Abba Eban

The father of Israeli diplomacy.

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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.

From 1950 to 1959, he served simultaneously as the first ambassador to the US. He soon distinguished himself as a gifted orator, defending Israel in eloquent English not only against vicious propaganda, but almost as frequently against friendly critics, who spoke against Israel's counterattacks and initiatives in repelling Arab marauders.

Eban was summoned back home in time for the 1959 Knesset elections, in which he was a star in the Mapai campaign. He also served as president of the Weizmann Institute of Science between 1959 and 1966, where he proved his abilities as a scholar and organized numerous academic conferences. He was elected on the Mapai ticket to the Knesset and in 1960 became minister of education and culture.

In 1963, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol made him deputy prime minister, a post he held until 1966. In February 1966, Eban became the country's third foreign minister, a post he also held under premier Golda Meir until she was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin in 1974. For many people, he was obviously the best choice for the post. In 1985, just before his 70th birthday, a public opinion poll revealed that he remained the public's top choice for the post.

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Alexander Zvielli

Alexander Zvielli is a veteran journalist with the Jerusalem Post.