Abba Eban (1915 - 2002)
Born with the name Aubrey Solomon Meir in Cape Town, South Africa, Eban moved to
England at an early age. He was educated at St Olave's Grammar School before
studying Classics and Oriental languages at Queens' College, Cambridge.
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
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. 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.
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. In 1952, Eban was elected Vice
President of the UN General Assembly.
Eban left the United States in 1959 and returned to Israel. 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 at Rehovot.
From 1966 to 1974, Eban served as Israel's foreign minister, defending the
country in 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). Eban was at times
criticized for not voicing his opinions in Israel's internal debate.
In 1988, after three decades in the Knesset, he lost his seat over internal
splits in the Israeli Labour Party. He devoted the rest of his life to writing
and teaching, including serving as a visiting academic at Princeton University
and Columbia 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).
In 2001, Eban received the Israel Prize, his country's highest honor.
He died in 2002 and was buried in Kfar Shmaryahu, north of Tel Aviv.