Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Long Hard Slog

One of my great pleasures, in recent months, has been unraveling the early story of the Zionist cause and struggle. Born in the former Soviet Union, I was not reared on, shall we say, optimistic Zionist literature that has so influenced my American peers, at times not for the better. So many moving pieces fit, so many men and women, of talents great and greater, spurred by necessity, buttressed by destiny, converged with a single-minded purpose and resolve that it seems unimaginable today. By what hairs and threads it all hung, that dream of Jewish sovereignty. From sleepless generals being shuffled from front to beleaguered front to French Socialists pressing every leverage of their careers to Jewish operatives scouring Europe for any usable war material to be smuggled back home to British Zionists beating their heads against the anti-Semitic hostility of PM Bevin to fifteen year old boys and girls repelling Arab tanks and half-tracks with Molotov cocktails at Degania to the tattooed refugees weeping and dancing as they approached the port of Haifa, this is a story of national liberation as broad and varied as one's heart and mind could bear. Here is one piece of this story.

Summer, 1948. With the waves of Arab armies beaten but not broken on the fledgling rock of a nation they had once sworn to exterminate, a different kind of battle was being waged for Israel's survival at Lake Success, Long Island, New York, a temporary residence of the recently founded United Nations while a permanent structure was being constructed. Abba Eban, a Cambridge-educated British officer turned Zionist diplomat, catapulted to high profile by the tumult of nation-building back in Tel Aviv, presided over Israel's mission to the United Nations, at the ripe age of 33.
Meanwhile, I could not have regarded our international position as satisfactory. We lacked the kind of diplomatic status that would be needed for effective resistance to hostile pressure. In a dramatic Security Council meeting I had declared that "Israel is an immutable part of the international landscape; whoever plans without it is building delusions on sand." This sounded well, especially in my own ears, but not everyone agreed that we were all that "immutable". Our foot was barely in the door of the world community. Every time that I came to the Security Council table I was made aware that our diplomatic business was unfinished. Before me stood the nameplate describing me as the representative of "the Jewish Agency". I found it intolerable that Israel's name should be forbidden for use in the international forum. How could we expect Arabs to get used to the idea of "Israel" if the highest international bodies still saw us as a vague, indeterminate entity? The United Kingdom delegate, Sir Alexander Codagan, had even taken to addressing us as "the Jewish authorities in Palestine."

To remove this insult we would have to get seven of the eleven members of the Security Council to agree to call us "Israel" at the Security Council table. Unfortunately, we were not sure of having seven votes. At this point I hit upon an alternative device. If the rotating chairman would routinely invite the "representative of Israel" to take his seat the the table, the opponents of this action would need seven votes to override his ruling. Ambassador Philip Jessup [of the United States], conspiring with me against his legalistic habit, informed me that our adversaries did not have seven votes to overrule the chairman, any more than I had seven votes to make a successful positive motion.

Accordingly I laid ambush to our adversaries by suggesting to Gromyko [Soviet Union's representative to the UN] that his colleague Dmitri Manuilsky of the Ukraine, as the next president of the Security Council, should invite "Israel" to the table at the next Council meeting and then challenge members of the Council to overrule him. Gromyko, in a humorous flight, informed Gideon Rafael and me that he thought he had "some influence over the Ukrainian delegate".

Our stratagem worked. The Security Council met. The Ukrainian president called upon the "representative of Israel" to take his seat at the table. I almost ran to the table as if I expected to be physically obstructed. An official of the secretariat promptly affixed the plaque ISRAEL before me and retired. Cadogan [UK representative to the UN] led a chorus of dissent, stating that the president had acted prematurely and irresponsibly. Other Council members took up the cry. Manuilsky asked in a show of presidential indignation, "Does the Council challenge my ruling?" He asked the question in an incredulous voice, as if he were a pope asking if anyone objected to the doctrine of immaculate conception. The vote was taken. There were only six votes for a challenge.

Argentina had caused me a tremor of apprehension. Its delegate, being certain that we would carry the day, had "invested" his vote harmlessly in friendship for the Arabs. We were now irreversibly "Israel" in Security Council discussions.
Personal Witness: Israel through my Eyes, Abba Eban, pg. 172-173

1 comment:

  1. what a writer ...

    I found in the local library Golda Meir, Teddy Kollek and Moshe Dayan
    and would love to dive into this one right away ... oh, why can one read only one book at a time?

    I know a guy who was a mayor in East Germany i.e. had the full communist education, whenever he gets nostalgia and I want to bawl him over I tell him how much on Israel's side the Soviets were in the early days, very effective remedy it is every time.


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