Charlie Wilson, the Texas congressman made famous by the book and then movie Charlie Wilson’s War, died yesterday at 76. A Democrat who was nonetheless to the right of most Republicans on foreign and defense issues, Wilson will always be most known for his tireless, one-man efforts—documented in the Mike Nichols-directed, Aaron Sorkin-penned film—to persuade the U.S. Congress to fund the radical Islamist mujahedeen who were resisting Soviet rule in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Wilson’s work here had a more-than-negligible impact in terms of hastening the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War; it also produced the historical irony (which Wilson was concerned about before almost anyone else) of U.S. funding in the 1980s of Osama bin Laden and some of his friends.
But today, Wilson may also be remembered as one of the best friends Israel ever had in the U.S. Congress. “I think that there were no Jews in his constituency, but he was a true friend,” said former Israeli diplomat Zvi Rafiah, referring to the east Texas district Wilson represented. “His support for Israel was based on his belief that we are a brave people, a sort of David to Goliath.” It was also based on his anti-Soviet hawkishness, and his belief that Israel was a crucial strategic Cold War ally. “Of special importance to the Jewish community was his staunch support for Israel,” the National Jewish Democratic Council said in a statement yesterday.
Rafiah—who is a prominent character in the movie; he’s the Israeli with ties to the arms industry there that Wilson and the CIA guy visit in Jerusalem—recalled that Wilson was the only congressman to request a briefing at the Israeli Embassy on the Yom Kippur War during its earliest, darkest days. “At the moment a ceasefire was declared, he immediately came to visit Israel and he came many times afterward,” Rafiah said. “Israel owes him a great deal.”