10 Things You Need to Know About… Moshe Sharett

Second Prime Minister of Israel

1. He was born Moshe Shertok in October 1884 in Kherson, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. In 1906, he made aliyah with his family, living first in an Arab village, thus learning Arabic and becoming familiar with Arab customs.

2. In 1910, his family were among the founders of Tel Aviv. He was in the very first class to graduate from Herzliya High School. He went on to study law at Istanbul University, but his academic career was cut short by the advent of World War I. Fluent in Arabic, Turkish and German (and ultimately five other languages), he served as an interpreter in the Ottoman Army.

220px-Sharet223. After the war, he became an agent for the Yishuv, working in Arab affairs and land purchase. He joined the labor party Ahdut Ha’Avoda and later Mapai. Between 1922-24 he attended the London School of Economics, where he was active in Poalei Zion. He edited their periodical Workers of Zion and later worked on Davar, Histradut’s daily newspaper, editing its English language weekly from 1925-31.

4. Upon returning to Palestine after his studies in England, he became secretary of the political division of the Jewish Agency. After the assassination of Arlosoroff in 1933 [see my post of May 8, 2013], he became head of the division, a position he was to hold until 1948.

5. He was the key negotiator with the British Mandatory during the critical time of the thirties and forties. In 1944, he was instrumental in establishing the Jewish Brigade, doing all he could to encourage Jewish volunteers.

6. In 1947, Sharett appeared before the United Nations General Assembly with regard to the partition of Palestine. He worked tirelessly to mobilize international support for the plan and was one of the signatories to the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

7. During the 1948 War of Independence he served as Foreign Minister for the provisional government. He led the Israeli delegation to the cease-fire negotiations during and after the War of Independence. He was elected to the Knesset in the first Israeli election (1949) and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs until 1956, establishing the diplomatic service and embassies, forging diplomatic ties with many nations and helping to bring about Israel’s admission to the United Nations. In 1952, he signed a reparations agreement with West Germany.

sharett8. Sharett was eager to stabilize relations with the Arab nations and opposed any use of harsh tactics against border incursions [cf. my post of March 19, 2014]. In this, he came into conflict with his old friend and colleague, David Ben-Gurion. In December 1953, when Ben-Gurion retired from politics – though only temporarily, as it turned out – Sharett became Prime Minister and held the position for two years. During his tenure, a scandal arose (the Lavon Affair) over a covert operation in Egypt run (poorly) by the IDF; Sharett, unaware of it, publicly denied the espionage. This and his disagreements with Ben-Gurion caused his political downfall and retirement.

9. In retirement, he became Chairman of Am Oved publishing house and of Beit Berl College, both Histradut institutions. He represented the Labor Party at the Socialist International. In 1960, he became Chairman of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. He died in Jerusalem in 1965 and is buried in Trumpeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv. In the Ynet 2005 poll, he was voted 150th on the list of 200 greatest Israelis.

220px-20_NIS_Bill_(polypropylene_and_paper)_Obverse10. The Prime Minister’s Office lists several books written by Sharett, though I have been unable to verify this information elsewhere: Oar in Asia  (1957), At the Time of Nations (1958), Booklet of Poetry Translations (1965) and Fading lights (196-). It is certain, however, that after his father’s death, Sharett’s son published Sharett’s diaries, making an important contribution to historical scholarship. A new edition of the diaries came out in 2007, with passages that had been left out of the earlier editions.

In Tel Aviv, Sharett Street circles around HaMedina Square, intersecting with Arlosoroff, Jabotinsky and Weizmann, among others.



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