Fifty years ago, April 12, 1958, on the cusp of Israel’s 10th birthday, not its 60th, Abba Eban, then Israel’s ambassador to the United States, sat down for an interview with CBS.
“I’m Mike Wallace,” says the newsman. “The cigarette is Parliament.”
It was a time when journalists almost had to smoke, a haze drifted between the talking heads on an unadorned stage, draped in black.
The primitive black and white kinescopes of Wallace interviews from the late 1950s were recently made available by the University of Texas at Austin, where they’ve been archived.
The interview on that April night takes us back to a simpler time, before settlers, before Israel’s control of Jerusalem or the West Bank, a time when “little Israel” was
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David, not Goliath. It was the year “Exodus” was published. Israel was a teen idol, or so we remember. But the young Wallace (40 years old) was tough and Eban was, well, Eban.
Here, condensed, is some of their exchange.
WALLACE: “Mr. Ambassador, in its … 10 years as a nation, Israel has been involved in repeated violence… ”
EBAN: “Well, Mr. Wallace, the last 10 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.”
WALLACE: “… You called Egypt’s President Nasser, Israel’s most perilous adversary. Now today Colonel Nasser would seem to be even stronger…”
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 [in 1956] have had a salutary effect in causing him to avoid his previous belligerent provocations, but basically we have not changed our views on Nasser and Nasserism.”
The word “Palestinian” is not heard on the broadcast. The West Bank was Jordan in those days; Gaza was Egypt.
WALLACE: “… Arnold Toynbee has said, ‘The evil deeds committed by the Zionist Jews against the [refugee] 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.”
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 … 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, 8,000 square miles in area, should become even smaller in order that the vast Arab Empire should still further expand.”
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 to analyze how the frontiers of countries which I have seen or in which I have served were achieved [but it is the Arabs] who decreed the method by which the present frontiers were achieved. They rejected the 1947 recommendation.”
WALLACE: “Now then, Mr. Eban, regarding the American Jew and the State of Israel, the anti-Zionist rabbi, Dr. Elmer Berger [a Reform rabbi, not Satmar or Neturei Karta] has written, ‘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 … 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.”
Let us now return to 2008, to a new Jewish cable station, Shalom TV, where one can hear Israel’s current defenders, albeit without the cigarettes. Shalom TV in recent weeks has become newly available in New York on Time Warner as a free video-on-demand service. The station, based in Fort Lee, N.J., had previously been available in smaller markets only.
Shalom TV offers Israeli films and documentaries; presentations from the 92nd Street Y; and what Mark Golub, president of Shalom TV, calls, “Jewish C-Span,” coverage of prominent newsmakers speaking at AIPAC, UJC General Assemblies and other conventions and public events. There have been expert roundtables with analysts and journalists swapping inside information with the likes of Mort Zuckerman, Malcolm Hoenlein, Elie Wiesel, David Brooks, and hosts such as Sidney Zion. Abba Eban would’ve loved it.
Online video clips can be seen at shalomtv.com.