Recalling ‘Wolfie’s’ Wisdom

Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk Former Brookings Expert, Distinguished Fellow - The Council on Foreign Relations

June 28, 2007

Ze’ev Schiff deserved a state funeral. He was an Israeli institution – the chronicler of the Jewish state’s struggle to achieve security and peace, the paragon of Israeli military correspondents.

Ze’ev combined an encyclopedic knowledge of Israel’s military affairs with a reputation for unbiased reporting and an incisive analytical mind. His inside knowledge of the security establishment, and his role as discreet adviser to Israeli statesmen and generals, made him a unique and irreplaceable resource.

But Ze’ev was buried yesterday at Kiryat Shaul, not on Mount Herzl. And that’s appropriate because, for all of his great contributions to the State of Israel, he will be remembered most of all for the true friend he was to so many people. That’s how I will remember him – and that’s why I will miss him so profoundly.

Friendship for Ze’ev was a total commitment. He would care intensely about every aspect of your life – your work, marriage, children, even your parents. And after he had finished his interrogation, he would then give you his sage advice. I will miss that most of all – “Wolfie’s wisdom.” And I’m sure many of Israel’s leaders will, too. I realize now that he is gone, that I had become like an addict, calling him almost every Shabbat to seek his opinion. Only Ze’ev would give me a straight judgment unaffected by any calculation other than that of my own best interest.

Every time I landed in Israel, I would make sure to call him as soon as I was in the taxi leaving the airport, just to check in. He would proudly inform me of all the meetings I had scheduled. I could never figure out how he knew what I was up to, sometimes even before I knew myself! But that was Ze’ev, storing away everything, forgetting nothing. He never installed a voice-mail system, so you couldn’t leave him a telephone message. He didn’t explain why, but I believe it was because he felt communication had to be direct, not through some machine.

In the virtual world, he was simply not at home. He was a yekke, in the positive sense: always punctual, organized, and reliable. In a Jewish world that struggled with all of those virtues, Ze’ev set the standard and expected his friends to live up to it. We never did of course, and he forgave us.

Ze’ev was greatly valued in Washington, too, where he frequently visited. In a town normally caught up in its own deceits and vanities, his integrity and lucidity made a profound impression. Ze’ev may not have been comfortable with the Internet age, but when his columns went on-line on the Haaretz Web site, he would be quoted as the authority by anybody in Washington who wanted to sound knowledgeable about what was happening in Israel.

Washington was where we met, 23 years ago. In his inimitable way, Ze’ev had learned that I was establishing a new think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He grilled me about it over coffee at Kramer Books, and then volunteered to help me build it. He wrote our second “analysis paper,” arguing with his usual prescience and courage that Israel needed to talk to the PLO.

Peace with the Palestinians was Ze’ev’s conviction. He was involved in multiple, discrete track-two dialogues. He co-authored a book about the value of such informal exchanges. But in recent years he seemed to grow increasingly impatient with his Palestinian interlocutors, warning them stridently of the consequences of their inaction in the face of Hamas’ militancy. He would not have been surprised by Hamas’ takeover of Gaza. How sad that we will no longer have the benefit of reading in this newspaper his analysis of those developments.

Ze’ev was taken from us and Israel far too soon. While his family and friends buried him at Kiryat Shaul on Wednesday, I said Kaddish for him walking through the Georgetown cemetery. As I recited the final words, beseeching God to bring peace to all Israel, I came upon this inscription on a gravestone of a man who had died young: “Being made perfect in a short space, he fulfilled a long time: for his soul pleased God.”

Ze’ev Schiff’s soul pleased God, too. May his memory be blessed.