“Abba Eban: A Biography” by Asaf Siniver— THE Israeli Diplomat— THE Definitive Biography

abba eban cover

Siniver, Asaf. “Abba Eban: A Biography”, The Overlook Press, 2015.

THE Israeli Diplomat— THE Definitive Biography

Amos Lassen

One of the most impressive people I have ever known or even just saw was, without question, Abba Eban. For many of us young, Zionist Americans back then, Eban was a symbol of style and knowledge, a man above and among men. He was the classic diplomat who was honored and respected everywhere around the world except in Israel where he worked so hard for the creation of the country. It as his biographer, Asaf Siniver says, “… Abba Eban, an Israeli diplomat often revered by every nation except the one he represented”. This biography is based on and filled with a large amount of primary sources that come together to create a complex portrait of a man who not only spent his life working for peace and who will always be remembered as such.

Eban was a skilled debater, a master of language, and a passionate defender of Israel. However, his “diplomatic presence was in many ways a contradiction unlike any the world has seen since”. He has been internationally known for his wit and oratory skills as well as for his moderate, reasoned worldview. Many in Israel considered him to be an elitist and there was a very large disparity in perception of Eban at home and abroad. This was so pronounced that even his critics and his friends agreed that he would have been a wonderful prime minister, just not in Israel.

Eban was a wonderfully complex person yet he was one of the best diplomats the world has seen. He grew up as part of the Cambridge Union and became known as “The Voice of Israel. He constantly fought for peace and stability in Israel and the Middle East but faced opposition from other Israelis—the place that he fought so hard to secure. It made no difference how many allies he had around the world, he really never understood his own domestic politics and this hurt his effectiveness. This is the first book on Abba Eban to come out in forty years and it is amazing to see that his perspective on Israel is still relevant and valid. I am in awe of the research that was done to write this book. I remember the one time that I made Eban on a one-to-one I felt very small. Here is a man that was immaculate in everything he did—from grooming to his perfection of the Hebrew language. When I was aware that he was publicly somewhere (when I lived in Israel), I made it a point to be there if for no other reason than to listen to his language—his Hebrew, although heavily accented, was as close to Biblical Hebrew as it could be and it was magic to hear him speak.

Abba Eban was the voice of Israel during the critical first decades of the Jewish state and he proves the saying that there are no second acts in politics. Author Asaf Siniver, writes in language we can all understand and he has done, as I stated earlier, tremendous research. in a highly readable and thoroughly researched biography. It is not easy to understand the contradictions in Israeli society by showing that Eban was not able to bridge with the humanistic principles of Jewish life.

What comes through the strongest is Eban’s wit, brilliance and vanity. We shall not see his kind again. Here was a man who was there during the pregnancy and birth of Israel and yet he remained mysterious, elegant and miraculous. To understand Eban is to better understand Israeli politics. He was indeed a paradox and an important player in the early years of the state. His politics and his career is such a part of the history of Israel that it is impossible to separate them. What is so strange and hard to accept is that the qualities that made him such a brilliant diplomat with the rest of the world undermined his career in the country. For some reason, he has been forgotten by modern history and we can only hope that this book will bring him back into the prominence he so well deserves.

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