, but smaller stuff.
RAFIAH: On the internet or in, on the premise of the university.
SANDUL: One on the premise of the university and then the other goal is to eventually get a database online.
RAFIAH: Ah, good.
SANDUL: And, yeah just to make access to this material is our goal. We want it to be useful.
SANDUL: The other is to develop more robust histories. Not that Crile is deficient but for example, Laura here, the student, to have more serious, rigorous research into Charlie Wilson the politician that goes beyond just Afghanistan and goes beyond the Hollywood image and to really look at as a man, who he was as a politician, including his Texas state years . . .
SANDUL: So I just think more rigorous research is our goal and to produce actual works. A colleague of mine Dr. Scott Sosebee here at the university is going to work on a more academic biography of Charlie Wilson that these oral histories are going to help to anchor. So there's many projects that we're trying to grow.
RAFIAH: Right. You have my information right?
SANDUL: I do.
RAFIAH: And address, telephone number, etcetera.
SANDUL: I do. Well I have your email and I have the cell phone number that you gave me to call you this morning.
RAFIAH: Oh no, that's in America, that's in Washington but I mean, you know in Washington when I come I stay always at the same hotel, the Park Hyatt, where you, where I'm talking from now, but I was asking about Israel, my, so maybe I'll send you my address. . .
SANDUL: Yeah I'd recommend that, just shoot me an email with the con-, the preferred, the preferred contact information.
RAFIAH: Yeah. This cell phone number that you called me, I mean the cell phone is just when I am in the United States, I don't use it in Israel, I have a different number in Israel.
RAFIAH: I will send you when I get back home my information, address, telephone number, etcetera, etcetera. The reason that I mentioned it is I would like very much for you to put you, put me on your mailing list.
SANDUL: Will do.
RAFIAH: Whether electronically or anything you send by mail, anything that relates to Charlie, my wife, and I, or [unintelligible] we'll always be interested.
SANDUL: Well great. Again, we're planning to make these and we will, it's not a planning, we will make these available to everyone including you and also I will send you a copy of our interview here as well as the transcription.
RAFIAH: Excellent, excellent. Now two more things before, do you have two more minutes for me?
SANDUL: No problem. Should I go ahead and turn off the recorder?
SANDUL: Okay. That's what I'm going to do now and we are ending the interview with Zvi Rafiah.
[Rafiah and Sandul share personal contact information once the recorder is turned off]