Some people make history; some people invent it. Abba Eban falls into the latter category. As Israel’s foreign minister at the time of the 1967 War, Eban delivered a speech to the Security Council that must rank as the most erudite, sophisticated fraud ever heard by the world body.
He did nothing less than invent for our consumption the twin myths of Egyptian aggression and Israeli self-defence, all the while intoning the requisite verities of peace and international law. Eban stood history on its head and the non-Arab world was only too willing to embrace his dissembling and deceit.
Eban was an easy man to like, respect and believe, because he was cultured and thoroughly Western. He was one of us. Born Aubrey Solomon Meir, in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1915 Eban was educated in Britain and spent much of his adult life in politics. Among his numerous accomplishments are:
- Israel’s first permanent delegate to the United Nations (1949-1959);
- Ambassador to the United States (1950-1959); and
- Israeli foreign minister (1966-1974).
Compared to the brutal gangsterism of Begin, Sharon, Shamir, Olmert, and Netanyahu, Eban stands like a colossus of conspicuous decency. Unfortunately, the comparison is purely relative. For all of his dovishness and diplomatic acumen Eban was still a zionist, and therefore an apologist for aggression and a spokesman for an outlaw state.
As the world marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 War, Eban’s looking-glass reality is given new life as the zionist media dutifully reinforce the founding myths of the war. Even today, with the benefit of the Internet and hindsight, those who point out the errors of fact and tendentious arguments in Eban’s speech stand little chance of a fair hearing, if they get a hearing at all.
If Israel’s illegal Occupation of Palestine is to end, as it must, Eban’s speech must be subjected to honest analysis, because a polite liar is still a liar, and the fruit of this particular lie is the genocide of Palestine.
Eban’s speech runs more than 4,800 words and can be viewed here For brevity’s sake, I will focus on two key themes.
Israel’s existence was threatened.
Abba Eban: “Two days ago…an army, greater than any force ever assembled in history in Sinai, had massed against Israel’s southern frontier. Egypt had dismissed the United Nations forces which symbolized the international interest in the maintenance of peace in our region. Nasser had provocatively brought five infantry divisions and two armoured divisions up to our very gates; 80,000 men and 900 tanks were poised to move.
“…As time went on, there was no doubt that our margin of general security was becoming smaller and smaller. Thus, on the morning of 5 June, when Egyptian forces engaged us by air and land, bombarding the villages of Kissufim, Nahal-Oz and Ein Hashelosha we knew that our limit of safety had been reached, and perhaps passed. In accordance with its inherent right of self-defence as formulated in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, Israel responded defensively in full strength. Never in the history of nations has armed force been used in a more righteous or compelling cause.”
First, Egypt’s president Gamel Abdel Nasser did not “provocatively” bring five infantry divisions and two armoured divisions up to “[Israel’s] very gates.” Eban’s doom-and-gloom scenario is propaganda, as Israel’s generals and politicians later confessed, e.g.:
Mordechai Bentov, cabinet minister: “This story about the danger of extermination has been a complete invention and has been blown up a posteriori to justify the annexation of new Arab territories.” (cited in Le Monde, June 3, 1972)
Menachem Begin, leader of Gahal Party: “In June 1967 we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” (cited in New York Times, Aug. 21, 1982.)
Gen. Matityahu Peled: “To pretend that the Egyptian forces massed on our frontiers were in a position to threaten the existence of Israel constitutes an insult not only to the intelligence of anyone capable of analyzing this sort of situation, but above all an insult to the Zahal [Israeli army].” (cited in Ha’aretz, March 19, 1972.)
The second fallacy, related to the first, is the idea that Israel’s use of armed force was the most righteous and compelling in history. Leaving aside the sanctimonious hyperbole, Eban makes no mention of Israel’s repeated border aggressions against Syria that precipitated the conflict, or that Egypt and Syria had signed a mutual defence pact the previous year.
Israel precipitated the 1967 War by staging border aggressions against Syria and seizing Syrian land in the demilitarized zone between the two countries. From 1948 to 1967, Syria reported more than 1,000 armed clashes, and in a candid 1976 interview, Moshe Dayan admitted that Israel provoked 80 percent of them:
“We would send a tractor to plow some [disputed] area… and we knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was…. I made a mistake in allowing the conquest of the Golan Heights. As defense minister I should have stopped it because the Syrians were not threatening us at the time.”
Therefore, Nasser’s provocative [sic] build-up on the Sinai had nothing to do with Israel, per se, but with the need to come to Syria’s aid. Moreover, and this point is never mentioned, Nasser had reluctantly sent 100,000 of his best troops to fight in Yemen’s civil war and was in no position to start hostilities.
Nasser did evict the UN peacekeeping force, and he did close the Red Sea port of Eilat, but these were marginal actions, as Israel well knew. Nevertheless, Eban blew them out of proportion and repeatedly invoked Eilat as justification for invasion:
“There was in this wanton act a quality of malice. For surely the closing of the Strait of Tiran gave no benefit whatever to Egypt except the perverse joy of inflicting injury on others. It was an anarchic act, because it showed a total disregard for the law of nations…”
Israel’s “right to exist”
Abba Eban: “The central point remains the need to secure an authentic intellectual recognition by our neighbours of Israel’s deep roots in the Middle Eastern reality. There is an intellectual tragedy in the failure of Arab leaders to come to grips, however reluctantly, with the depth and authenticity of Israel’s roots in the life, the history, the spiritual experience and the culture of the Middle East…. There are not two categories of States. The United Arab Republic, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon – not one of these has a single ounce or milligram of statehood which does not adhere in equal measures to Israel itself.”
Eban is reinforcing the Israel-as-victim myth, which is still heard to day as “picking on Israel.” Of course, the Palestinians get no mention because at this time they are not even deemed to exist. Note also how Israel’s equivalence with other states is merely asserted, not proven. The reason is simple–Israel’s roots have no depth or authenticity–it is an artificial, un-Semitic, Western creation born of guilt, terrorism and blackmail. It has no place in the culture of the Middle East; it is a foreign body that is destroying the very culture of which Eban claims it is a part.
The real perversity of Eban’s speech is his genteel hypocrisy. He condemned Nasser for violating the law of nations, but says nothing of Israel’s transgressions against Palestine or Syria. He spoke of the equality of sovereignty, but made no mention of Israel’s conditional admission to the UN or of its refusal to finalize its borders. He spoke of peace, yet said nothing about Israel being responsible for breaking the peace.
Less than two weeks after he addressed the Security Council, Eban gave a more accurate account of Israel’s contempt for international law: “If the General Assembly were to vote by 121 votes to 1 in favor of ‘Israel’ returning to the armistice lines [pre June 1967 borders] ‘Israel’ would refuse to comply with the decision.” ( New York Times, June 19, 1967.)
Eban seemed so reasonable, educated and Western that to disbelieve him was unthinkable. Now, we must do more than think about it–we must recognize Eban as an artful liar, and engender public discussion about the real cause of the 1967 War.
My book The Host and the Parasite – How Israel’s Fifth Column Consumed America is now available from Dandelion Books ($US30, 532 pages, incl. footnotes).
For Canadian orders or for a signed copy please refer to the address on my website GregFelton.com