Abba Eban, 1915 – 2002

January 12, 1966: Abba Eban completes his service as Deputy Prime Minister of Israel.

Abba Eban born Aubrey Solomon Meir Eban; later adopted Abba Solomon Meir Eban, was an Israeli diplomat and politician, and a scholar of the Arabic and Hebrew languages.

In his career he was Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister, Education Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations. He was also Vice President of the United Nations General Assembly and President of the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 2, 1915 to Lithuanian Jewish parents, Eban moved to the United Kingdom at an early age. As a child, he recalled being sent to his grandfather’s house every weekend to study the Hebrew language, Talmud and Biblical literature.  He lived for a period of time in Belfast.

He was educated at St Olave’s Grammar School, then in Southwark, before studying Classics and Oriental languages at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he achieved a triple first. During his time at University and afterwards, Eban was highly involved in the Federation of Zionist Youth and was editor of its ideological journal, The Young Zionist.

After graduating with high honors, he researched Arabic and Hebrew as a Fellow of Pembroke College from 1938–39. At the outbreak of World War II, he went to work for Chaim Weizmann at the World Zionist Organization in London from December 1939.

He served in the British Army in Egypt and Mandate Palestine, becoming an intelligence officer in Jerusalem, where he coordinated and trained volunteers for resistance in the event of a German invasion, serving as a liaison officer for the Allies to the Jewish Yishuv.

From 1966 to 1974, Eban served as Israel’s foreign minister.  He defended the country’s reputation after the Six-Day War by asserting, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, that Israel acted in response to an imminent threat: “So on the fateful morning of June 5th, when Egyptian forces moved by air and land against Israel’s western coast and southern territory, our country’s choice was plain”.  Nonetheless, he was a strong supporter of trading parts of the territories occupied in the war in exchange for peace. He played an important part in the shaping of UN Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967, as well as Resolution 338 in 1973. Among his other high level contacts, Eban was received by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

Eban was at times criticized for not voicing his opinions in Israel’s internal debate. However, he was generally known to be on the “dovish” side of Israeli politics and was increasingly outspoken after leaving the cabinet. In 1977 and 1981, it was widely understood that Shimon Peres intended to name Eban Foreign Minister, had the Labor Party won those elections. Eban was offered the chance to serve as minister without portfolio in the 1984 national unity government, but chose to serve instead as Chair of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee from 1984 to 1988.

His comment that Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” (i.e., for peace), made after the Geneva peace talks in December 1973, is often quoted. (from Wikipedia)

Israel Post issued a stamp in September 2006 honoring Abba Eban:

abba-eban-israel-sept-2006

Advertisements