Abba Eban speaks

On the occasion of Israel’s sixtieth anniversary last year, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas posted Mike Wallace’s fascinating 1958 interview with then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Abba Eban, prefaced by Wallace’s testimonial to Parliament cigarettes. Eban brilliantly responds to the seemingly timeless issues raised against Israel by Wallace on the occasion of Israel’s tenth anniversary.

Carl in Jerusalem aptly comments on the interview:

What’s amazing in watching this video is how much things are still the same (except for the cigarette ads). In particular, I want to point out to you that the Arabs were complaining about land Israel had liberated in 1948 that went beyond the original lines that the UN had fixed in the 1947 partition plan. What they never mentioned was that they had rejected the partition plan and had lost that additional land in a war that they started. Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s essentially the same thing that happened in 1967, and the Arabs have been crying about it ever since. Note who wants peace and who wants war.

Daniel Pipes commented on the video last year when it was first posted online: “Eban was not only Israel’s outstanding spokesman but ranks with Winston Churchill as among the most eloquent English-language statesmen of recent times.” Extra added attraction: “The video has a curious time-piece quality about it, with its advertisement for Parliament cigarettes and what appears to be cigarette smoke sometimes swirling in the background.”

When current Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren spoke in St. Paul in November 2002, a member of the audience asked asked Oren about Eban. Eban was of course most famous as the Israeli foreign minister during the period including the Six Day War chronicled by Oren in his superb book on the war. Eban had just died.

Oren reports in the book that Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol referred to Eban in Yiddish as “the learned fool.” In St. Paul Oren spoke with great warmth and admiration of Eban,and this video is a powerful reminder of why that might be the case.


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