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Ben-Gurion to Moshe Sharett on Sharett’s Resignation as Foreign Minister
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I came to recognize that your service as Foreign Minister was not for the good of the country, although I did not cease to value your talents and dedication....

DAVID BEN-GURION. Autograph Letter Signed, to Moshe Sharett, July 28, 1956, Mount Carmel, Israel. 3 pp., 4½ x 8¼ in.

Inventory #24516       Price: $3,600

Sharett served as Foreign Minister under Ben-Gurion from 1949 to 1954. He succeeded Ben-Gurion as Prime Minister from January 1954 to December 1955. When Ben-Gurion was reinstated as Prime Minister, Sharett returned as Foreign Minister. Within months, their relationship deteriorated, and Sharett resigned in protest on June 18, 1956.

In 1952, Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the Egyptian monarchy and introduced land reform. He became president in June 1956, calling for pan-Arab unity. Moshe Sharett believed that Nasser had delusions of grandeur (and similarly, that Ben-Gurion viewed himself as a messianic liberator). Ben-Gurion thought Sharett was being too cautious. Sharett believed who was unwilling to negotiate. The cabinet voted 35 to 7 in favor of Sharett’s resignation, and he resigned on June 18, 1956. Golda Meir succeeded Sharett as Foreign Minister and served until 1966. Three years later, she became Israel’s fourth Prime Minister. Over the next six weeks, their correspondence resulted in this letter.

Complete Transcription

Mount Carmel, 28 July 1956

To Moshe Sharett –peace and blessings,

I hereby thank you for your detailed reply of 25 July to my letter to you of 8 July. I was pleased by your notification that your questions at the end of the letter were not intended to be given a reply. I do not believe that anyone will derive any benefit from arguments of this sort. However, I feel obliged torespond about two things.

A) I absolutely reject the interpretation you gave (on page 2, paragraph 10 of your letter) to my remarks at the party Central Committee on 8 August 1955 as if “the Foreign Minister must serve as a kind of spokesman for the IDF.” I did not and could not conceive of such an absurd idea. I said – and this is my considered opinion – that foreign policy needs to serve the needs of security (in addition, of course, to trade agreements and things of that kind, these too being within the bounds of its operation).

I don’t have the stenogram at hand, but I haven’t any doubt that there is no foundation to the peculiar “interpretation” that you gave to my remarks. [Also?], when comrades disagree with one another – it’s better for the disagreements not to go beyond the bounds which those in disagreement set for themselves.

B) I reject the premise upon which question 9 on page 12 of your letter is based. I fear that my clarification will sadden you, and, as God is my witness, I don’t have any intention or desire to cause you any sorrow. But I regard it as mycomradely duty to apprise you of my opinion in this painful matter. Little by little I came to recognize that your service as Foreign Minister was not for the good of the country, although I did not cease to value your talents and dedication as before, and all that I said in praise of you at the Knesset in my announcement of your resignation was not said out of courtesy and politeness [illegible], but rather out of recognition and heartfelt belief.

The stupid idea that there is only one person in Israel capable of serving as prime minister never crossed my mind, and in[my] broadcast to the nation on the day of my resignation, I warmly quoted Verse 1 in Chapter 131 of the Book of Psalms.[1] And I admit that I’m not of the opinion that there is only a single person in Israel who is allowed to conduct foreign policy. On the contrary, it became clear to me without any hesitation (and I know that I am capable of error in this matter like anyone who is flesh and blood) that the good of the State requires a different management at the Foreign Ministry. I am certain that you will not concur with my opinion, and by no means will I try to convince you. One thing I can assure you in good faith: I didn’t do what I did out of a “relationship gone awry.”

It seems that your letter of 24 August 1955 to Eshkol,[2] Beba,[3] Kesse,[4] and Namir[5] never reached me. I’ll look into this matter upon my return to Jerusalem.

For my part, I’m not at all opposed to you showing these, your answers, to anyone that you wish.

With blessings,

D. Ben-Gurion

Moshe Sharett(1894-1965) was born in Kherson in the Russian Empire (modern Ukraine) and emigrated to Ottoman Palestine in 1906. In 1910, his family moved to Jaffa and later became one of the founding families of Tel Aviv. He studied law at Istanbul University, but left to serve as an interpreter in the Ottoman Army in World War I. From 1922 to 1931, he lived in London and worked as a newspaper editor and journalist. He returned to Mandatory Palestine in 1931 and worked in the Jewish Agency, of which he became head in 1933. He signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948 and served as the Foreign Minister in the Provisional Government in 1948 and in the first cabinet formed in 1949. When Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion retired from politics in January 1954, Sharett succeeded him as Prime Minister. In the wake of the Lavon Affair, Ben-Gurion came out of retirement to resume the office of Prime Minister in November 1955, and Sharett again served as Foreign Minister. He resigned as Foreign Minister in June 1956 in protest of the new government’s policies.

[1] “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me.”

[2] Levi Eshkol (1895-1969) was a member of the Knesset and the Finance Minister. He later served as Israel’s third prime minister.

[3] Beba Idelson (1895-1975) was a member of the Knesset.

[4] Yona Kesse (1907-1985) was a member of the Knesset and Mapai Party Secretary.

[5] Mordechai Namir (1897-1975) was a member of the Knesset and Labor Minister.

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