February 2, 1915
Israeli politician, diplomat, historian and writer Abba Eban is born in Cape Town, South Africa. Born Aubrey Eban, he was raised in England after his family moved there while he was still an infant. He attended Queens College at Cambridge where he studied Oriental Languages.
After serving on the staff of the British Minister of State in Cairo during World War II, Eban moved to Jerusalem where he settled in 1944, becoming chief instructor in the Middle East Center for Arab Studies and training Jewish volunteers. Declining an invitation to run for the British Parliament, Eban instead went to work for the Jewish Agency. He joined its delegation to the United Nations where he played a leading role in the passage of 1947’s Partition Plan (to divide Palestine into Arab and Jewish states). He was then appointed as Israel’s first Ambassador to the United Nations and served simultaneously as Ambassador to the United States from 1950-1959.
Eban was elected to the Knesset in 1960 and served as Minister of Education and Deputy Prime Minister before becoming Foreign Minister in 1966. He would remain in the Knesset until 1988. In addition to his diplomatic service, Eban also had a distinguished career as a scholar. His landmark American television series Heritage: Civilization and the Jews, was seen by an estimated 50 million people when it was broadcast by PBS in 1984.
Eban, while having a superb international reputation abroad as an articulate spokesperson for Israel, did not always get along with Israeli Prime Ministers, who felt that his suggested diplomatic solutions were too mild for some of Israel’s foreign relations that required the use of force and strength. His “Churchillian” English gave his oratory great value as Israel’s public faced many critics, particularly after the June 1967 Six Day War. Henry Kissinger remarked of him, “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.” (Kissinger, Henry, The White House Years, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979, p. 359.)