"Will people pay NIS 300 for history?"
At 80, Yaakov Sharett is the sole archiver, editor, proofreader and publisher of the heritage of his father – Israel's second prime minister Moshe Sharett. The state, it turns out, doesn't deal in such things.
By Avi Shilon
On the wall of the old two-room apartment on Ben-Gurion Street in Tel Aviv hangs an aging, framed poster that decries the British authorities' disqualification of Moshe Shertok and David Ben-Gurion to serve as representatives of the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community in Palestine). The furniture is outdated and the cupboards are full of archival materials. The man who is walking around the room is also no youngster. Yaakov Sharett, the son of Moshe Sharett (born Shertok) who was prime minister of Israel during the years 1953-1955, will soon celebrate his 80th birthday. But he is still active, energetic and full of plans. He hopes the big project on which he has been working in recent years, "at least 850 pages on the reparations agreement," will be published this year.
Central to the book will be the views of Moshe Sharett, who as foreign minister in 1952 supported reconciliation with Germany. But not only that. "All the debates and discussions on the reparations agreement will be in the book. This is fascinating reading material, the likes of which is hard to find in Israeli politics today. Nowadays there isn't anyone who even gets close to the Hebrew they spoke then, and I'm not even talking about the content," says Sharett.
Since his retirement 13 years ago, Yaakov Sharett, a former journalist for mass-circulation daily Maariv, has devoted himself to his father's heritage. He works in this room almost alone, with only his wife Rina, "this talented Jewess" as he calls her, helping him.
Sharett's work is impressive. He has gathered all the archival materials about his father, has photocopied what is necessary and has stored it all in the apartment. He publishes Sharett's writings, edits them, proofreads them and completes the work at a corner table where he wraps the books in paper and sends them, "with a stamp, to 1,000 people by direct mail."
The figure of Moshe Sharett - head of the policy department at the Jewish Agency from 1933, foreign minister from the establishment of the state until 1956 and prime minister in the mid-1950s - is downplayed in the public memory, but he was responsible for significant developments in the history of this country, the effects of which can be felt still today. He functioned as a moderating influence, as someone who effected compromises and cooled the heat of battle, especially that of Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan. As foreign minister, Sharett was one of the leaders of the Rhodes agreements after the War of Independence and in the acceptance of the reparations from Germany in return for lifting the Israeli boycott of Germany. He always preferred life to myth and compromise to principle.
In his book "The Iron Wall," historian Avi Schlaim defines Sharett as the person "who led the moderate school. They were more sensitive to the Arabs' feelings and international opinion; they tried to establish a climate that would prepare the ground for the possibility of coexistence in the Middle East; they were concerned lest the frequent use of force would increase the Arabs' loathing and distance the possibility of compromise." This, says his son, is why "Ben-Gurion dismissed him before the Sinai Campaign. He didn't want Sharett to interfere with him going to war."
Yaakov never discussed his heritage with his father, even though their relationship was very close and they spoke quite a lot about politics, and even though Sharett was per-haps the only prime minister, apart form Ben-Gurion, who left behind a clear political heritage different from the nearly consistent line of all of the governments of Israel, and he wrote quite a lot and expressed his opinions. "Sharett was a kind of number two-plus, and not only to Ben-Gurion. After he was ejected from the Foreign Ministry, no successor to him arose. [Meretz MK] Yossi Beilin is close, but not strong enough. [Vice Premier Shimon Peres has never been consistent."
Sharett kept a journal and left behind many speeches and documents, but in his son's opinion, his heritage has been sidelined because "my father never strove for power positions. I knew about the journal he kept, but after he was dismissed he entered into a state of depression. He sat at home and said, 'I drink tea and I'm not doing anything.' His depression was a delicate subject and it could be that subconsciously this is what led me not to talk to him about the preservation of his heritage. Today I'm ashamed I never asked him what to do with the material."
A year after he was deposed, in 1957, Sharett was offered to head the Am Oved publishing house and from 1961 he was head of the ,lewish Agency, where he was active until his death in 1965. However, he had lost his influence on national policy.