Moshe Sharett - Zionist leader, first Foreign Minister and second Prime
Minister of the State of Israel - was born Moshe Shertok in Kherson
(Ukraine) in 1894, and arrived with his family in the Land of Israel, then
part of the Ottoman Empire, at the age of 12.
His family was among the founders of what became the city of Tel Aviv, and
Sharett was a member of the first graduating class of the first Hebrew
high school in the country - the Herzliya Gymnasium. Part of the "younger
generation" of the nation's founding fathers, Sharett spoke fluent Arabic
and Turkish, opted for Ottoman citizenship and, during World War I, served
in the Ottoman army as an interpreter.
Sharett studied law in Istanbul prior to the war, and then studied at the
London School of Economics from 1922 to 1924. In 1920 he joined the
socialist Ahdut Ha'avoda, which later became Mapai, the leading party in
the yishuv. In 1925 he was appointed deputy editor of Davar, the daily
paper of the Histadrut-General Federation of Labor, and editor of Davar's
English weekly. In 1931 he joined the political section of the Jewish
Agency - the "almost-government" of the Jews in Palestine. From 1933 until
the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Sharett served as head
of the political section of the Jewish Agency, a role second only to that
of Ben-Gurion, who held the position of chairman of the Jewish Agency. He
was the chief negotiator and spokesman of the yishuv vis-à-vis the British
Mandatory administration and an important architect of Zionist policy.
Sharett was a major figure in the formulation of mainstream Zionist
strategy. He supported the mobilization of Jewish youth into units of the
British Army during World War II and was instrumental in the establishment
of the Jewish Brigade, while actively opposing the British White Paper
policy, which severely restricted Jewish immigration and settlement. He
supported Ben-Gurion's strategy of organized mass "illegal" immigration in
defiance of British policy and played a major role in mobilizing
international support for the November 1947 United Nations Partition Plan
and the admission of Israel into the UN.
Moshe Sharett was one of the signatories of Israel's Declaration of Establishment. He became Israel's first Minister of Foreign Affairs (1948-1956), led the Israeli delegation to the cease-fire negotiations during
and after the War of Independence and succeeded in establishing bilateral
relations with dozens of countries as well as membership in the United
Nations. He devoted much of his time as Minister of Foreign Affairs to the
issue of reparations from Germany, and in 1952 signed a reparations
agreement with West Germany.
In 1953, when Ben-Gurion retired to Kibbutz Sde Boker, Moshe Sharett was
appointed his successor by the Mapai party; he also retained the foreign
affairs portfolio. Ben-Gurion left the government, but remained
politically active behind the scenes throughout Sharett's two-year term in
office as Prime Minister. This took place against the backdrop of growing
concern over massive arms acquisition by the Arab countries from the
Soviet bloc as well as mounting international pressure on Israel to make
far-reaching concessions on water rights while still showing restraint in
response to attacks from across the borders. Sharett was perceived by
Ben-Gurion as being too moderate in retaliation against incursions and
attacks on Israeli civilians, while Sharett considered it important to
maintain his policy of moderation and de-escalation of the Arab-Israel
conflict. In 1955 the rift between them widened considerably, causing a
fallout between the two men, who had been close associates and political
allies since the 1920s. This fundamental dispute between Ben-Gurion and
Sharett ultimately led to Sharett's 1956 resignation and his leaving
As Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Sharett presided over the
continuation of the high-paced national socioeconomic development and
immigrant absorption which characterized Israel during this period. He
initiated negotiations on arms purchases, which bore fruit after he had
left the premiership. The "Lavon affair" - a failed intelligence operation
launched by the Minister of Defense without the Prime Minister's
knowledge, which was to overshadow Israeli politics for years to come -
led to Ben-Gurion's return to the government as Minister of Defense.
Following the 1955 elections, Sharett yielded the post of Prime Minister
but remained Foreign Minister until June 1956.
Upon his retirement, he became chairman of the Beit Berl College,
Director-General of the Am Oved publishing house (both Histadrut
institutions) and representative of the Labor Party in the Socialist
International. In 1960 Sharett was elected by the World Zionist Congress
as Chairman of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency.
Moshe Sharett died in 1965 at the age of 71.