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Abba Eban
Date of birth 2 February 1915(1915-02-02)
Place of birth Cape Town, South Africa
Year of aliyah 1940
Date of death 17 November 2002 (aged 87)
Knessets 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th
Party Alignment
Former parties Mapai
Ministerial posts
(current in bold)
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of Education & Culture
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Minister without Portfolio
Abba Eban (center) with Israeli PM David Ben-Gurion and U.S. President Harry Truman

Abba Eban (Hebrew: אבא אבן‎, born Aubrey Solomon Meir Eban 2 February 1915 - 17 November 2002) was an Israeli diplomat and politician.


Political career

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Eban moved to England at an early age. He was educated at St Olave's Grammar School, Southwark before studying Classics and Oriental languages at Queens' College, Cambridge. As a child, he recalls being sent to his grandfather's house every weekend to study the Hebrew language and Biblical literature.[1] 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". After graduating with high honours, he researched Arabic and Hebrew as a Fellow of Pembroke College from 1938–1939. At the outbreak of World War II, Eban went to work for Chaim Weizmann at the World Zionist Organization in London from December 1939. A few months later he joined the British Army as an intelligence officer, where he rose to the rank of major. He served as a liaison officer for the Allies to the Jewish Yishuv of Palestine. Drawing on his linguistic skills, in 1947 he translated from the original Arabic, Maze of Justice: Diary of a Country Prosecutor, a 1937 novel by Tawfiq al-Hakim.

Eban moved back to London briefly to work in the Jewish Agency's Information Department, from where he was posted to New York, where the General Assembly of the United Nations was considering the "Palestine Question". In 1947, he was appointed as a liaison officer to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, where he was successful in attaining approval for the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab segments—Resolution 181. At this stage, he changed his name to the Hebrew word Abba (however it was seldom used informally), meaning "Father", as he could foresee himself as the father of the nation of Israel. Eban spent a decade at the United Nations, and also served as his country's ambassador to the United States at the same time. He was renowned for his oratorical skills. In the words of Henry Kissinger:

"I have never encountered anyone who matched his command of the English language. Sentences poured forth in mellifluous constructions complicated enough to test the listener’s intelligence and simultaneously leave him transfixed by the speaker’s virtuosity."

His polished presentation, grasp of history, and powerful speeches gave him authority in a United Nations that was generally skeptical of Israel or even hostile to it. He was fluent in ten languages.[2] In 1952, Eban was elected Vice President of the UN General Assembly.[3]

Eban left the United States in 1959 and returned to Israel, where he was elected to the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) as a member of Mapai. He served under David Ben-Gurion as Minister of Education and Culture from 1960 to 1963, then as deputy to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol until 1966. Through this entire period (1959–1966), he also served as president of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.

From 1966 to 1974, Eban served as Israel's foreign minister, defending the country's reputation after the Six-Day War. Nonetheless, he was a strong supporter of giving away the territories occupied in the war in exchange for peace. He played an important part in the shaping of UN Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967 (as well as UN Security Council Resolution 338 in 1973). Among others high level contacts, Pope Paul VI received Foreign Minister Abba Eban in 1969. [4]

Eban was at times criticized for not voicing his opinions in Israel's internal debate. However, he was generally known to be on the "dovish" side of Israeli politics and was increasingly outspoken after leaving the cabinet. In 1977 and 1981 it was widely understood that Shimon Peres intended to name Eban Foreign Minister, had the Labor Party won those elections. Eban was offered the chance to serve as Minister without Portfolio in the 1984 national unity government, but chose to serve instead as Chair of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee from 1984 to 1988.

His comment that "Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" (i.e., for peace) made after the Geneva peace talks in December 1973, is often quoted.[5]

Abba Eban (first on left) escorting the king of Nepal in a 1958 visit at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. Shortly after the visit, Abba Eban became president of the Institute.

Later life

In 1988, after three decades in the Knesset, he lost his seat over internal splits in the Labour Party. He devoted the rest of his life to writing and teaching, including serving as a visiting academic at Princeton University, Columbia University and The George Washington University. He also narrated television documentaries including Heritage: Civilization and the Jews (PBS, 1984), for which he was host, Israel, A Nation Is Born (1992), and On the Brink of Peace (PBS, 1997).

Eban died in 2002 and was buried in Kfar Shmaryahu, north of Tel Aviv.

Eban's brother-in-law is the late Chaim Herzog, the sixth president of Israel. Herzog's son Isaac Herzog is a minister in Israel's Knesset. Eban's cousin, Oliver Sacks, is a neurologist and author and his son, Eli Eban, is a renowned clarinetist who teaches at Indiana University. Eli has two children, Yael and Omri Eban. His nephew, Jonathan Lynn is a filmmaker and script writer known for satirical BBC shows Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. Lynn recounts that the plot of an episode of Yes, Prime Minister ("A Victory for Democracy"), which involved the British Prime Minister bypassing his own Arab-centric bureaucracy by taking the Israeli ambassador's advice, was based on an actual incident narrated to him by Eban.


In 2001, Eban was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and special contribution to society and the State. [6][7][8]

Published works

  • Voice of Israel. 1957. OCLC 332941.  
  • The tide of nationalism. 1959. OCLC 371099.   (Herbert Samuel lecture)
  • My people: the story of the Jews. 1968. ISBN 0-394-72759-2.  
  • My country; the story of modern Israel. 1972. ISBN 0-394-46314-5.  
  • Abba Eban: an autobiography. 1977. ISBN 0-394-49302-8.  
  • The new diplomacy : international affairs in the modern age. 1983. ISBN 0-394-50283-3.  
  • Heritage : civilization and the Jews. 1984. ISBN 0-671-44103-5.  
  • Personal witness : Israel through my eyes. 1992. ISBN 0-399-13589-8.  
  • Diplomacy for a new century. 1998. ISBN 0-300-07287-2.  



  • The Commentator; "In Memoriam"; Volume 67, Issue 5; 25 November 2002
  • Biography at The Department for Jewish Zionist Education

External links

See also

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Israeli Ambassador to the UN
1949 - 1959
Succeeded by
Michael Comay
Preceded by
Eliyahu Eilat
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.
1950 - 1959
Succeeded by
Avraham Harman


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.

Abba Eban (February 2, 1915November 16, 2002), born Aubrey Solomon Eban, was an Israeli diplomat, politician and author. He was born in South Africa but was educated in England.


  • History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.
    • Speech in London (16 December 1970); as quoted in The Times [London] (17 December 1970) and in Great Jewish Quotations (1996) by Alfred J. Kolatch, p. 115
  • The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
  • If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.

External links

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