- The Sharett Legacy
There are various puzzles concerning leadership and leaders. One of them concerns leaders’ remembrance and disavowal. There are leaders who despite their negligible contributions are well remembered and appreciated, and there are leaders who despite their significant contributions to their nations and states are forgotten or intentionally brushed aside.
Moshe Sharett (1894–1965), Israel’s first foreign minister and second prime minister, belongs to the second category of forgotten leaders. One of the main reasons for this situation is that he remains in the giant shadow of his well-known and remembered, more senior, charismatic, and activist colleague—David Ben-Gurion.
The purpose of my political biography of Moshe Sharett1 and of this article, which is based on that biography, is to shed light on Sharett and his legacy. In unravelling Sharett’s successful career and influence there is a need to explain his personal qualities, ideas, and political philosophy, and his route to the pinnacle of political leadership in the Yishuv (the Jewish Community in Palestine) and during the early years of the State of Israel. There is also a need to reexamine his strategy and specific policies, struggles, failures, and achievements. These are the purposes of this article.
Generally, Moshe Sharett emerges as a classic case of a leader who responsibly, competently, and industrially participated in building a new nation–state under extremely taxing circumstances. In his own unpretentious fashion, Sharett helped to alter the historical course of the Jewish nation and particularly the segment of the nation in Palestine and later Israel. Though relatively unnoticed by Israeli citizens, by Jews in the Diaspora, and by historians, Sharett significantly contributed to the creation of Israel’s new enduring political organizations, as well as political and social patterns of behavior and action.
First and foremost, Sharett emerges as a politician who contributed to the creation of a moderate orientation in the Yishuv and in Israel after [End Page 1] its establishment. Sharett was identified with a small group of influential politicians who preferred moderate social and political policies, based on moral values, political realism, and pragmatism.
As far as his chances for joining the political elite of the Yishuv and later of Israel were concerned, Sharett was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Moreover, he was endowed with significant social and intellectual capabilities for joining the Yishuv and Israeli political elite. Thus, Sharett was born into a middle class and intellectual Jewish family that was relatively affluent enough to ensure his upbringing, education, and social connections. His early upbringing and education combined Russian, Jewish, Zionist, and Palestinian knowledge. The love and care accorded to him by his parents and the education that he obtained in Russia and Palestine contributed to the emergence of a balanced and harmonious character.
Due to his family and especially his father’s social and political attitudes, Sharett was neither aggressive nor ruthless. From his early age in Palestine after his parents and family emigrated from Russia in 1906, Sharett demonstrated talents in various spheres of culture and knowledge. Four of his best talents were: acute analytical capability, an aptitude for linguistics, impressive style in writing and speaking, and a musical ear. He had an obvious aptitude for politics and policy making that was anchored in his liberal and human approach. Thus, he was very loyal to the Zionist movement and the Yishuv.
After returning to the new city Tel-Aviv from the Arab village Ein Siniya, where his family had rented a farm from the famous Husaini family, and where he studied in an Arabic school, learned Arabic, and became friend of a number of local Arabs, Sharett started to study at the Herzliya Gymnasium high school. He was the outstanding pupil in his class. His study in this school strengthened Sharett’s profound love of Palestine and the Jewish Yishuv and encouraged the emergence of his ingrained sense of mission, inclination towards a pioneering sense of leadership, and lasting commitment to the service of the Jewish nation in the Jewish Diaspora, in Palestine, and later in Israel.
Already during his years of study at Herzliya Gymnasium, he took on the appearance, bearings, and...