Wednesday, August 3, 2016

77 – Note on the Mapai Political Committee Meeting, December 27, 1955

The official protocol of this meeting was probably edited so as to make no mention of Sharett’s use of the word “Satan” in the course of his critique of the timing of the decision to launch the Kinneret operation. Two senior officials seated beside Ben-Gurion chose to record the following accounts.

In a memoir published in 1981, senior MFA official Gideon Rafael recalled Sharett’s speech in the following dramatic terms:

Sharett reported on his mission to Geneva and Washington [- - -]. The atmosphere was leaden. He plunged into a minutely detailed account of each and every one of his activities and then reached his climax – the ruinous effect of the Kinnereth action. “Satan could not have chosen a worse timing,” he exclaimed, his voice high pitched in anger. Ben Gurion had taken a seat between Yitzhak Navon, his political secretary, and myself at the side of the room; he had declined the invitation of the chairman to sit at the head of the table. When he heard the word Satan, the same in English as in Hebrew and more sinister in its meaning than the more colloquial “devil”, he jerked as if he had been hit by a bullet, then leaned back without uttering a sound. I could physically feel how the word had hurt him. The audience gasped, as if witnessing a tightrope walker losing his balance. Sharett continued his report, apparently oblivious of anything untoward. After he had finished, the chairman invited Ben Gurion to take the floor. He declined curtly. The members of the political committee dispersed in a mood of gloom and I went home with the nagging thought that the brittle Ben Gurion-Sharett relationship had reached breaking-point.
SOURCE: Rafael, Destination Peace, 48.

In his recently-published autobiography, Yitzhak Navon, Ben-Gurion’s Political Secretary, wrote:

Some time later [after Sharett’s return from Washington], the Mapai Secretariat [sic.] was convened and Sharett raised the issue [of the Kinneret operation]. Among other things he said: “Even if Satan wanted to intervene and disrupt, he could not have done it better! Here I was, about to meet with the US Secretary of State in order to appeal for arms, and that was precisely the time to mount such an operation!?'' Ben-Gurion was deeply hurt by this remark. He meant to take the floor after Sharett, but upon hearing Sharett’s harsh words I saw him angrily crushing the pages of his speech. “I will not speak. I will remain here only out of respect for the haverim,” he muttered. When Moshe Sharett ended his speech, I sent him a note: “You said, in fact, that Ben-Gurion was worse than Satan. That's a very offensive remark. I recommend that you take back your words.” Sharett wrote back: “How do you know that precisely that word hurt him? I thought that my whole talk about the operation is what hurt him.” Still, after the next speaker finished, he stood up, muttered some apology regarding the comparison he had made [with Satan], and sat down again. 

SOURCE: Yitzhak Navon, All The Way (Beit Shemesh: Keter Sefarim 2015 – in Hebrew), 136.