By: Maher Al Junaidy المقالة بالعربية
Henry Kissinger once said of him, “I have never encountered anyone who matched his command of the English language. Sentences poured forth in mellifluous constructions complicated enough to test the listener’s intelligence and simultaneously leave him transfixed by the speaker’s virtuosity.” Kissinger was talking about Aubrey Solomon Meir Eban, whose 10th anniversary of his death will be commemorated by Israelis on 17th November this year.
Aubrey, better known as Abba Eban, was the half-brother of Israel’s sixth President, Chaim Herzog. He was the intelligencia powerhouse who carried both the educational and the cultural portfolios under David Ben-Gurion’s government in the early 1960s. He went on to become Vice Prime Minister to Levi Eshkol until 1966, before taking on the position of Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister from 1966 to 1974. He was the veteran Israeli diplomat and politician who enjoyed rich cultural presence. Not only did he master 10 international languages, but he also actively contributed to Zionist research and studies, and he translated some the most prominent works of Arab literature into Hebrew, notably Diary of a Country Prosecutor, a 1937 novel by Tawfiq al-Hakim.
In his speech to Israelis following the June Naksa, Abba Eban explained his “dovish” stance in the face of hawks by saying, “when I was first here, we had the advantages of the underdog. Now we have the disadvantages of the overdog.”
In contrast, and at almost precisely the same moment, the late leader Gamal Abdel Nasser declared in his usual pride and charisma, “there is no longer a way out of our present situation except by forging a road toward our objective, violently and by force, over a sea of blood and under a horizon blazing with fire.“
In discussing these two statements, we must, above all else, mention that Israeli leaders, regardless of their political affiliation, defend the unjust practices of an aggressive and racist state, positioning themselves squarely as enemies of humanity, regardless of how they may portray themselves – doves or hawks, likud or labour. While Abdel Nasser’s statement deals with a legitimate right and usurped lands.
However the difference in tone between both statements is clear. This difference reflects more than just two completely contrasting patterns of thought. The statement made by Abba Eban, who took over the defence portfolio after the Six-Day War in June 1967, identifies the dilemma that befell the Jewish state after the war; Israel found itself facing a completely new situation viz-a-vis its allies, not to mention its opponents.
The nicest state, barely two decades old and bordered by hostility, was regarded by its supporters as a bastard child that calls for sympathy tinged with suspicion, or as an experiment with questionable success. These contradictory emotions toward the “vulnerable” presented an opportunity for masterful exploitation by the Israelis who used it to gain sympathy and thus support, at a time when threats of throwing the Jews into the sea were abound.
However after the war, Israel was revealed as a skilful player, one who can reshuffle the deck. A strong opponent who is capable of changing the region’s maps. Savvy enough to impose new conditions and sharp enough to create new, unexpected circumstances. Politicians reviewed their sympathy-based narrative, even going so far as to retract them in favour of a rational narrative with more precise calculations. This was exactly what Abba Eban was talking about. The rules of the game have changed. Israelis must now stop, take stock and reconsider.
If, subsequently, emotions were pushed through the corridors of politics and employed to sway public opinion, it was only as part of the transformation of the state’s relationships from incubation to partnerships. This was manifested in the race of former “sponsors” of the emerging state toward restructuring their relationship with a strong Israel, a more mature partnership, whose foundations were drawn by Kissinger after the Yom Kippur/October War in 1973.
In light of the above, it becomes obvious how Abba Eban’s words, frequently re-quoted, addressed Israeli intellect and invited them to reflect carefully on the changes that have taken place and how they affect current equations. Using rational, precise and concise language, he was able to place before his people a vision aimed at instigating deeper reflection on the challenges of the next phase.
In contrast, the spirited and fiery call unleashed by the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in one of his speeches, represents a typical example of the media approach used by most ruling regimes in addressing their people after defeat. This approach depends first of all on disguising the facts through rhetoric that verges on the poetic.
Abdel Nasser does not invite a discussion of the current situation and possible solutions to be followed by decision making. Rather he confiscates thought by saying, ” there is no longer a way out..”. Leaving his people without a clear path, not knowing how to think except that they need a saviour to guide them out of their “present situation”; nothing more, nothing less.
Abdel Nasser might have used enchanting, intrusive expressions, “forging a road toward our objective, violently and by force”, but this merely addressed the violated emotions of his people and offered them nothing more than empty psychological momentum. The late leader’s statement reached its peak when he painted a very bloody image, “a sea of blood and under a horizon blazing with fire.” Dazzling imagery that compensated defeated souls with victorious illusions. This in addition to the impression such expressions leave in world public opinion, let alone how well the savvy Israelis can exploit them.
There is no doubt that Nasser’s speech was met at the time with much cheering and clapping, while Abba Eban’s words were met with much thought, meditation and head-scratching recalculation.
Published by Al-Mustaqbal, Beirut, Lebanon, 4 November 2012.