Mike Wallace, who died on Sunday, was known for his combative interview style. In 1958 he did a full half-hour program with Abbas Eban, then Israel’s ambassador to the US and the UN, on the subject of Israel’s tenth anniversary.
Wallace started off the interview by saying “we shall put to Ambassador Eban questions raised by Israel’s critics; some of them, by her enemies.” Indeed, some of the questions Wallace spends the most of his time dwelling on are quotes from American Jewish critics of Israel that sound quite similar to those we hear today.
He noted the charge that Israel cannot survive economically – and yet it is still here. He noted the idea that if the US is friendly to Israel it may lose any influence over Arab states – and yet Arab states still try to stay on America’s good side, over fifty years later. And he finally tried to hammer away at the idea espoused at the time by a now-obscure anti-Zionist rabbi that a Jew cannot be loyal to both America and Israel, just as today’s critics charge.
Eban, as usual, parried the questioning brilliantly.
Besides marveling at the unparalleled oratory skills of Abba Eban, keep in mind that Israel’s critics have been singularly unoriginal in their accusations since 1958, and all of their predictions (and hopes) of Israel’s impending doom have not panned out.
Here’s the entire interview, and the transcript from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin:
THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW
Guest: Abba Eban
WALLACE: Good evening… Tonight we go after a story that has been thousands of years in the making, the story of Israel, a country which celebrates its Tenth Anniversary this month. Our guest… Abba Eban, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and its Chief Delegate to the United Nations.
If you’re curious to hear Ambassador’s Eban’s views on the recent mergers by Arab nations which are hostile to Israel, his views on on Egypt’s President Nasser and the Arab refugee problem, on American Jewry, and the charge that Israel threatens world peace with a policy of territorial expansion, we’ll go after those stories in a moment. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Parliament.
WALLACE: And now to our story… Abba Eban, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, is a scholar, a linguist, a persuasive orator, a veteran statesman at the age of forty-three. He has been called “The Voice of Israel,” which is also the title of his book. Tonight, in order to clarify Israel’s problems, her hopes and her aspirations, we shall put to Ambassador Eban questions raised by Israel’s critics; some of them, by her enemies.
Mr. Ambassador, in its… ten years as a nation, Israel has been involved in repeated violence: major border incidents, two open wars with the Arabs, the first in forty-eight the last in fifty-six. What do you foresee for the next ten years? Do you foresee continuing violence?
EBAN: Well, Mr. Wallace, the last ten years have not only been years of violence. They have been incomparable years of joyous creation, of sovereignty restored, of the people gathered in, of a land revived, of democracy established, but there has also been violence imposed by the hostility of our neighbors. For our second decade, we devoutly hope for a period of peaceful consolidation.
We hope that there will be no recurrence of the violent conflicts which marked our first decade, but that we and our kindred neighboring people will devote all our efforts to the development of our respective countries and of our common region.
WALLACE: You say that you “Hope” for peace. Back in September ’56, you called Egypt’s President Nasser, Israel’s most perilous adversary. Now today Colonel Nasser would seem to be even stronger; he is the head of the merged Egyptian and Syrian nations, he is apparently regaining the friendship of Saudi Arabia; the populations, if not the leadership, of Jordan and Iraq look to him for inspiration. How does this all affect Israel?
EBAN: Well, at present, Nasser’s policy is one of acquiescence towards us, and there has been a relative tranquility on our frontier with him. Perhaps the memories of the Sinai expedition have had a salutory effect in causing him to avoid his previous belligerent provocations, but basically we have not changed our views on Nasser and Nasserism.
He claims freedom for Egypt; he denies freedom for his neighbor Israel. In his relations with Middle Eastern states, his policy is one of hegemony, he’s not content to look after Egypt’s troubles and complex, affairs, he seeks to impose his domination over other states in the area. All over the Middle East, you will find governments just as worried by his pretensions to hegemony as ourselves, and he has brought the great power conflict into the Middle East in order to maneuver between the power blocks…
WALLACE: All over the Middle East too, though, will you not find that the huge majority of the Arab people are interested in the extermination of Israel?
EBAN: We find that the governments of Arab countries still articulate the aim of our extermination, but er… I think it is beyond their powers to achieve it and, of course, in any international system which respects law and morality, there must be resistance to any such policy.
WALLACE: Do you think that we are currently going through a lull before the storm? Our former secretary of the Air Force Thomas Finletter told Zionist leaders in America, just a month ago that the present Middle East situation is a lull before a possible storm and he added that we have good reason, he said, to be apprehensive over the ultimate direction of the Arab mergers.
EBAN: I think a great degree of vigilance is called for, so long as Arab policy continues to be devoted, if only verbally, to the vision of Israel’s destruction. On the other hand, if this lull, as you call it, this tranquility can be preserved, if passions are calmed, if Israel gives an ever increasing demonstration of her permanence and stability, I don’t exclude the possibility that the present lull might merge into a climate more conducive to peace.
WALLACE: Well… a lull… will emerge into a climate more conducive to peace if perhaps some of the issues behind the Arab-Israeli hostility can be settled. Let’s take a look at them. First, the refugee problem: An estimated seven hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs were left homeless during the Arab-Israeli war of ’48.
Israel refuses to readmit them; they live in bitterness and such men as historian Arnold Toynbee has said this, “The evil deeds committed by the Zionist Jews against the Arabs are comparable to crimes committed against the Jews by the Nazis.” How do you feel about that?
EBAN: Well, about Professor Toynbee’s statement I can only repeat what I’ve written, that it is a monstrous blasphemy. Here he takes the massacre of millions of our men, women and children, and he compares it to the plight of Arab refugees alive, on their kindred soil, suffering certain anguish, but of course possessed of the supreme gift of life. This equation between massacre and temporary suffering which can easily be alleviated is, I think, a distortion of any historic perspective.
EBAN: But the refugee problem, Mr. Wallace, isn’t the cause of tension. The refugee problem is the result of an Arab policy. An Arab policy which created the problem by the invasion of Israel, which perpetuates it by refusing to accommodate them into their expanding labor market, and which refuses to solve the problem which they have the full capacity to solve.
There is, I think, a basic immorality in this attitude of Arab governments to their own kinsmen whose plight they could relieve immediately, once the will to relieve it existed. All world opinion admits that the problem can only be solved on a regional basis by opening the vast resources of the Arab world to this Arab refugee population, and if there were such an effort on their part to approach a regional settlement, Israel would make its due and just contribution.
WALLACE: Of course, the problem of the refugees is allied with the problem of territorial expansion on the part of Israel. A major Arab spokesman here in the United States Dr. Faid Sai says this: He says, “The area of the territories held by Israel today exceeds by about 40 percent the area of the territories given Israel by the United Nations. Most of this added area, “he says” was taken by force and should therefore be relinquished by Israel.”
EBAN: Well, I think this gentleman need not to lose any sleep at night worrying about whether the State of Israel is too big. Really there is nothing more grotesque or eccentric in the international life of our times, than the doctrine that little Israel, eight thousand square miles in area, should become even smaller in order that the vast Arab Empire should still further expand.
There are really two aspects, Mr. Wallace, to every territorial problem: The legal aspect, and the moral aspect. The law is clear, the present territorial frontiers rest on agreements between Israel and the Arab States, which cannot be changed except by consent. The Arab States have signed those agreements which give them and us a veto power against any territorial change to which we do not agree, so that there is no legal abuse in the present situation. But…
WALLACE: Well, you and the Arabs have hardly signed a territorial agreement…
EBAN: Oh, we have…
WALLACE: That involves what… what territory Israel took as result of the forty-eight war.
EBAN: Oh yes, we have. The present agreements between Israel and the Arab States delimit the precise territory which we hold now. Israel does not possess a single inch of territory beyond the valid agreements which she has signed and which United Nations has ratified, and…
WALLACE: Under the terms of an armistice pending final settlement.
EBAN: Yes… yes, but in that final settlement, as it is written in the agreements, no changes can be accepted without the consent of both parties. So we are within our rights and they are within their rights in accepting or refusing any change, so there is nothing whatever illegal about any aspect of the present territorial question; but the moral issue is the most important here.
WALLACE: Well now, that’s the point that I would like to talk to you, if I may. The fact remains, when we talk about morality… the fact remains that Israel benefited territorially from a war, from armed violence.
EBAN: Yes, I’m glad to say that I hope that whenever countries wage a war of aggression, as the Arab States did, that they should be the losers by waging that war of aggression.
WALLACE: Well, as a member of the Judaic Faith, which cherishes social justice and morality, do you believe that any country should profit territorially from violence?
EBAN: Mr. Wallace, I am not going into the history of other countries, and I am not going to analyze how the frontiers of countries which I have seen or in which I have served were achieved; but we have certainly achieved our territorial settlement as a result of agreements, not as a result of violence. It was they who decreed the method by which the present frontiers were achieved. They rejected the 1947 recommendation.
We said, “Let us have boundaries by international agreement”; they said, “Let us fix our boundaries by war,” and they made the war. But following the war, we reached agreements and these agreements define our boundaries, and we… and they have agreed that they may not be changed except by mutual consent.
But much more important even than history and law, is this basic moral question: Here we, are eight thousand square miles, perhaps the smallest state in the international community; here they are, eleven sovereign states, three million square miles, four hundred times our area, and we have the fantastic doctrine —
I will admit it isn’t sponsored by any serious government but one does hear it — the doctrine that this vast, sated, fat, huge, lavish Arab Empire should expand at the expense of tiny Israel. Nobody in the world need lie awake at night worrying about whether Israel is too big.
WALLACE: When you talk about the huge, sated, fat, Arab States, the eleven sovereign states, it is barely possible that you are guilty of some overstatement, there is also in that area tremendous poverty, tremendous desolation.
EBAN: Yes, I am speaking, Mr. Wallace, purely in territorial terms. They really have no reason to envy us our eight thousand square miles.
WALLACE: Mr. Ambassador, do you…. do you foresee further territorial expansion by Israel?
EBAN: Well I don’t like the word “further” Mr. Wallace, because, as I have said, our present boundaries rest upon agreements beyond which we have not encroached, but we certainly do not desire to expand our frontiers. I doubt the reality of this issue. We are prepared to accept a guaranteed settlement with the Arab States on the present frontiers.
Are they so prepared? I wonder whether the issue isn’t one of Arab expansion. Here sit I, the accredited representative of Israel, and I declare that Israel will sign a peace treaty with the Arab States on the present frontier. Now you get an Arab Ambassador sitting here to say that he will have a settlement with Israel on the present frontier, and you will really have a story.
WALLACE: Of course, there is one political party and a fairly substantial political party within Israel, the Herrad Party [sic], with fifteen seats in your Parliament to the Ben Gurion Party’s forty seats. One of the Herrad’s major spokesmen, Dr. Joseph Sheckman, wrote this recently, he said, “Zionism is more than Israel, for Zionism Israel’s present territory and population are but a partial accomplishment, and the Herrad party is dedicated to territorial expansion.” Is that not so?
EBAN: Er… Yes, but when you said, Mr. Wallace, that they have fifteen members dedicated to expansion, you are really saying, in other words, that there are one hundred and fifteen members not dedicated to expansion. In other words, eighty-five percent of the Israeli electorate has put its trust in parties which do not advocate territorial expansion; therefore, I think one can say that within our democratic process, the concept of territorial expansion has been rejected.
WALLACE: Let’s move along. Recently in the Middle East, I spoke with the President of the National Bank of Egypt, Hussein Fanie, who’s a member of the Egyptian Economic Council, and he told us this, he said “Israel as a nation is doomed to go bankrupt because the resources are pitifully limited: Some olive and orange groves, a little potash, no fuels, no raw materials to speak of, and its industry,” he said “Is unable to make enough products to export at a significant profit. Israel can exist only on charity from other nations.” What’s your answer?
EBAN: Well, I’m deeply touched by this gentleman’s concern. But I will say with definiteness which may surprise you, that there is no reason whatever for any skepticism about Israel’s economic future.
Let me just say what the main facts are, which build up into a certainty of success. Take seven years, 1951 to 1957. During that period our population has increased by 4 percent per year, in other words by some thirty percent in seven years, a population increase of thirty percent. What has happened to our national product in those seven years? It has increased by seventy-five percent.
What has happened to our export trade? It has increased by two hundred and fifty percent from a figure of 75 million dollars a year export earnings in 1951 to 203 million dollars export earnings now. In other words, all the trends, all the lines are converging towards success, and we think that our difficulties are transient. These are impressive basic facts!
WALLACE: They are impressive facts, but the fact of the matter is that the balance between imports and exports is still way in favor of the imports.
EBAN: Oh, yes, there is a very imposing er… deficit in the balance of payments. It becomes less imposing if you analyze it.
WALLACE: The New York Times…
EBAN: It includes, if I may just…
EBAN: refer to this, all the machinery that we’re importing, all the capital goods, all the tractors, the machines, the irrigation pipes, to make our productive… our economy productive. These are all included on the deficit side. We are like a man…
WALLACE: In other words, you are furnishing your house, so to speak.
EBAN: We are like a man who’s furnishing a workshop. While he’s building the furniture and the equipment, of course his expenditures are heavy, but he’s incurring those expenditures in the cause of ultimate fruition.
WALLACE: The New York Times summed up your economic problems at the end of ’57 in this fashion: they said, “The trade deficit remained between 300 million and 350 million dollars, which meant that for another year, Israel continued to depend upon the astronomical contributions of world Jewry and particularly United States Jewry to keep her head above water.”
We are now faced here, with talk at least and probably the fact, of a recession. Were there to be a serious recession not only here in the United States, but in the world, this could be disastrous for Israel. Could it not?
EBAN: Well we do depend, for this transitional period in which our economy is being built, upon external aid and of course if we were cut off from that aid we would suffer. But we would not be alone in that.
Our economic future depends on very clear guiding posts. Agriculture: we can become independent of all agricultural imports except a few staple products. Minerals: To give you an example, we’re earning one or two million dollars a year from our potash resources. This could become 15 million dollars for that single item.
Industry: Where we are opening new markets in Asia and Africa; and Science: Where we look to the new fuels and the new forces of nature to compensate for our relative scarcity in conventional fuels.
WALLACE: Talking of America’s involvement in all of this because of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the United States finds itself on the horns of a dilemma: We want Israel’s survival and friendship, but we also need the friendship of forty million Arabs who might otherwise turn to Russia. Do you think that it is in the United States’ best interest, therefore, to befriend Israel and risk thereby losing the entire Middle East to Russia?
EBAN: I think, Mr. Wallace, that your country’s only course, if I might suggest it, in response to your invitation, is to follow a policy of constructive friendship for Israel and for the Arab States. America has sponsored and stimulated the independence of many Arab States; you would have been false to your own traditions of justice and equality if you’d enabled them to become independent in eleven countries and not enabled our people, at the climax of its agony, to achieve its modern domain of independence.
I think that if your policy makes it clear that you seek the friendship of Israel and of her neighbors not at the expense of each other, and that you regard these friendships as reconcilable within your policy, I believe that that would be respected by us and by them.
WALLACE: You don’t believe that friendship for Israel on the one hand, and the Arab States on the other, are necessarily mutually self-canceling?
EBAN: I think not, Mr. Wallace. Many countries manage, as your own country does, to reconcile these two elements in its policy.
WALLACE: Ambassador Eban, in a moment, I would like to ask you about the role of the American Jew in Israel’s and Zionism’s future. According to a leading anti-Zionist here in the United States, Rabbi Elmer Berger, “The Zionist-Israeli axis,” he says, “Imposes upon Jews outside of Israel, Americans of Jewish faith included, a status of double nationality which he charges “Is both artificial and dangerous” In a moment, I’d like to get your opinion on that charge.
And we’ll get Abba Eban’s answer in just sixty seconds.
WALLACE: Now then, Mr. Eban, regarding the American Jew and the State of Israel, as I said, the anti-Zionist Rabbi, Dr. Elmer Berger, has written, “That the Zionist-Israeli axis imposes upon Jews outside of Israel, Americans of Jewish faith included, a status of double-nationality” a status which he deplores. What’s your answer?
EBAN: Well, Mr. Wallace, I have so many pressing duties that I don’t follow the wisdom of this gentleman perhaps as closely as I should. I will only say this, that we ask no allegiance, we seek no loyalty from anyone who is not a citizen of Israel. There is a kinship of spirit, of emotion, of historic memory between us and those who share our faith throughout the world. If American Jews wish to express that kinship, it is for them so to do; if not, then that also is their decision.
We, as a free nation speaking to a free nation, set forth the reasons why we believe they will find it infinitely rewarding to draw upon our common heritage and to sustain us in our great historic enterprise, but it is their decision and we impose nothing on them at all.
WALLACE: Your own Prime Minister David Ben Gurion wrote back in 1953 this, he said, “When a Jew in America speaks of our government to his fellow Jews, he usually means the government of Israel, while the Jewish public in various countries view the Israeli ambassadors as their own representatives.” Wouldn’t that appear anyway to support Rabbi Berger’s statement?
EBAN: I think not, Mr. Wallace. I’m sure that the Prime Minister was speaking in these terms of historic sympathy, we do evoke a certain affection, certain impulses of responsibility but the clear division of political allegiance is I think fully understood on both sides. We impose nothing upon them; we seek, as I’ve said, no allegiance from them. There is a kinship of history which both, they and we, seek voluntarily to express and for which there are so many examples, both in our own tradition and in yours.
WALLACE: Would a Jew, in your estimation, would a Jew be any the less a Jew if he were opposed to Zionism and to Israel?
EBAN: Well, we are dealing here with subjective terms, “more of a Jew”, or “less of a Jew”. I think it is for Jews outside of Israel to determine the exact degree and measure of their intimacy with us. We believe that Israel’s emergence is the greatest collective event in the history of the Jewish people, and that there is no pride and no dignity for a Jew such as those to be found in giving aid and sustenance to Israel in the great hour of her resurgence.
WALLACE: I still, if I may say so, sir, do not feel that you have been responsive to that question. Can a Jew be a good Jew and still be opposed to Zionism and to Israel?
EBAN: I think that’s for him to decide… I wouldn’t say
WALLACE: But, of course, it is. But in your estimation?
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.
WALLACE: Therefore, in your estimation again, to be a good Jew one has to be more than just a religious practicing Jew, one has to enter the religion and the peoplehood at one and the same time to be a fulfilled Jew.
EBAN: I believe that religion has been the field in which the genius of our people has been most profoundly stirred. But… but being Jewish goes beyond this vital domain, and covers a whole complex of spiritual and other emotions, and that to live within the fullness of Jewish history is a deeply satisfying experience.
WALLACE: Recently David Ben Gurion said, “I still don’t believe it’s possible to enjoy the full Jewish life outside of Israel.”
EBAN: Well, to be quite frank, Mr. Wallace, we think highly of our country. We believe that we have achieved a reunion of the conditions of its greatness. This was the people, this was the land, and this was the language. Out of whose previous reunion, great events flowed for us and for mankind, and we believe that the perfection of our destiny in the world can only be found through this great act of restoration which has happened in our lifetime.
We wish well to our brethren outside our frontiers, but we do believe that there is a special historic and spiritual quality in the life of a free Jewish citizen in Israel reborn.
WALLACE: I thank you, sir, for coming and spending this half hour with us. I congratulate you upon your Tenth Anniversary.
EBAN: Thank you very much.
WALLACE: The State of Israel was conceived ten years ago, in hope. It has lived in good measure in peril. In the future, if it is to survive and realize its dream of plenty, it must live in peace. To that the free world says, “Amen.”