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When Abba Eban KO’d Mike Wallace


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Last week the Monitor noted that, contrary to popular perception, mainstream media bias against Israel is not something that developed as a result of Israel’s allegedly intransigent negotiating posture, or of Israel’s supposedly disproportional response to terrorist provocation, or of the ascension to power of so-called hard line prime ministers.

No, the tilt against Israel began, slowly at first, in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War and proceeded to pick up steam over the next forty-plus years. But even before 1967 – even when Israel was more of a dot on the map than it is today, even when the Old City of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria were in Arab hands, even before there was any talk of Palestinians or a Palestinian state and the conflict was seen as one between Israel and the Arab nations – there already were media figures who brimmed with hostility toward Israel.

The Monitor was reminded of this while viewing a fascinating episode of the old “Mike Wallace Interviews” TV program. The show, which aired on April 12, 1958, focused on the 10th anniversary of Israeli statehood and Wallace’s guest was Abba Eban, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.

Wallace’s tone was prosecutorial throughout, but what makes the interview especially instructive is that many of the arguments made by Wallace against Israel are precisely the same that are still being made by Israel’s enemies more than a half a century later. Again, this was Israel in 1958, nine years before it found itself in possession of any of the territories that, we are now told, constitute the crux of the problem.

The interview can be seen, along with a complete transcript, at www.hrc.utexas.edu/collections/digital (select “Mike Wallace”). Eban, by the way, was nothing less than magnificent in responding to Wallace’s provocations.

Here are some highlights:

WALLACE: … 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…. 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.

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, eight thousand square miles in area, should become even smaller in order that the vast Arab Empire should still further expand.

WALLACE: Mr. Ambassador, 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…. 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.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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