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Abba Eban


Biography of Abba Eban

Abba Eban (Hebrew: àáà àáïý) was  born Aubrey Solomon Meir Eban on February 2, 1915 in Cape Town, South Africa. His family soon moved to England.  He was educated at St Olave's Grammar School, Southwark, but also was sent to his grandfather's house every weekend to study the Hebrew language and Biblical literature. He  studied Classics and Oriental languages at Queens' College, Cambridge. 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." He was already a public speaker of caliber and renowned for his presence at debates on the Middle East, active in the British Labor movement as well as the Zionist movement.

At the outbreak of World War II, Eban went to work for Chaim Weizmann at the World Zionist Organization in London from December 1939 for a few months. He then served in the British Army as an intelligence officer in Egypt and Mandate Palestine. In Jerusalem he coordinated and trained volunteers for resistance in the event of a German invasion.

In 1946, the Jewish Agency appointed him political information officer in London, where he participated in the negotiations with the British government and the UN concerning the establishment of the State of Israel.

In 1947, he was appointed as a liaison officer to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), where he was part of the successful effort to attain approval for the partition of Palestine -  General Assembly Resolution 181  He now changed his name to the Hebrew word Abba, meaning "Father", as he could foresee himself as the father of the nation of Israel. Eban spent a decade at the United Nations, serving as Israeli  ambassador to the United States at the same time. On his return to Israel in 1959, Eban was elected to the Knesset as a member of the Mapai party, and served under David Ben-Gurion as Minister of Education and Culture from 1960 to 1963.

From 1963 to 1966, he was deputy Prime Minister to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. He was also president of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot from 1959 to 1966.

As Israel's Foreign Minister from February 1966 to 1974, Eban tried to strengthen relations with the United States and to associate Israel with the European Economic Community. During the lead in to the Six day war, Eban pleaded Israel's cause eloquently. However, in Israel he was viewed as an apostle of delay and caution, losing a great deal of credit with the Israeli electorate. He was unable to obtain American permission for an Israeli pre-emptive strike, and as the bearer of bad tidings was blamed for them. However, following the victory, he was eloquent in defense of Israel's victory. He was an architect of UN Security Council Resolution 242.

After the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, Abba Eban helped bring about  disengagement of Egyptian and Israel forces in Sinai. 

Eban continued to serve in the Knesset, but was no longer a minister after 1974. He served as a member and later as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, until he retired from politics in 1988. Outside of Israel, he was widely admired for his brilliant oratory and his statesmanship and sometimes dramatic orations at the UN on Israel's behalf. He wrote a scathing attack on the infamous UN "Zionism is Racism" resolution, in 1975, including this indictment:

“There is no difference whatever between anti-Semitism and the denial of Israel's statehood. Classical anti-Semitism denies the equal right of Jews as citizens within society. Anti-Zionism denies the equal rights of the Jewish people its lawful sovereignty within the community of nations. The common principle in the two cases is discrimination”
New York Times, November 3, 1975 Abba Eban

Eban was fluent in ten languages, and was both a statesman and erudite academic. Throughout his career, he found time to publish meticulous and detailed historical works based on his vast knowledge and personal experience.

His books include Voice of Israel (1957); My People (1969); My Country (1972), and Personal Witness (1992), as well as An Autobiography. After his retirement, he wrote  The New Diplomacy and Diplomacy for the Next Century (1998) and other works. Hoe was also involved in the creation of three major historical television documentary series about the Jewish People and Israel.  The first two were for Israel Television: Heritage: Civilization and the Jews; Personal Witness: A Nation is Born; and The Brink of Peace was produced with PBS. 

In 2001, Abba Eban was awarded the Israel Prize for his life time achievement. His wife received the prize on his behalf, as he was too ill to attend the ceremony. He also held twenty honorary doctorates and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He had one son, who is a musician living in the United States.

Eban's brother-in-law was the late Chaim Herzog,, the sixth president of Israel, as Suzy Eban was the sister of Aura Herzog. Eban's cousin, Oliver Sacks, is a neurologist and author.

Abba Eban died November 17, 2002.

Ami Isseroff

Adapted from Jewish Agency  and other sources.

August, 28, 2009


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