Friday, July 10, 2009

Mike Wallace Interviews Abba Eban on Israel's 10th Anniversary

Abba Eban, the "voice of Israel"

You read that right, Israel's 10th anniversary. The Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin recently unearthed this TV interview taped April 12, 1958. Abba Eban, then Israel's ambassador to America, masterfully and eloquently defends Israel's actions, viability, and very right to exist in this half hour interview. It might be his charming South African accent, but I find Eban to be infinitely more compelling, persuasive, and well-spoken than his 2009 counterparts. Here's a great quote to illustrate my point:

WALLACE: Can a Jew be a good Jew and still be opposed to Zionism and to Israel?

EBAN: In my own personal interpretation, I would say that a man who opposed the State of Israel and the great movement which brought it about, would be in revolt against the most constructive and creative events in the life of the Jewish people, and it's a fact that the great majority of our kinsmen everywhere, are exalted and uplifted by these events.

WALLACE: But Judaism is a religion, sir

EBAN: It is a religion, and it is a peoplehood, and it is a civilization, and it is a faith, and it is a memory; it is a world of thought and of spirit and of action and it cannot be restrictively defined.

And they say Bibi is a good speaker. Wow.

Give the interview a gander and decide for yourself:

Abba Eban: The Mike Wallace Interview

My reaction:

There are many aspects of Israel's present and past that share commonalities; yet there are also many paths from which the two have diverged. In 1958 it was Egypt, under Nasser, promoting its pan-Arab hegemonic views with the stated goal of eliminating the fledgling Jewish State. Israel is now at peace with Egypt, but the existential threat remains in Iran under Khamenei, attempting to control the region through Revolutionary Islam. Back then, public figures were comparing Israel's actions against Arabs to those of the Nazis against the Jews; today is no different. Diaspora Jews were accused of dual loyalties both then and now.

It's not all bad, however. Israel's economy in 1958 was weak in its nascent stages, while today Israel is a major player in the world economy with its high-tech, agriculture, and tourism industries. Furthermore, Israel is at peace with two of its Arab neighbors, enjoys a much stronger friendship with the United States, has reunified Jerusalem as its capital, and has seen its population nearly quadruple since 1958. Finally, in 2009 there are no more cigarette commercials on TV, much less interviewers smoking during a show. This was probably the most unbelievable aspect of the interview to me. Mike Wallace must have gone through half a pack of Parliaments in that half hour and, miraculously, he's still alive in 2009. Good on him.

As we've seen with the dramatic declines in cigarette advertising, a lot can change in 51 years. Although many of the same problems Israel faced in 1958 still exist today, others remain only in history books. Let us hope that 51 years from now, Israel will still be a thriving, strong state with even fewer problems than it has now.

Until next time, my name is Jordan Katz, the cigarette is Parliament.

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