La Plus C’est Change, la Plus C’est la Meme Chose

This interview from 1958 of the great Abba Eban, at that time Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. and its chief delegate to the U.N., provides eye-opening perspective on Israel’s enemies and detractors, as well as its indomitable spirit (thanks to Daniel Pipes whose site,, linked to this interview today). Interviewed by Mike Wallace at the time, Eban said, “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 our common region.”

How poignant to read these words with the knowledge that when they were spoken, the leaders of those neighboring countries continued to cherish the “dream” of destroying the tiny Jewish state, a “dream” they would gang up in unsuccessful attempts to realize in 1967 and then again in 1973.

It is fascinating to read this interview in light of the subsequent five decades’ history. In Eban’s reasonable, dignified, and peerlessly eloquent responses to Wallace’s questions, one can see what has remained constant: Israel’s patient quest for peace, future-oriented mindset, and commitment to decency, prosperity, and progress in the face of irrational enemies.

In Wallace’s repetitious questions, including such absurdities as the idea that Israel is a “threat to world peace,” one can see contortions of logic that have characterized so much misguided reporting and commentary on the middle east conflict through the decades. I would argue this bending over backwards to paint Israel as the problem has helped provide fertile ground for the blossoming of terrorism as the international scourge of the modern era. After all, the twisting of logic necessary to see Arab xenophobia, then terrorism, as somehow, if not excusable, at least understandable reactions to Israel’s existence, to “occupation,” or to poverty–and not as the injustices they are–began here, with the blaming of Israel for the hatred and aggression directed against it for existing. The world has paid dearly ever since.

Much subsequent commentary on the conflict has been even worse. Ridiculous as some of the ideas are that Wallace voices here–such as that American Jewish Zionists have conflicting loyalties–at least he voices them as questions (as opposed to making assertions a la Walt and Mearsheimer), and is asking these questions of a great statesman whose responses expose their hollowness.

Still, in Wallace’s questions one can trace the patterns of distortion that have provided Israel’s enemies with fertile ground for a decades-long propaganda war. Here we have, for instance, the invidious comparison of the plight of 700,000 Palestinian refugees to the plight of the near-annihilated Jews of Europe after the Holocaust, and the comparison of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews of Europe.

On the one hand, the articulation of such wild slander by a mainstream figure like Mike Wallace, even in the form of a question rather than a statement, could be viewed as irresponsible, and foreshadowing of a tradition of tolerance in media and academia for slander against Israel. On the other hand, it’s pretty rich the way present realities reveal the absurdity of this: fifty years down the road, those 700,000 Palestinian refugees have turned into four and a half million. So much for the genocide, Mike.

In an interesting contortion of logic, Wallace keeps asking Eban whether Israel has acted immorally for having increased its territorial size in the process of fighting a defensive war for its existence. Eban addresses him squarely and refuses, so to speak, to give ground: “One would hope … whenever countries wage a war of aggression, as the Arab states did, that they should be the losers.”

He also points out that, far from acquiring territory by aggression, Israel honored every agreement it signed with the Arab states and the international community. It was the Arab states, and never Israel, that sought land by aggression.

I love how Eban doesn’t hesitate to insert a touch of sarcasm. When Wallace cites some little-known rabbi, saying, “‘The Zionist/Israeli axis imposes upon Jews outside of Israel, Americans of the Jewish faith included, a status of double-nationality,’ a status which he deplores,” Eban says, “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.”

Where today are such eloquent and witty spokesmen for Israel?

Sometimes it seems to me that, in too often abandoning the debate to those who would offer weak or incomplete defense against maligning of Israel, including in its subtler, more insidious forms, those of us American Jews who know better, and even our Israeli brethren, have betrayed a weakness of spirit that does not bode well for the future. On the other hand, it is perversely encouraging to see that even in 1958 there were fools like the rabbi quoted above who sought to fertilize ground for ideological war against the Jewish state. To borrow a phrase from our good friends the French: “La Plus C’est Change, la Plus C’est la Meme Chose”–“The More Things Change, the More Things Remain the Same.”

And yet, while often falling short of perfection, Israel and her supporters go on, and prosper.

“Am Yisroel Chai.”

This entry was written by and posted on July 1, 2008 at 8:07 pm and filed under Blog. permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Keywords: , . Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. */?>