Monday, May 30, 2016

24 - Excerpts from the Cabinet Discussions, September 5, 1954

During the Cabinet meeting, PM Sharett raised the subject of Israel’s participation in an international conference for professional instruction, and said:

I would like to bring to the attention of the government an issue which is of no fateful importance, but still I did not want to decide by myself without consulting the government. This issue pertains to the sphere of our contact with Germany, an issue which is always delicate and touchy. As is known, Germany is not a member of the UN, but it is a member of many international organizations of which we too are members. Along the years we took the line of opposing Germany’s entrance into international bodies, but to keep on our membership in them when Germany joined them. In certain instances we opposed its being accepted, in some we spoke against its acceptance and in others we did not spoke, but in all instances we voted against such acceptance.
Since Germany is a member of such organizations and since these organizations initiate conferences, each time, usually, in a different country, here and there such conferences are held in Germany. The conference on modern music which held its previous conference in our country is soon going to have a conference in Germany. The International Organization for Professional Instruction, is too about to hold its conference in Germany, and it is the issue of our participation in this one which was put before me.
If I had to decide this issue by myself, I would reach a positive decision, for if we are participating in these organizations, we cannot ostracize their conferences. One of the issues to be decided in the conference of the international organization for professional instruction is to hold its next meeting in Damascus. If we participate in the conference in Germany, we will oppose this. If we do not, nobody will take notice of this point.
For instance, recently, in the conference of the International Parliamentary Organization, it was proposed that its next meeting would be held in Lebanon. The American representative saw fit to uphold this proposal, but owing to our participation in the conference, there was a general uprising against it. When a vote was taken, the proposal was turned down by a majority of 44 against 8. It was accepted that it is impossible, in principle, to hold a meeting in a country which is not open to all members,. Has we abstained from that conference, I do not know if such a decision would have been taken. It stands to reason that nobody would have raised his voice against the conference being held in Lebanon.

At this point Minister of Labor Golda Myerson spoke against Israel’s participation in the International Organization for Professional Instruction’s conference in Germany: 

All that the PM has said is right, but it is also more right that our relations with Germany are complicated and will remain so for along time, and I will do my utmost so that they remain so for many years. It is not crucial that we participate in such conferences. I do not intend to enjoy being a guest in Germany. It will ne more healthy and more honorable if we do not participate. I am confident that if we do, the world and the Jews, too, will feel that we are blurring the issue of our relations with Germany. And this is not appropriate. There is a difference between our participation in organizations in which Germany is ember of and participating in conferences held in Germany.

To this, PM Sharett replied: 

I too recognize a difference. When the issue of Israel’s participation in a festival of new music in Germany was brought before me, I decided in the negative, since it was a pure German event. However, the issue is our participation in conferences of international organizations of which we are members. Tomorrow such a conference of a very important international organization could be held in our country and then we shall have to open our gates to the Germans. We must see such an eventuality in advance.
I saw it as my obligation to my conscience to bring this matter to the government’s table, because I did not want to put colleagues who disagree with me before a fait accompli. I propose that the issue of would be decided by the PM and the Foreign Minister.

In the vote taken, it was decided by a majority against two to accept the PM’s proposal.

The next item on the Cabinet agenda was Minister of Defense Lavon’s report on the IDF retaliation operation against Jordanian village of Beit Liqya in response to a killing of a Jewish guardsman in the settlement of Ramat Raziel by Jordanians infiltrators on 28 August 1954 [See Morris, Israel’s Border Wars, 309-12]. Lavon said the that the retaliation operation had been approved by the PM and explained that it was decided upon mainly in view of Ramat Raziel settlers being veterans of the Irgun (IZL); there was a concrete danger that otherwise, these settlers would mount a retaliation operation on their own, and such a development would have to be prevented. “It may well be that if not for this decisive consideration, we would have postponed this operation, or even refrained from mounting it in view of the fact that General Burns has only started functioning as UNTSO commander.” He reported that two IDF soldiers were killed in the operations and two were wounded. Five Jordanians soldiers were killed, one or two wounded and three were taken prisoner.

The PM followed suit and said:

The Minister of Defense has already said that I was consulted on this operation and approved it, and I take full responsibility for its mounting. I too had in mind the internal political consideration. It was not only that we wanted to prevent feelings of being discriminated against among a certain group of people, which is a very serious matter by itself, but there was also the question of preventing the taking of independent [retaliation] action resulting from such feelings of discrimination, for this could have lead to most undesirable developments.
At the same time, following this operation several questions arise. I raise them not because of the casualties we suffered in this operation. Many such operations were held in which no casualties were involved. I am weighing the political aspect of the retaliation problem. I assume that in the General Staff they are weighing the military lessons of the operation, but somewhere its political aspect should be considered. When the matter of the last operation was discussed between me and the Minister of Defense, we agreed on its mounting in small dimensions. However, experience has taught us that we are not able to mount a small operation. There are decisive reasons for this. When we mount an operation, we do not want to endanger our men; we must take means of precaution, and this obliges us to involve more men, and chances are that the results would take on bigger dimensions. If we involve  a big number of men are in action, and we kill only one men, then afterwards there is a feeling that the entire efforts was not worth it. And so there is a tendency to enlarge these operations [in order to achieve greater results], and if we enlarge them, then the impression created outside Israel derives from the retaliation’s dimensions, not from the other side’s action which cased it in the first place. Let’s assume that our machine of public relations [hasbara] efficiency is 100%, but if one guardsman at Ramat Raziel is killed, it cannot claim that ten guardsmen were killed there. It also cannot claim that the killing was executed by a planned operation of the Jordanian Army, or that a Jordanian company participated in that action. There are foreign correspondents who would contradict that. However we succeed in giving full publication of the event, it would remain a small-scale one, for the public’s impression of any event is a function of its magnitude. Thus, if the public is informed that the Arabs suffered ten casualties, no matter how many dead and how many injured, it concludes that it was an Israeli planned military operation, it is impressed that Israel is the aggressor.
Moreover, as usual, we do not admit in advance that it were we who executed the reprisal, thereby letting the other side take the initiative of informing the press. Sometimes, for instance, when the other side claims that eight hundred IDF soldiers participated in a reprisal operation, we cannot deny that and say that only fifty or a bit more men participated in it, because thereby we let the other side respond with all kinds of distortions and lies.
We also cannot tell the marauders: “Do not go for your murderous attacks to Ramat Raziel; go to a settlement where we can refrain from mounting a reprisal [owing to its inhabitants' political loyalty to the government], for right now we are in the midst of a fight with the USA in which we want to rely inasmuch as possible on American public opinion. We are contending in this campaign that the Arabs are the aggressive side, so if it gives arms to them, it enhances the aggressor, while if it gives us arms it will enhance the side which is faced with aggression.” But, in fact, by mounting this inevitable reprisal we are contributing to the impression created that we are equally an aggressive power – and we take this action in the midst of our campaign!
It was only very recently that a Democratic leader made an impressive speech in our favor by which he, so to speak, launched our campaign. In addition, Democratic Senator Kefauver just came over here. The American Embassy was instructed to not let him out of its control and their people accompanied him wherever he toured the country. I first wanted to invite him over alone for lunch at my home, but when I became aware of that instruction and that he would be accompanied by several people from the Embassy, I invited, at the last moment, whomever I could reach in order that they would engage the people around him so that I could manage to talk with him privately for at least 10-15 minutes. And then, suddenly, in the midst of our campaign, we are creating a counterproductive fact! We are thus prompting the Americans to ask themselves if they can give us arms. I think that, after all, some thought should be devoted to the possibility of planning small-scale operations [instead of big ones]. I am aware that the mounting of reprisals, among other things, serves as a means of training our soldiers in real action; it is much more than just an exercise. It also keeps the army on the alert. But meanwhile a routine is being created. Reprisal operations are thus seen as justified on their own, for they are playing an important part in training the army. It is crucial that some effort must be made to break out of this routine and, perhaps, move along different rails.