Tuesday, August 23, 2016

125 - Excerpts of PM Ben-Gurion’s Knesset Speech, June 19, 1956

After what was said yesterday I must correct several distortions and errors. A silly falsehood has emerged in the local press, and especially in the foreign press, to the effect that the Prime Minister proposed the post of [Mapai] Party Secretary to the Foreign Minister in order to eliminate him from the Government. On the basis of this fabrication the foreign press has built several castles in the air. I consider it my obligation to state categorically that I have never proposed the post of Party Secretary to the Foreign Minister. The first I heard of it was from Sharett himself at the first meeting of the party's Committee of Nine, which has also been subjected lately to wide publicity by the press. After examining and considering this proposal I decided against it, and when members subsequently brought it up I rejected it categorically.

It was said yesterday that the Prime Minister had more say in foreign policy than the Foreign Minister did. Now it is true, and I think it should be, that between one meeting and the next the Foreign Minister generally consulted with the Prime Minister on foreign affairs. On the other hand, it is completely untrue that in such matters the Prime Minister took any step whatsoever without the Foreign Minister and his office or without his knowledge. I wish to say to the Knesset and to the nation that foreign policy is at all times the responsibility of the entire Government, not only for formal reasons of collective responsibility but for practical reasons as well. There is no problem to which the Cabinet has devoted so much debate, and taken decisions week after week, as in the case of foreign policy. If this policy has been good, the credit must be shared by the entire Cabinet, and if bad, the entire Cabinet is equally to blame. Hence, as one of the members of the Cabinet, it is with great satisfaction that I take full responsibility for Sharett's foreign policy.

In every Government that has arisen in Israel, and I have had the privilege of being in all of them, there have been differences of opinion. There are Knesset members here who were in the Cabinet, left it, and later returned. There are those who have remained all through; and others who have been members now and then. They know that the Cabinet has never had "one language and many utterances," not only because it is a coalition Government and must of necessity embrace differences of opinion, but because it is a democratic rather than a totalitarian Government. Even if it were made up of a single party, and that party were the one to which I have the honor of belonging, it would still embrace differences of opinion because it is a democratic party. Many issues, indeed, from the time of the Provisional Government until the present have been decided not unanimously but by majority opinion, and so I am certain it will be in the future as well.

I will not undertake to state whether all these decisions have been good or bad. There were times when I was in the majority and times when I was in the minority, and naturally, like any Cabinet member, I may be permitted to assume that I was right in both cases. Still, I feel it is proper especially in matters of vital importance, when members find themselves in a minority – as I was more than once in the Provisional Government – that they refrain from bringing on crises or resigning. If they did, the country would face a new crisis every week and soon would be in chaos. Those members who have found themselves in the minority and nevertheless submitted to majority rule deserve to be commended.

In my brief remarks yesterday I did not conceal the fact that though I have had differences of opinion with Moshe Sharett, and not only with him but with members to whom I have been even closer ideologically, I believe that at no time did these differences impair our friendship. But perhaps I did not fully express my esteem for Moshe Sharett yesterday, even if I differ in several respects with his position and views. If there is anyone of a fascist or totalitarian hue who is unable to understand or believe this, I will not force him.

Yesterday Sharett explained that when I was charged with the formation of a Government after the last elections, he asked me not to include him but I insisted. Now I did this not only despite our differences of opinion but to a large extent because of them. Like many other members, I cannot work only with "yes men." I am not one who thinks he is incapable of making mistakes and I like my opinions and views checked against those of colleagues whose outlook is different. Yet this was not the only reason I urged Sharett to join the Government, and why I was grateful to him for doing so.

Yet with the deterioration of our security and the increasing hazards of our foreign policy – which I will touch on later – I concluded that the national interest now requires as much coordination as is humanly possible between the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defense, as well as new leadership in the Foreign Ministry . This is not because I feel that we should depart from the Basic Policy outlined by all those who participate in the Cabinet and who devoted much time to its formulation; nor do I feel that we should alter the defense and foreign policy, which was outlined in my speech of November 2, when I presented this Government to the Knesset, and which was delivered with the consent of all members of the Government.

I do feel, however, that at this difficult time it is essential that we have maximum co­ordination between these two ministries, Foreign Affairs and Defense, which deal in effect with one and the same thing, since any affairs of the Foreign Ministry that are not related to security are at this time of little importance. While in normal times foreign policy does not focus solely on defense problems, the present case is different. While differences of opinion on these questions are usually beneficial, it is essential that harmony now prevail between the two ministries.

This is why my colleague Sharett told you yesterday that he felt compelled to leave the Government. Though personally, as a friend of long standing, I regret it, from the point of view of the national welfare I consider it for the good of the State. At this time there is need for a change of personnel. I do not believe that the country depends on one man alone. Three years ago when I felt the need for rest from the psychological tension of more than twenty years' duration (and what twenty years they were!) I, too, permitted myself to retire from the Government. I was certain no harm would come to the country from my departure and that it would even help to educate the nation. I think the same holds true for security and foreign affairs.

SOURCE: David Ben-Gurion, Israel: A Personal History, translated by Nechemia Meyers and Uzy Nystar (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1971), 491-92.