Abba Eban

The father of Israeli diplomacy.

Print this page Print this page

In 1984, Eban declined to accept a ministery without portfolio in the national unity government. He also refused a nomination as Speaker of the Knesset, asserting that he was built for polemics and not consensus. Instead, he enjoyed serving as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, where he continued to push for policies in favor of a diplomatic solution.

He also employed his sharp wit as a frequent critic of government policies, even after Labor joined the ruling coalition. He quipped that Yitzhak Shamir's ascendancy to prime minister as part of the rotation agreement was "the tunnel at the end of the light," and memorably dubbed the Pollard affair an "anthology of blunders."

Eban's honest, sharp ripostes sometimes fell on unappreciative ears within his own party, and after being humiliated by the Labor central committee, which pushed him way down the Knesset list in the 1988 party primaries, he resigned from politics.

Eban believed not unjustly that his attainments were higher than his domestic political position, and he regretted that his success on the world stage was not always properly appreciated here. Still, during the last decades of his life, Eban gained an international reputation as one of the most outstanding writers of his generation. His early works had included a 1939 preface to a new edition of Leo Pinsker's Emancipation, and in 1944 he wrote The Modern Literary Movement in Egypt.

Among his subsequent major works were The Maze of Justice, Zionism and the Arab World, Tide of Nationalism, and My People, My Country.

His New Diplomacy was incorporated into university curricula in Britain and the US, and his speeches were made into records. Eban's mammoth television series, Civilization and the Jews was viewed by an estimated 50 million Americans and was shown in many other parts of the world. The accompanying book achieved a best-seller record for non-fiction; it sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

In 1982 Eban was elected to the International Platform Association, founded by the legendary American orator Daniel Webster in 1830. There he joined the ranks of such fabled speechmakers as Winston Churchill, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Alexander Zvielli

Alexander Zvielli is a veteran journalist with the Jerusalem Post.