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Sharett (Shertok), Moshe

SHARETT (Shertok), MOSHE

SHARETT (Shertok), MOSHE (1894–1965). Zionist leader, and prime minister of Israel 1954–55. Member of the First to Fifth Knessets. Sharett was born in Kherson in Ukraine. His parents, who were members of the *Bilu movement, settled in Ereẓ Israel in the early 1880s but returned to Russia. As a child Sharett went to a modern heder, and attended a Russian gymnasium in Kherson. At the same time grew up in a Zionist atmosphere and studied Hebrew. In 1906 his family resettled in Palestine, first in the Arab village of ʿAyn Sīniya in Samaria, where Sharett learned Arabic and gained a close insight into the life and customs of the Arab villagers. This experience accompanied him in later life, making him more sensitive to Arab feelings and sensitivities. In 1908 the family moved to Jaffa and Sharett's father, Jacob, was one of the founders of the Aḥuzat Bayit quarter, from which Tel Aviv grew. In the years 1908–13 Sharett attended the Herzliya gymnasium in Tel Aviv. When his father died, he helped support the family by giving private lessons in Hebrew, Turkish, and Arabic. With his classmates Eliyahu *Golomb and Dov *Hos (both of whom married sisters of Sharett's), David *Hacohen, and others, he established close ties with pioneers of the Second Aliyah. After graduating from high school, he went to Constantinople to study law. Upon the outbreak of World War i he volunteered for the Turkish army, and received the rank of officer. He served in Macedonia and in Aleppo, inter alia as an interpreter of the commander of the German Army operating in Turkey.

At the end of the war Shertok returned to Palestine, and in 1919 was among the founders of *Ahdut ha-Avodah, in which he became a close associate of Berl *Katznelson. In 1920 Sharett went to England to study at the London School of Economics, where one of his professors was Harold *Laski. In London he became active in the British Po'alei Zion movement. He returned to Palestine in 1925 and was nominated by Katznelson as deputy editor of the newly founded Histadrut-owned daily Davar. Upon the recommendation of Chaim *Arlosoroff in 1931 he was appointed Secretary of the Jewish Agency's Political Department. Following Arlosoroff's assassination in 1933, Shertok was elected by the Eighteenth Zionist Congress as his successor as head of the Political Department, a post he held until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Sharett was responsible for day-to-day contacts with the British Mandatory authorities, the preparation of the Jewish case for presentation to the various British commissions of inquiry on the situation in Palestine, and a wide range of activities in the field of information and public relations. In 1937, and again in 1947, Sharett supported partition, if that would lead to the establishment of a Jewish state. It was on his initiative that the Jewish Supernumerary Police were established in the course of the Arab Revolt of 1936–39. At the outbreak of World War ii he was one of the leaders of the recruitment of Jews from Palestine to the British army, playing an important role in the establishment of the *Jewish Brigade. On June 29, 1946 – "Black Saturday" – he was one of the Jewish leaders arrested by the British, and was detained for four months at the Latrun detention camp. In 1947 he played a major role in the diplomatic battle to get the unscop partition plan approved (see *Palestine, Inquiry Commissions, and *Palestine, Partition) by the un General Assembly. Upon the establishment of the State of Israel he was appointed as its first foreign minister, which is when he officially changed his name from Shertok to Sharett. Sharett was responsible for establishing Israel's highly professional foreign service and opening diplomatic delegations in dozens of countries around the world, paying special attention to Latin America. He was among those who supported contacts with West Germany, and signed the Luxembourg Agreement with Konrad *Adenauer over the issue of *restitution payments to Israel in 1952. Though in later years he was to be criticized for allegedly opting for a totally Western orientation and accused of neglecting Asia, he had in fact made efforts to establish contacts within the framework of the Asian socialist movement, but enjoyed only limited success. While he favored nonalignment, within the objective constraints, including the major role played by Egypt and other Muslim states within the nonaligned bloc, such an option did not exist for Israel. When David *Ben-Gurion temporarily retired to Sedeh Boker in January 1954, Sharett succeeded him as prime minister, retaining the Foreign Affairs portfolio and handing the Defense portfolio to Pinḥas *Lavon. It was in the course of his premiership that the "esek bish" (later named the *Lavon Affair) took place, though he himself was not implicated. When Ben-Gurion resumed the post of prime minister in November 1955, Sharett continued to serve as foreign minister, but due to growing differences of opinion between the two men over Ben-Gurion's activism, he resigned in June 1956. He was critical of the *Sinai Campaign, which took place four months after his resignation, viewing it as rash. In 1960 he was elected chairman of the Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency Executive. He continued to support strong links between the State of Israel and the Zionist Organization, and devoted his last years to Zionist endeavors among the Jewish communities abroad. He also continued to be active within Mapai. In the Lavon Affair controversy that continued to bedevil Mapai, Sharett was one of Ben-Gurion's principal opponents. The Affair finally led to the breakup of Mapai in 1965 – the year of his death. In these years Sharett, who was a master of the Hebrew language and engaged in the translation of poetry in foreign languages into Hebrew, also served as chairman of the Am Oved publishing house. He passed away in Jerusalem and was buried in the Old Cemetery in Tel Aviv.

Throughout his political career Sharett was well served by his capacity for clear and systematic thinking, his analytical power, his thoroughness and diligence, and his unusual linguistic talents (he was proficient in eight languages). He never relied on intuition, but examined every question in detail, took pains to acquire a thorough knowledge of the material, and studied the arguments of the other side. In speech and in writing he was a perfectionist in regard to both form and content.

Several educational institutions, a fund for the encouragement of young artists, as well as several neighborhoods and numerous streets throughout Israel bear his name.

Among his writings are Texts of Addresses Presenting the Position of the Government of Israel on the Future of Jerusalem, During the Fourth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, 1949 (1950); The Challenge of the Land (1960); and a "political diary," Yoman Medini (1968–76).

bibliography:

S. Lachower, Kitvei Moshe Sharett: Bibliographyah 19201965 (1920–65); W. Eytan, Moshe Sharett, 18941965 (1966); M.Z. Rosensaft, Moshe Sharett: Statesman of Israel (1966); A. Saviv, Moshe Sharett: Pioneer and Statesman (1967); U. Bialer, David Ben-Gurion u-Moshe Sharett: Tadmiyyot ve-Haḥlatot Erev Hakamat ha-Medinah (1971); R. Yanai-Strassman, Hashpa'at Ma'arekhet ha-Emunot ve-ha-Tefissot shel Manhig Politi al Iẓuv Mediniyyut ha-Ḥuẓ: "Ha-Kod ha-Operativi" shel Moshe Sharett (1981); S. Farhah, Yaḥaso shel Moshe Sharett la-She'elah ha-Aravit bein ha-Shanim 19181939 (1988); G. Sheffer, Moshe Sharett: Biography of a Political Moderate (1996).

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

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