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Preemptive Justice: Abba Eban’s Defense of Israel at the UN

Date: Sunday, Aug. 22 | 11:00 AM–12:30 PM EDT

On June 5, 1967, after three weeks of provocations by a coalition of Arab countries, Israel struck a stunning preemptive blow against the Egyptian air force, paving the way for a victory that included the capture of Sinai and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from Jordan. From early in the war, Israel’s leaders feared a repeat of the 1956 Sinai campaign, in which it won a lightning-fast victory, but was blamed internationally for initiating the conflict and was forced to withdraw from all the captured territory without receiving any significant concessions. Israel’s government therefore sent Foreign Minister Abba Eban, Israel’s most able spokesman in English, to address the UN Security Council on the second day of the war. Combining overwhelming evidence with deftly-turned phrases and supreme confidence in the justness of Israel’s cause, Eban made the case that Israel, in striking preemptively, had been acting entirely in self-defense, and argued that the country should not be pushed to make territorial concessions unless its neighbors were willing to make peace. This seminar will carefully examine Eban’s rhetorical and intellectual tour de force, arguing for its continued relevance to the geopolitical realities that remain a half-century after its dramatic delivery.

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