Abba Eban

The father of Israeli diplomacy.

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Eban was famous for his eloquent rhetoric, both in speech and writing, in Hebrew, English, and Arabic. He knew many other languages and had a phenomenal memory. He was, above all, an astute political analyst and a visionary, deeply devoted to the cause of Israel and the Jewish people.

A Born Zionist

Abba (Aubrey) Eban was born in Capetown, South Africa, on February 2, 1915, a son of Abraham and Alida Sachs-Eban. He was brought to England in infancy. Eban's mother worked as secretary-translator to Zionist leaders Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow, which provided her son with a loving background of historic Zionism. Eban also received a thorough Hebrew and English education and continued his studies in Oriental languages and classics at Cambridge University.

In his first year at university, he edited the Young Zionist journal and he was the first chairman of the Cambridge University Jewish Society. Eban received his M.A. from Queens College, and was appointed lecturer in Arabic and Oriental Studies as Brown Research Fellow in Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian at Pembroke College.

At Pembroke, he was approached by Moshe Sharett and Berl Katznelson to work on behalf of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in British Mandatory Palestine. Eban next founded the Cambridge University Labor Society and concentrated on Zionist information services.

When World War II broke out, the Zionist leadership urged bright young Zionists in England to join the British intelligence corps or commando units to gain useful experience for the future. Eban took a commission in 1942, while serving on the staff of the British minister of state in Cairo. There he also met Susan Ambache, whom he wed in 1945. Then he was transferred to Jerusalem as chief instructor at the Middle East Aran Center, housed in the Austrian Hospice in the Old City.

Here, he encountered anti-Semitism from Mandate officials, though it was not directed at him personally as a major in the British army. At the time, however, he eagerly trained Palmah volunteers in resistance tactics should the Nazis invade Palestine.

When the war ended, Eban was approached by British Labor leader Harold Laski to become a parliamentary candidate in the coming elections. He instead took up Weizmann and Sharett's offer to become the political information officer for the Jewish Agency in London and participated in the final contacts with the Attlee-Bevin government before Israel's Declaration of Independence was proclaimed. Then he joined the Jewish Agency's delegation to the United States, and played a leading role in the effort to secure the passage of the UN resolution of November 29, 1947, for the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

The Eloquent Diplomat

Eban subsequently became Israel's first representative to the UN with the rank of minister. He always remembered the raising of the Israeli flag on admission to the UN membership as one of the high points of his life.

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Alexander Zvielli

Alexander Zvielli is a veteran journalist with the Jerusalem Post.