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‘The Greatest Emissary the Jewish People Ever Had’:  Asaf Siniver on Abba Eban

Asaf Siniver

Fathom, Summer 2016

“The same qualities which made Eban one of the most revered statesmen also made him a poor politician … he never became prime minister for a specific reason – because Israelis saw him as too far removed from the Israeli psyche.”

Asaf Siniver’s biography of Abba Eban tells the story of an entirely exceptional man who by the age of 35 was Israel’s Ambassador to both the United States and the United Nations. Having graduated from Cambridge with a rare triple 1st in Classics and Oriental Languages, Eban served in British Army intelligence during World War Two, and later as a Liaison officer between the Haganah in Palestine and the British Secret Service. In 1959 he entered Israeli politics as a member of Mapai and served as Foreign Minister between 1966 and 1974. After departing politics in 1988 he lectured at Princeton, Colombia University and George Washington Universities and published several books.

Calev Ben-Dor: Like Eban, I grew up in England in a Zionist home and then moved to Israel, so he has always been an inspiration to me. What led you to write his biography?

Asaf Sinever: For many years I was very interested in him. He was always there in the background, whether as ambassador in the 1950s or as foreign minister in the 1960s and 1970s; yet, whenever I wanted to read more about him, I only came across his autobiographies. They are fantastic but – like all autobiographies – have their own strengths and weaknesses. While other Israeli leaders, such as Ariel Sharon, Menachem Begin, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres had dozens of biographies written about them, there was only one biography of Eban, written back in 1972.

Abba Eban was one of the most revered statesman of the twentieth century and one of the founding fathers of the State. While many people know who he was, they often don’t appreciate the complexity of his story. At the age of 35 (the same age I myself when I started writing this book) Eban was Israel’s ambassador to both the United States and the United Nations! And it was really in that period – where the Jewish people were fighting for their survival and independence – when Eban became ‘the voice of Israel’.

CBD: What was Eban like as a person?

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