Abba Eban

(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Eban was Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador to the United States, and foreign minister. He played an influential role in the negotiations leading to the creation of the state of Israel and in securing its membership in the United Nations. His diplomatic and oratorical talents, used in the service of Israel, gained for him worldwide recognition.

Early Life

Abba Solomon Eban was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 2, 1915. He was the second of four children of Abraham Meir and Alida Solomon. His father, a merchant, had fled from the persecution of Jews in Russian-controlled Lithuania in the late nineteenth century. When he was six months old, the family moved to London (the home of his mother’s family), as his father was seriously ill. Abraham Solomon died shortly after their arrival, and some years later, his mother remarried to Issac Eban, a specialist in radiology. The boy adopted the surname of his stepfather, and was known as Aubrey S. Eban until the independence of Israel when, like many Israeli citizens, he began using the Hebrew version of his first name.

Eban was a disciplined, studious, and witty boy, but somewhat shy and introspective. At seven, he was enrolled at St. Olave’s Grammar School for Boys, which was regarded as one of the best grammar schools in London. He spent his weekends with his maternal grandfather, who supervised his study of Hebrew. From childhood, he was captivated by Zionism and was greatly influenced by his mother, who was an archivist at the Zionist Organization. He joined a Young Zionist Society called “Heatid,” meaning “the future” in Hebrew, where his oratorical gifts soon became evident.

In 1934, Eban won a scholarship and entered Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he read classics and Oriental languages. He was elected president of the Cambridge Union (the university debating society) and president of the Zionist Society, and he served on the executive committees of the League of Nations Union and the Socialist Club. Eban sharpened his ability for public speaking during university debates and enjoyed the challenge of defending the unpopular or minority position. After graduating with a triple first class honors degree, he became a fellow and tutor in oriental languages at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Eban’s university career was brought to an end with the outbreak of World War II. He enlisted in the British Army and rose to the rank of major. His initial assignment was as a censor for Arabic and Hebrew in Cairo. He later served as a liaison officer between the Allied headquarters in Cairo and the Jewish population in Jerusalem. Eban also trained Jewish volunteers for resistance against a possible German invasion. It was during the war that he met Suzan Ambache, the daughter of an Egyptian Jewish engineer, who at the time was a student at American University in Cairo. They were married on March 18, 1945. At the end of the war, Eban made Jerusalem his home and was appointed the chief instructor at the Middle East Center for Arab Studies.

Life’s Work

In 1946, Eban joined the Jewish Agency as a political information officer and worked with the British government before the establishment of the state of Israel. When the United Nations became involved in the Middle East problem, Eban became one of two liaison officers with the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), and, as a member of the Jewish Agency delegation to the General Assembly, he played an important role in the passage of the 1947 resolution to partition Palestine. Despite the opposition of Israel’s Herut party and the skepticism of Moshe Shertok, the foreign minister, Eban worked to secure Israel’s admission to the United Nations. When Israel was admitted to the United Nations in 1949, Eban, then only thirty-four years old, was appointed its permanent representative. From 1950 to 1959, he served concurrently as ambassador to the United States. In this dual role, his main objectives were to strengthen the bonds of cooperation between Israel and the United States, to gain the support of the American Jewish community, and to articulate and defend Israel’s policies in the international environment of the United Nations. He soon became a well-known figure not only in the United States but also in the rest of the world, as he defended with passion and eloquence the interests of his country. After the Sinai campaign of October, 1956, Eban worked to maintain negotiations between Israel, the United Nations, and the United States, and to prevent the imposition of economic and military sanctions on Israel by the United Nations. He conferred closely with the United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and United States Secretary of...

(The entire section is 1973 words.)