Thursday, July 7, 2016

46 - Excerpts from Cabinet Discussions, February 20, 1955

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After Lavon’s departure, the Prime Minister (M. Sharett) said: “The Defense Minister’s resignation, immediately upon being submitted, created, in my view, a very grave situation. For weeks an internal debate has swirled around this problem, and for weeks that debate has overflowed and spread to the Army leadership, and the upper ranks of the officers corps.”

Y. Sapir asked: “What does the word ‘internal’ mean?” and Sharett answered: “Between myself and the Defense Minister. But this entire investigation, in which Army officers appeared – to my deep regret, all these investigations have not remained closed within the framework to which they belong and have become public property. ...This has created a very grave situation in the Army, a state of disappointment, a state of acrimony, a state of mistrust, a state of internal uncertainty. And I saw it as the uppermost necessity first to fill, as far as was possible immediately, the place which had been vacated, and second, to fill it in such a way that not only would this resignation not weaken or undermine the internal stability of the Army, but rather would strengthen it even more than before. I thought there was only one man whose assumption of this post could achieve this aim to the fullest extent and with the greatest impact, and this was the man who was the first Defense Minister of the State of Israel, the Defense Minister who forged the Army, who fashioned its character, who imbued it with the spirit we would all like to see prevail within it. I had almost no hope that he would accept this mission, for upon other occasions he had spoken to me about it and utterly rejected this notion.”

Y. Sapir asked: “The notion of his return to the Defense Ministry?”

Sharett replied: “Yes.”

Levi Eshkol added: “It was also spoken of at the time of his resignation.”

Y. Sapir: “I shall come back to this point.”

Sharett: “As you please. I say: I had very little hope that he would agree. Nevertheless, in view of the most serious sovereign responsibility, which I felt was mine at the time, I thought I was not exempt from making this attempt, and requested the Minister of Labor, since I myself could by no means get away from Tel Aviv that day, to take upon herself the trouble and great effort – both physical and mental – to drive urgently to Sde Boker and convey my wish to David Ben-Gurion. I must say: a wave of joy passed through me when the Minister of Labor returned with the news that David Ben-Gurion had consented to take this mission upon himself. I know, I read it in the newspapers as did all of you, the malicious – in my view, despicable – version, not that David Ben-Gurion had responded to the urgent summons addressed to him in this hour of the Army’s plight, and had responded while overcoming his deepest reluctance and suffering the disruption of all his plans, the restraint of his own inclinations. But, rather, that this constituted some hidden plot on the part of Ben-Gurion and that by this means he was paving the way for his return to power.

“Dear colleagues, we are all acquainted with Ben-Gurion and we are all acquainted with the situation and know his mind. If it were his desire to return to the prime-ministership, we all know that he could do so openly, without resorting to any ploys to pave the way. He has responded to the moral appeal addressed to him, I believe, out of a moral responsibility for the security of the State which weighs upon him, as a man who has invested more in the Army than anyone else in the country, perhaps more than all the other people. And he has invested in it of his visionary fervor, of his great ability; he has also responded to this appeal because he was responsible for the appointments made at the end of his term of office, which shaped the managerial framework of the Army after his retirement from his post. As for myself, I have expressed only the smallest part of my feelings at the magnanimity he has shown by this step, not least for agreeing to return to a government at the head of which he once stood, without standing at its head, to another post, under another to whom the prime-ministership has been given meanwhile.

“It is true that, according to law, so long as no minister has been appointed, that selfsame utility is given unto the Prime Minister in any event. It can be said that according to law no void exists for even a moment. I do not know whether it is with your explicit consent, but it is with the explicit consent of the law of the State of Israel that I am Defense Minister, and actually it can be said that I have been Defense Minister since Thursday afternoon and shall remain Defense Minister until the Cabinet should see fit to appoint a new Defense Minister and the Knesset ratify this or another proposal. But I did not allude to a void from a formal aspect, but to the problem of a void from an essential aspect, from a moral aspect; I saw a need to give the Army a very strong injection of self-confidence at once and the feeling that there is an authority or soon will be, in a matter of hours, a supreme moral authority in the Army, higher than whom there is no other in the country today, and this while taking into consideration the Army’s assessment of various personages.

“I now propose to the Cabinet, with a feeling of great inner reassurance, David Ben-Gurion as Defense Minister for confirmation, so that in accordance with law I shall be able to deliver an announcement in the Knesset concerning the new member’s joining the Cabinet tomorrow, at the opening of the Knesset session at 4:00 in the afternoon.”

After a short formal discussion, M. Sharett added: “I would like to add that I announced to the Cabinet Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at its meeting on Wednesday [February 16] that at some stage the Defense Minister had announced to me his decision to resign, but I persuaded him that he must stay at his post. On Thursday [February 17], he announced to me that his resignation was final; I could see no option other than to accept this announcement of his, and he went public with it.”

Y. Rokach: “I suggest that it be recorded in the proceedings that the Cabinet has taken note of the Prime Minister’s statement concerning the resignation of the Defense Minister.”

M. Sharett: “That is acceptable. If the haverim have anything to say about the appointment or against it in regard to this procedure, I believe that now is the time to do so. And we will do so – I hope – in complete friendship, but with utter candor.”

SOURCE: David Ben-Gurion, Things As They Are [in Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Am ha-Sefer, 1965), 44-46.