Eban Defends Government Veto of Goldmann-nasser Meeting; Opposition to Veto Mounts
Menu JTA Search

Eban Defends Government Veto of Goldmann-nasser Meeting; Opposition to Veto Mounts

Download PDF for this date

Foreign Minister Abba Eban criticized Dr. Nahum Goldmann in a Knesset speech today defending the Government’s rejection of plans for him to meet with President Gamal Abdel Nasser in Cairo. The speech was followed by a lively debate in the chamber in which the Government’s action was both supported and criticized. Premier Golda Meir rebutted the critics and explained why she had brought the issue before the Cabinet. During her remarks she contradicted an assertion made by Mr. Eban only a short time before that Dr. Goldmann had asked for the status of an emissary. Mr. Eban’s speech was addressed to mounting criticism at home that the Government may have missed an important opportunity to make contact with Egypt. “There is no precedent in the annals of relations between nations to an effort to force a sovereign state into being represented in a first historic contact–open or covert–by a person who rejects the basic tenets of its policy,” Mr. Eban said. He said Israel is ready to meet Arab representatives at any time, anywhere, at any agreed level and any subject may be brought up. “But Israel cannot agree that the other side should dictate who should represent her and what views would be stated on her behalf.”

Mr. Eban spoke of efforts made by Israel in the past 30 months and especially of late to initiate negotiations with Arab states, including Egypt. He said some were conducted openly, through the united Nations special envoy, Ambassador Gunnar V. Jarring and others were made secretly. “However, all initiatives have been rejected,” Mr. Eban said. He described Dr. Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress and for many years president of the World Zionist Organization, as a citizen of Israel who carries an Israeli diplomatic passport and claimed that he himself had asked to be accorded the status of an emissary. The Foreign Minister stressed that Dr. Goldmann’s views of the Mideast problem diverge sharply from the official Israeli stand. He said however, that if Dr. Goldmann had gone to Cairo with the knowledge of the Israel Government, it would have been tantamount to being regarded as a spokesman of the Government. “Meeting Arab representatives is not an end in itself. It should serve the purpose of letting the other side know Israel’s views in the most authoritative manner and with emphasis on the subjects which Israel seeks to emphasize,” Mr. Eban said. “Therefore, Dr. Goldmann who differs with official policy on basic issues is not the right person to be an emissary of Israel.”

In the debate that followed Mr. Eban’s remarks, Gideon Hausner, of the Independent Liberal faction said Israel must be ever ready for new approaches and new initiatives to break the present deadlock. “Dr. Goldmann may not hold the same views as the majority in the Government and the Knesset,” Mr. Hausner said, “but he certainly cares more for Israel than do U Thant or Dr. Jarring.” Shlomo Gross, of the Agudat Israel, said an opportunity has apparently been missed. Former Police Minister Eliahu Sasson of the Labor Alignment said he agreed with the Cabinet’s position but proposed the creation of a “brain trust” to examine and evolve new ideas. Yosef Serlin, of the Gahal (Herut-Liberal alignment) criticized Premier Meir for not rejecting the Goldmann proposal immediately instead of keeping the Cabinet busy with it for two meetings. Yitzhak Raphael, of the National Religious Party which normally follows the Government on foreign policy matters, said Dr. Goldmann should not be declared unfit for making a first contact.


Premier Meir said she did not reject Dr. Goldmann’s proposal immediately because she is accustomed to consulting with her colleagues before arriving at decisions which may have far-reaching consequences. However, she repeated her assertion that Dr. Goldmann had no invitation from Nasser, only a suggestion to go to Cairo made by a third party and under conditions laid down by Nasser. Those conditions were that the Israeli Cabinet be aware of his mission and that it be publicized, by Egypt. She said Dr. Goldmann did not explicitly demand that he arrive in Cairo as an official emissary nor had he said he would establish contact between Egypt and Israel. He himself said he would only listen to Nasser, Mrs. Meir said, adding that she doubted Dr. Goldmann was capable of listening without making his own views known. She said he could not have gone to Cairo as a private citizen without the Government’s knowledge because that would have violated Israel’s laws.

Speaking last night at a meeting of the Labor Alignment, Mrs. Meir defended her Cabinet’s veto of a meeting between Dr. Goldmann and Pres. Nasser, insisting that the Cabinet’s decision was virtually unanimous and was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Knesset. But Defense Minister Moshe Dayan injected an element of doubt into the episode when he told a student audience in Tel Aviv last night that the Government did not reject Dr. Goldmann’s trip to Egypt if he wanted to go there as a private citizen. “But if he wants to go there and represent the Israel Government, then it is the Israel Government that will decide who should represent it,” Gen. Dayan declared. Dr. Goldmann told newsmen yesterday that he had intended to go to Cairo as a private citizen holding an Israeli passport. He said he could not claim to represent the Israel Government because as far as he knew the Government has no position.

Dr. Goldmann said he was disappointed over the Cabinet’s rejection, observing that a meeting with Nasser “might have been the beginning of some way to avoid another war or escalation of the Mideast conflict.” He refused to disclose who was instrumental in arranging the “suggestion” that he meet Col. Nasser. Diplomatic observers here say Marshal Tito, of Yugoslavia, with whom Dr. Goldmann has met, engineered the plan and the Yugoslavian Ambassador in Cairo was an intermediary. Mrs. Meir said that the person who suggested to Dr. Goldmann that he visit Nasser was an ex-Egyptian colonel working as a newspaper man in Paris. She said the man had no official standing and yet on the strength of this conversation, which did not constitute an invitation. Dr. Goldmann had asked the Prime Minister to approve his journey to Cairo. Opposition to the Government’s veto was expressed in the press and among Israeli citizens. Significantly, an editorial in Davar, organ of Premier Meir’s Labor Party, criticized the brusque manner in which the Government rejected Dr. Goldmann’s plans.

Independent and left wing students demonstrated outside the hall where Gen. Dayan spoke last night. One placard read, “You’ve Got the Telephone Call You’ve Been Waiting For–Answer It.” The reference was to a statement by Gen. Dayan that Israel was waiting for a phone call to make peace but it never rang. A girl student at the Hebrew University said to a reporter yesterday, “What’s wrong with her (Mrs. Meir)? Does she just not want peace?” Another student said, “It’s that ridiculous Cabinet. It’s too big to do anything.” Dr. Goldmann also criticized what has been described as Mrs. Meir’s “wall-to-wall coalition.” He said “The Government is based on a decision not to decide, because the moment they do so, that’s the end of the big coalition.” Premier Meir remarked only last week that peace was more important than coalition. In his remarks to students last night, Gen. Dayan rejected the idea that the Government had missed a chance to open peace talks with Egypt. He said, “Let us for a moment think that Goldmann would have come to an agreement with Nasser. Would that mean peace? It might mean peace between Nasser and Goldmann but the conflict is between Nasser and Israel.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund