the course of researching the of Arab-Israeli
peace efforts during the 1950s, I purchased Futile Diplomacy . Moshe Sharett’s (YOMAN
ISHI) in Hebrew Personal Diary
The set of 8 volumes, which soon went out of print, turned out to be one
of my most precious Hebrew primary sources. Its appearance owed everything to
the determination and hard work of Moshe’s son, Yaakov, a journalist and
diplomat who transcribed and edited the diary, originally handwritten on 2,375
tiny sheets of paper.
Working with Yaakov
One of ’s
best-known authors and historians, Tom Segev, had high praises for the diary
and its editor: Israel
the most important thing Sharett contributed to the state is the personal diary
he wrote during his tenure as prime minister. It is difficult to overstate the
importance of those eight volumes to the study of the 1950s and to the
understanding of Israeli history as a whole. This is a debt that also
owes to his son Yaakov, who saw to the publication of his father’s diary.” Israel
( Haaretz – Sept. 2003)
When I was first introduced to Yaakov Sharett in 1998, I asked him a
question that dozens of other researchers had asked before me: Why hasn’t his
father’s important personal diary been translated into English?
His answer was simple: a rough translation had already been prepared,
but funding and a good English editor were needed in order to complete the job.
When Yaakov asked me if I would consider working on this project, I
readily accepted, assuming the work would take 4-5 years to complete.
We began working together, polishing rough and poorly-translated English
text that was transferred from very primitive word-processing files. As we went
through the day-by-day entries, the project took on a life of its own.
Most of our work was done by daily email exchanges between and Tel Aviv,
plus several working conferences that took me to visit Yaakov at the “ Montreal Amuta”
(Society for the Heritage of Moshe Sharett) offices in Tel Aviv.
The expected 4-5 years soon became ten, … then fifteen. Translating the
Hebrew edition required not only meticulous review and many corrections, but
also researching and writing up additional background notes specially designed
for the English-speaking reader.
During the course of our work we also discovered unexpected new
documentary material that amplified the existing daily diary: additional
letters, memoranda, texts of speeches, etc. These required translation and
consideration for inclusion. Should we cite the newly uncovered material in
footnotes, leaving it to historians to pursue if they deemed important enough?
Should we interweave all or some of the new text into the daily diary? Or
should we include it in an online website that we decided to create for ? supplementary
My familiarity with the history and the diplomatic documents of the
period helped us with such decisions, expanding the Hebrew diary in some places
even as we abridged it in others.
The Path to Publishing
late 2015 we enlisted the services of Adi Chen, a talented Israeli graphic
designer, to begin the careful process of transforming our MSWord files into
camera-ready copy. Finally,
we began to approach publishers. In December 2015 we received a promising “yes,
but …” reply from Indiana University Press announcing they were willing to
consider publication of an version of the diary. abridged
We faced a major dilemma over this “but”. Despite the temptation to have
a contract in hand from a prestigious university press, we decided to hold back
and make our case for publishing the integral, fully-annotated diary, from
October 1953 to December 1956.
We began our plea by reminding the
acquisitions editor about Sharett’s historic significance as one of ’s
three “founding fathers”, the other two being Chaim Weizmann and David
Ben-Gurion. The legacy of these two men has been well preserved through many
English-language publications, while Sharett remained virtually unknown outside
of Israel .
Our main purpose in creating this English edition was to help create a similar
world-wide recognition for Sharett, a historic document that provided his
uniquely detailed portrait of the life and times during a formative period of
the young Israeli state. Israel
Knowing that we were up against the economic realities of publishers’
extreme reluctance to take on multi-volume works, we were not optimistic. But,
to our great joy and delight, Indiana accepted our proposal for publishing the
complete diary—enabling Moshe Sharett and his insider’s account of Israel’s
first decade to become better known around the globe.
In an important sense, we felt great satisfaction to be making Sharett
and his moderate-diplomatic approach better appreciated outside of the narrower
world of mainly Hebrew-speakers.
Neil Caplan is the
author of many important works including My Struggle for Peace: The Diary of Moshe Sharett,
1953–1956 , The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Contested Histories and of Futile Diplomacy , a 4-volume
documentary history of Arab-Israeli negotiations. He is also the co-author
(with Laura Zittrain Eisenberg) of Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: Patterns, Problems,
Possibilities , also published by Indiana University Press.