Ralph Buntyn

Remembering Israel’s Place at the UN Table: An Insider’s Account Recalled

UN Press Corp member David Horowitz congratulates Israeli Ambassador to the UN Abba Eban after successful vote to admit Israel to UN membership in 1949.

When the new State of Israel was admitted to membership at the United Nations in 1949, Abba Solomon Eban became its first permanent representative to the world body. Joining ranks with Jewish Correspondent David Horowitz, who had obtained press credentials in 1945 at the newly formed UN, they became a formidable team in the cause and defense of the new fledgling state. The favorable vote by the UN General Assembly on March 4,1949 to admit the new State of Israel was anything but automatic and represented the dramatic culmination of an intense campaign that included UN insiders Eban and Horowitz.

Abba Eban was barely thirty-three years old when he was called to represent the new State of Israel in the debates of the United Nations.  He had worked with Moshe Sharett in liaison with the UN Special Commission on Palestine, which made the first recommendation for the establishment of a Jewish State. Educated at Cambridge, Eban’s oratorical skills, grasp of history and fluency in ten languages enhanced his success as one of Israel’s greatest spokesmen.

The new state first applied for membership to the United Nations on May 15, 1948, one day after proclaiming its independence. The admissions committee of the UN, however, citied Israel’s inability to prove its viability as a state, and did not support the application. Eventually, the Security Council denied Israel membership.

Israel would make a second attempt for membership on December 17, 1948 while in the midst of a multi-front war with her neighboring countries. U.S. spokesman, Dr. Philip C. Jessup, delivered a stirring appeal urging Israel’s immediate admission as the fifty-ninth member of the United Nations, a clear indication of where President Truman stood on Israel.

Again, Israel was denied membership by the Security Council.

By early March 1949, the fighting of the 1948 War was over and Israel was conducting armistice talks separately with four Arab states leading to the Security Council’s actual recommendation of Israel for admission to the UN. The vote, coming at about 5:40 PM on March 4 (almost midnight in Israel) was 9 in favor, 1 against (Egypt), and 1 abstention (England). Israel’s third application for membership was again on the table.

Despite the Security Council recommendation, there remained a great uncertainty about whether or not Israel would actually be admitted. Instrumental to rallying the necessary support for the passing of the motion was UN journalist David Horowitz and Abba Eban, Israel’s first ambassador to the UN.

Horowitz worked diligently behind the scenes to influence foreign delegates and committee members to vote for Israel’s admission, and in a marathon two and a half hour speech, Eban passionately argued Israel’s case in front of the Ad Hoc Political Committee of the UN.

They were both present on May 11th, 1949 (the twelfth day of Iyar, 5709), at approximately 7:30 PM, when the United Nations congregated in its General Assembly Building at Flushing Meadows and voted to admit Israel as the 59th member nation.

Horowitz summed up the prevailing emotions as the event unfolded: “It was a dramatic occasion. As the vote was taken there prevailed an air of tense alertness, vigil, and almost breathlessness. Even some of the most seasoned newsmen showed emotions that revealed their innermost feelings. Most of them, having followed the Israeli case from the very outset of the struggle, had hoped for just this sort of development. The vote, 37 in favor, 12 against with 9 abstentions, came as a climax to a drama upon which the eyes of the world had been focused for a long time. For the Jews, the event seemed Messianic in scope.”

The delegation of Israel could now take its rightful place in the General Assembly of the UN, the body of nations that UN journalist Horowitz called “the parliament of man.”

Thrilled with the outcome and moved by the historic event, Abba Eban later stated that he would always remember the raising of the Israeli flag on admission to United Nations membership as one of the high points of his life.

About the Author
Ralph Buntyn is a retired marketing executive for a Fortune 500 company. He is executive vice-president and associate editor for United Israel World Union, an 80 year old Jewish educational organization dedicated to propagating the ideals of the Decalogue faith on a universal scale. An author and writer, his articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets including The Southern Shofar, The Jerusalem Post, and the United Israel Bulletin. He is the author of "The Book of David: David Horowitz: Dean of United Nations Press Corps and Founder: United Israel World Union."
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