Abba Eban memorial ceremony at Foreign Ministry


The late Abba Eban on the admission of Israel to the United Nations

(Communicated by the Foreign Ministry Spokesman)

On 11 May 2004, at 18:30, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will hold a ceremony in commemoration of the third foreign minister of the State of Israel, the late Abba Eban.

The ceremony will be hosted by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, with the participation of Mr. Eban’s widow, Ms. Suzy Eban, his nephew, MK Yitzhak Herzog, politicians, past directors general of the Foreign Ministry, and foreign ambassadors.

At the ceremony, a bust of the late Mr. Eban will be unveiled in the atrium that bears his name. A book published by the Foreign Ministry, Abba Eban – Statesman and Diplomat, will be on display, and speeches will be delivered in honor of his memory. In addition, a short film describing Mr. Eban’s life will be shown.

The date chosen for the unveiling ceremony is the day that Israel was accepted into the United Nations 55 years ago (11 May 1949).


Dedication of MFA Atrium in the Name of Abba Eban by
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom

Mrs Suzy Eban,
Mrs Aura Herzog,
Yitzhak Herzog, MK
Distinguished Ambassadors,
Esteemed Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and an honour to unveil the statue of Israel’s third Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, and to dedicate the Atrium of our new Foreign Ministry in his name.

As Abba’s wife Suzy related just a few minutes ago, it was fifty-five years ago today, on May 11th, 1949, that Israel’s first Foreign Minister, Moshe Sharett and Israel’s first representative to the United Nations, Abba Eban, raised the Israeli flag for the first time at the UN headquarters in New York. In its Resolution (Number 273) of that day, the General Assembly acknowledged what the people of Israel have always known – that Israel is a peace-loving state, and one worthy of its place within the family of nations. Abba Eban played a crucial role in securing this international support,  which at the time was by no means guaranteed.

Even then – as a young man in his early thirties – his skilled diplomacy and moving oratory stood out as beacons of inspiration and genius. Over the next forty years, Abba Eban left a unique mark on Israeli diplomacy and public life.

During his nine years as Israel’s first Ambassador to Washington and to the United Nations, and later, as a member of the Knesset and as Foreign Minister for eight years, he charted Israel’s diplomatic path through the stormy waters of early statehood, always convincing others of the moral and historic justice of our cause. His words and actions touched both the hearts and the minds of all who heard him, just as his spirit and conviction inspired millions.    Israel and its citizens always benefited as a result.

As we stand here in this beautiful new building and dedicate our Atrium in his name, we remember too that it was Abba Eban who laid the foundations of Israel’s diplomatic corps. Already in November 1944, in an article entitled "Reflections on Policy and Diplomacy", Eban listed the qualities needed of the "Zionist diplomat" and of the Foreign Ministry of the Jewish state. In his unique language – which even native English speakers often found hard to match! – he wrote that the functions of diplomacy are:

– to retain the cooperation of friendly forces;
– to ensure that there is a direct relationship between a policy, and the support required for its implementation;  
– to represent national ideals at their highest level;   and, 
– to achieve accord between national interests and current international morality.

These insights are as true today as they were sixty years ago.

Diplomacy is a cornerstone of the entire Zionist enterprise. Whether in the actions of our gifted Ambassadors to the United Nations, or our newest recruits engaging in their first foreign contacts, the work of Israel’s diplomatic corps is crucial to the ongoing national effort, to ensure the security and well-being of our people and our state. As is the way with good diplomacy, this contribution often goes unseen. As Abba Eban himself said: Diplomacy is often best judged by what it prevents, not by what it achieves. But this is a contribution that we must acknowledge, and continue to foster, in the face of competing outlooks.

In the modern era, with the rise of globalization, the internet and 24-hour news channels, the role of the diplomat is changing – a fact recognized by Abba Eban and to which the MFA is today granting more and more attention – but the importance of diplomacy remains the same. Sadly, we are still fighting many of the battles Abba Eban fought in the international arena. Even today, Israel is still forced to fight for recognition and legitimacy, and to enlist coalitions of support against those who seek our downfall.

Abba Eban’s eloquent renouncement of anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism has taken on a renewed relevance in recent years as hostility to Jews and to Israel is once again on the rise.

The battle for peace, too, has yet to be won. Abba Eban remarked after the Six-Day War in 1967 that Israel was the first country in history to win a war and immediately to seek compromise and peace, while the Arabs, on the other hand, were the first side to lose a war and immediately to demand unconditional surrender. Our commitment to peace eventually brought us the historic success of the Peace Treaty with Egypt in 1979 and later, the Peace Treaty with Jordan in 1994.

This commitment to peace continues to this day. Israel remains the peace-loving country acknowledged by the UN fifty-five years ago. Despite the failure of the Palestinian side to help make peace possible, we continue to seek a way forward. We will not be passive. We will continue actively to pursue the peace which our people yearn for. At the same time, we will continue to demand that the Palestinians fulfill their fundamental commitments under the Roadmap, and every agreement which preceded it – to end incitement and violence, and to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s events in Gaza show the true nature of the barbaric terror which Israel faces. Let me say clearly:

We will do everything in our power to bring back the bodies of our soldiers for burial in Israel. This is a fundamental tenet of our national ethos. Nor will we rest, until the terrorists of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations will no longer be able to threaten our people and our way of life. We will target all those involved in the violence against us, while at the same time allowing the civilian population not involved in terror to continue with their lives as much as possible.  This, too, is a fundamental tenet of our national ethos.  


Despite today’s shocking events and the continued terrorist violence, we know that in the long run the path of dialogue and of negotiations is the only way to bring peace and prosperity to our region. Sadly – too many of our Arab neighbors still prefer to talk about Israel rather than talking with us.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under my leadership, continues to seek every avenue to foster contact and dialogue with our Arab neighbors, both near and far.

Just last week, I met in Dublin with the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Morocco and Mauritania, and we are continuing these efforts all the time. I am reminded that Abba Eban often spoke of the need to enhance our knowledge of the Arabic language and culture. I am pleased to say that the modern MFA is fulfilling this tradition, with our Middle Eastern training stream and in our initiatives to reach out to the Arab public through our Arabic internet website and our department for Arabic media.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The message of peace and of dialogue, I believe, is the true legacy of Abba Eban.  Through his rich language and his courageous statesmanship, this was a man who harnessed the world of diplomacy, and made it work for the benefit of our individual and national welfare.

As we stand here celebrating the life of Abba Eban, on the occasion of the fifty-fifth anniversary of Israel’s membership of the United Nations, we share a mutual responsibility – to ourselves and to the memory of our greatest diplomat – to continue this mission.