As we recall the Six-Day War 40 years ago, the role of Abba Eban — Israel’s foreign minister and eloquent spokesman — deserves special attention. Eban’s unforgettable speech to the United Nations on the second day of the war brilliantly defined the moment and inspired an outpouring of public support.
On his flight to New York, Eban received hourly reports on the war as well as a cable alerting him that he would be expected to speak at the United Nations as soon as he arrived. He made notes while in flight and was met at the airport for further briefings with members of the Israeli mission and rushed to the U.N.
At a time of high tension, with Israel’s destiny in the balance, Eban addressed the Security Council. “I have just come from Jerusalem,” he began, “to tell the Security Council that Israel, by her independent effort and sacrifice, has passed from serious danger to successful resistance.” He concluded, “Let us build a new system of relationships from the wreckage of the old. Let us discern across the darkness the vision of a better and brighter dawn.”
The U.S. television networks cancelled their regular programming to carry the address, and it was broadcast in many countries around the world. The next day’s newspapers called it “one of television’s finest moments” and “one of the great diplomatic speeches of all time.”
Historian Michael Oren, best-selling author of the definitive “Six Days of War,” has said of the speech: “Never before in the history of the Jewish state or, indeed, of the Jewish people, has a voice reverberated so poignantly and with such clarion impact. In its suffering and its triumph, its yearning and its unremitting moral discourse, Eban was the spokesman for the entire nation.”
The historic speech can be heard again as it was delivered that day in a new CD set, “Great Speeches of Abba Eban,” featuring four speeches given between 1948 and 1967.
Each speech! , and th e collection itself, is introduced by Walter Cronkite.
“Abba Eban — the incomparable voice of the State of Israel — by force of intellect and language became one of the most admired statesmen on the world stage,” Cronkite states. “This audio record of his most significant speeches offers an unequaled picture of the young country in the first decades of its national life — with insights on the Middle East that still resonate today.”
Listening to these speeches is a deeply stirring and exciting experience. This is Abba Eban as a young ambassador and as the voice of a young nation. The CD will give a new generation — as well as many others who remember his voice and the events — a taste of history as Eban lived it.
Eban was a witness to, and participant in, all the pivotal events of the young country.
During the 1950s he served simultaneously as ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, and he became foreign minister in 1966. In 2001, Eban was awarded the Israel Prize, his nation’s highest honor. He died in 2002, at the age of 87.
Eli N. Evans is president emeritus of the Charles H. Revson Foundation and
Chair of the Jewish Media Fund. The CD is distributed by New Video and can be ordered at newvideo.com or by calling 1-800-314-8822.