Tuesday, August 23, 2016

124 - Excerpts of PM Ben-Gurion’s, FM Sharett’s and the Menachem Begin’s Knesset speeches, June 18, 1956

The Prime Minister, D. Ben-Gurion: Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset, at a special meeting of the Government this morning the Foreign Minister informed us of his decision to resign. Not only the members of the Government and the members of the Foreign Ministers party but, I am sure, all the citizens of Israel, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as well as many people [- - -] all over the world heard the news with great regret.
            Since the Provisional Council of State [- - -] and through all Israel’s Governments—in all of which I have had the privilege of participating—no Minister [- - -] has worked so consistently and devotedly, even before the establishment of the state, with such skill and dedication, and has been so naturally suited for his task as Foreign Minister in both his character and temperament, diligence and knowledge in political matters, gentle bearing and good manners [- - -] as Moshe Sharett. [- - -]
            He was not only Foreign Minister, he was also Israel’s second Prime Minister. When I presented the current Government to the Knesset [- - -] I said “The second Prime Minister is blessed with skills and abilities which the first Prime Minister did not have,” and I was not giving an empty compliment.[- - -] I do not say things I do not mean. [- - -]
            If Moshe Sharett were to retire from political life upon resigning from the Government I would attempt to give a brief outline of the noble enterprise of one of the sons of the Biluim and one of my best friends in the service of his country over twenty-three consecutive years, as the Foreign Minister of his people, even before the establishment of the state, of the unceasing endeavor to increase immigration and settlement ever since 1933, of the bitter struggle against the White Paper after 1938, of the mobilization of the Battalion and the establishment of the first Jewish Brigade in the British Army to fight the Nazi hangman, of the desperate and heroic effort to bring in the illegal immigrants, of the struggle to establish the state in the arena of the United Nations, of the organization of the first Foreign Office of the independent State of Israel, of the extensive activity in the international arena which led to Israel’s acceptance into the U.N. and its honored position in the world, of the achievement of extensive financial assistance from the U.S. government for the absorption of mass immigration in the first years of the states existence, of the establishment of ties with countries of both the East and the West, of the education of the staff of the Foreign Ministry, ambassadors and delegates of which even a Great Power could be proud, of the acquisition of friends and of the noble and courageous stand he took when confronting petty critics in the international sphere.
            But I will not do that, because Moshe Sharett’s political activity has not yet ended; his manifold talents, rich experience and extensive knowledge will continue to serve Israel’s parliament, and his advice will gladly be heard by all those who will henceforth deal with Israel’s internal and external affairs. I am sure that the person who guided the ship of state for so many years has many more tasks to fulfill, and that is why I will not attempt to sum up the extensive and productive endeavors of my friend Moshe Sharett, alongside whom I have worked for more than forty years, not always agreeing with him, but always respecting him.
            I do not need to stress that the Government’s future policy will continue to follow the lines agreed upon by the Government, and particularly its foreign and defense policy. [- - -]

M. Sharett (Mapai): Mr. Speaker, distinguished Members of the Knesset, I thank the Prime Minister for the praises he has heaped upon me. [- - -] I thank the Knesset for the confidence it has displayed in me when I served as Foreign Minister and for its attentiveness and patience towards me.
            [- - -] In August 1955, when the present Prime Minister was attempting to form a Government after the last elections, I asked him not to include me among its members. I feared that the cooperation between my friend David Ben-Gurion as Prime Minister and myself as Foreign Minister would not work out well this time, and I thought that it would be best if I were to release him and. the Government from unnecessary complications.
            The Prime Minister rejected my arguments then, and his attitude caused me to alter my views. During my term in the present Government the cooperation between us underwent several strains, which we managed to overcome in view of the many years we had worked side by side and the situation of emergency in the state. In recent weeks, however, it has become clear to me that my resignation is inevitable. This is not connected with any specific political problem. [- - -]
            In a frank discussion I had with the Prime Minister on June 3, I realized that I could not possibly remain in the Government. I suggested to him that he summon the Government immediately for a special meeting so that I could submit my resignation. The Prime Minister asked me to postpone my resignation for several weeks [- - -] but after a few days he realized that the sooner the thing were done the better. [- - -]
            That is the way things happened, and any other version you read or hear is untrue. [- - -] I will not trouble you with detailed rebuttals of all the falsehoods disseminated about my resignation, except for one case. One of the newspapers made a base attempt to involve the senior staff of the Foreign Ministry in this affair, calling them advisors to the Foreign Minister. [- - -] I will only say that I hope every Minister in Israel is blessed with such colleagues as I had the privilege of working with in the Foreign Ministry, in the capital and throughout the world [- - -] as regards their education, political acumen, cultural and moral level, honesty, industriousness, sense of discipline, devotion to their work and dedication to Israel and the Jewish people.
            I probably have several reasons to regret the fact that I have been forced to leave my position, but none causes me greater sorrow than leaving the staff I cherish so dearly and to whom I have become so closely attached. [- - -] I would like to express my gratitude to them for their dedication, help and friendship.
            Knesset Members, I have ascended this podium many times in the capacity which I leave today. Allow me to present myself now in all humility as one of you, as a representative of the people, who will feel honored to participate in the daily work of this house without having any ministerial authority.

M. Begin (Herut): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister’s words of praise for the departing Foreign Minister were most touching. The one thought that occurred to me when I heard them was — how can one give up a Foreign Minister of that caliber? I have the honor of being the Foreign Minister’s uncompromising rival. [- - -] He is distinguished by the wide extent of his knowledge, particularly of languages, and especially Hebrew. If he wants, he can be the most affable of men, would that all his colleagues were like him in that. [- - -] Also [- - -] he has remained faithful to his system. The problem is that his system was not right for the needs of the nation.
            But why did the Foreign Minister have to resign?. [- - -] The head of Mapai maintains that there were no personal reasons dividing him from his friend. [- - -] If this is the case, the reason for the resignation is political, in which case the nation is entitled to know what it is. [- - -] It cannot be political success, because successful Ministers do not resign. [- - -] If the resignation is not for personal reasons, it must be because the persons who caused him to resign reached the conclusion that his policy had failed. This is something new. For eight years we have [- - -] been warning you, members of Mapai, that your official foreign policy has gone from bad to worse, leading the nation towards the brink. [- - -] This is the first time we hear that our foreign policy has failed, forcing the Minister responsible to resign.
            But if this is the reason for the resignation[, - - -] and after all, the Foreign Minister acted in your name, members of the Government, and with your knowledge, how can you let him go while you remain? [- - -]
            [- - -] Our political situation is disastrous. In the eighth year of Israel’s existence we no longer have any international standing in the diplomatic offices of the Powers, of countries, of the members of the U.N. But did all this happen as a result of the personal policy of the departing Foreign Minister? Did he decide that we were forbidden to say that the Old City of Jerusalem is the City of David, was ours and shall be ours? Did he decide that Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem are alien territory? The Prime Minister made that statement from this podium. You all decided that we have no claim. You thereby caused the world to recognize at least part of our enemies’ territorial demands, because you have no claims, and the world demands a compromise. [- - -] That is your acknowledged policy. You are all responsible for it. But why do you seek the scapegoat for this policy and its results only in the Foreign Minister? [- - -]
            As regards arms, your sources disseminated the rumors that [- - -] the Foreign Minister believed that we would receive arms from the U.S. This belief was proved wrong. His policy failed. He therefore had to draw the necessary conclusions. That is what we have been arguing about for the last eight months, ever since what is known as the Egyptian-Czech deal. We warned you that we would fall behind in the arms race. [- - -]

SOURCE: Major Knesset Debates, 1948-1981vol.3: Second Knesset, 1951-1955, Third Knesset, 1955-1959, ed. Netanel Lorch, (Lanham / New York / London: University Press of America / Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1993), 920-24.