Imagine naming a gifted diplomat from the professional ranks of the Foreign
Ministry rather than the usual political appointee, someone who happens to be an
excellent native English speaker, as ambassador to the United Nations? What an
incredible idea! Not since Abba Eban has anyone dared to do something so
logical. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it primarily English they speak at
Eban was Israel’s first and probably most eloquent ambassador to the
world body. At the age of 34, he was appointed permanent representative when the
fledgling Jewish state was admitted to the four-year-old United Nations in 1949.
At the UN, who could forget his brilliant speeches rebuffing the Arab states’
rejection of Israel’s existence? “Whether they want peace or war,” he famously
declared, “they can have it only with the State of Israel.”
died in 2002 at the age of 87, then foreign minister Binyamin Netanyahu said:
“With his prodigious intellect and renowned eloquence, Abba Eban was not only
one of Israel’s finest diplomats, but also was one of the great diplomats of his
era. He was a powerful advocate for the Jewish state and for the rights of the
Jewish people. Eban set the standard for defending Israel in the courts of world
“During many difficult periods, his voice was a stirring
reminder of the justice of the Zionist cause and Israel’s eternal hope to live
in peace with its neighbors. Through years of dedicated service, he laid the
foundations for Israel’s foreign service and proved that even though we are a
small nation, our moral voice can be heard loud and clear across the
Over the years, I interviewed Eban several times for Israel
Radio’s English News, and on every occasion was impressed anew by his uncanny
ability to convince his interlocutors through his beautifully expressed
In one unforgettable exchange, after I outlined all the cons
of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the dovish diplomat shot down
each one like a master marksman at a shooting gallery. He answered every
challenge with a punchy response.
“You have to consider the price,” he
said. “If the price is a peace treaty with Syria, it’s a price we should be
ready to pay.”
I HAVE no doubt that Eban would have smiled with
satisfaction at the recent appointment of Meron (Marc) Reuben, 49, as temporary
ambassador to the UN, in place of Prof. Gabriela Shalev, who resigned after two
years in the post. Reuben has a lot in common with Eban. They were both born in
Cape Town, South Africa, and educated in England, becoming smart diplomats with
outstanding language skills. Like Eban, Reuben is a committed Zionist whose
prime goal is to advocate Israel’s cause to an often unsympathetic international
Marc, as the family calls him, happens to be a distant cousin.
Our mothers’ mothers were cousins. Over the years, he has always said and done
the right things whenever we met. He is caring, considerate and sharp. I
remember when he completed the Foreign Ministry cadet course after serving in
the air force and earning his master’s in international relations at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem thinking what a great diplomat he would be. He proved me
Despite having no knowledge of Spanish, he soon mastered the
language when he was posted to the embassy in Chile. It was in Santiago that he
met his wife, an attractive Chilean Jewess named Paola, with whom he later had
two lovely daughters. He excelled as director of Mashav, the Foreign Ministry’s
center for international cooperation, as well as in his exotic diplomatic
postings to Mexico, Bolivia, Paraguay and most recently, Colombia.
his visit to Israel earlier this year with Colombia’s charismatic foreign
minister, I swelled with pride when Jaime Bermudez warmly praised my cousin
before an interview in his King David Hotel suite.
When Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman named Reuben the country’s envoy to the UN last week, I was
pleased that most of his colleagues at the Foreign Ministry welcomed the
appointment from among their ranks, and peeved by the criticism of others that
he lacked diplomatic experience and was not sufficiently media savvy. They
seemed to forget that he had been an exemplary emissary in five different
embassies abroad in a foreign language he had learned solely for that
They appeared to overlook the universal praise he had won for
his deft defense of Israeli policies in countless appearances on
Spanish-speaking media outlets.
BEING AMBASSADOR to the UN is the jewel
in the crown for any diplomat. Reuben calls it his “dream” job.
davka, is the right job for him, a position that demands a cool head,
outstanding diplomacy and perfect English.
I believe that Reuben could
become a new Abba Eban.
It may be a subjective judgement born of my
familiarity with him, but doesn’t he deserve the opportunity to prove himself?
Most of our recent ambassadors have come from outside the Foreign Ministry, and
the majority have had little or no diplomatic experience at all. Shalev, like
her predecessors – Danny Gillerman, Dore Gold and Yehuda Lancry – may have been
extremely knowledgeable, but did they really make the grade for a plum posting
which should be filled by a top diplomat? “The prime minister did know in
advance about the appointment of Meron Reuben,” Lieberman said at a news
conference last Monday. “Unfortunately we didn’t reach an agreement on the
ambassador. Shalev is leaving and there are important events in September at the
There was no other choice; we couldn’t have left the job
Lieberman strongly defended his choice, saying, “Meron Reuben is
an experienced diplomat. He has been an ambassador three times, he speaks fluent
English and he has the skills. He will be there for six months and if he
succeeds, he will stay.”
Israel’s most articulate diplomat at the UN in
the six decades following Eban was arguably Netanyahu himself.
was appointed ambassador in 1984, and served for four years. The media-savvy,
US-educated, rightist politician excelled as envoy to the world body, playing a
vital role in enhancing Israel’s image on the international stage.
Lieberman may have departed from tradition by bypassing Netanyahu in sending
Reuben to the UN in September, the premier should be the first to welcome a
fluent English speaker and talented career diplomat in what is arguably Israel’s
most important foreign service position.
We need a fresh face and a
vibrant voice to represent the country at the UN at a time in which its
international image has been tarnished by both its declared foes and so-called
friends. For Israel’s sake, let’s give Meron Reuben a chance.The writer
is managing editor of
The Jerusalem Post.