Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America
First Moshe Sharett Memorial Lecture
June 22, 1966 New York City
Established to perpetuate the memory of a great statesman, Zionist and human being
MOSHE SHARETT: 1894-1965
It is no small honor to have been asked to deliver this Moshe Sharett Memorial Lecture, under the gracious auspices of Hadassah. It is but twelve months since Moshe died, yet perhaps not too early to attempt an assessment of his life and work, as a Zionist and as a Jewish leader. Piety, indeed, in the Roman sense, requires no less; and this platform of the largest Zionist organization in the world is the appropriate place.
Moshe Sharett was born in southern Russia in 1894, just before Theodor Herzl, in Paris, wrote “The Jewish State.” It was in southern Russia that Leo Pinsker, not many years earlier, had published his “Auto-Emancipation.” I do not know at what age Moshe first came upon these Zionist classics, but does it matter? They indicate sufficiently the spirit in which he grew up, the “ideology” as we might say today: the spirit in which his parents brought him, a child of twelve, to Palestine, then still under Ottoman rule.
For two of the most impressionable years of his childhood Moshe Sharett lived in an Arab village, high in the hills of Judea. It was here that this born linguist learnt to speak Arabic like an Arab. His command and love of vernacular Arabic never left him; he added to it later an equal familiarity with classical Arabic, and with the Arabic of kings. When his family moved to Tel Aviv, then in its infancy, we find him there as one of the first pupils, a member of the foundation class, of Herzlia high school, which, flourishing still today, has trained for Israel generation upon generation of leaders and soldiers, writers and thinkers. It was here, above all, that he acquired that profound knowledge of Hebrew, that devotion to our language and its cultural heritage, which were to mark him throughout his life. It is impossible to evoke the name of Moshe Sharett without stressing the debt he owed to Hebrew for his spiritual enrichment, and the debt, no less heavy, which Hebrew owed to him, one of its finest masters. Sharett came close to being the subtlest, the most authoritative, the most inventive Hebraist of his day.
The first world war saw the transformation, for a while, of this Hebrew high school graduate into an officer of the Sultan’s army, where, linguist that he was, he soon discovered his vocation as interpreter from Turkish into German. The war, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, brought to an end the four centuries of Turkish rule of Palestine. The League of Nations entrusted its mandate for the administration of the country to Great Britain, and soon Moshe Sharett was on his way to England, where he enrolled at the London School of Economics. LSE in those years was at the height of its fame, the symbol of all that was best and freest, most liberal, and most daring, in the academic world. The grand panjandrum of this School was Harold Laski, whose influence left its mark indelibly on hundreds of young men who were to foment reform and revolution in every part of the world.
These student years in London gave Moshe the deep knowledge of Britain and the British that was to stand him in priceless stead to the end of the mandatory regime - as well as, of course, Moshe being Moshe, perfect possession of the English tongue. Thus enriched, and with his Bachelor's degree, he returned home, first to work on the Hebrew daily Davar, the leading newspaper in the country at the time, and later as Political Secretary of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. His work on Davar gave him an appreciation of the power as well as of the duties of the press which was never to leave him. His post at the Jewish Agency was to transform his life.
In January 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany - and Jewish life in Europe was never to be the same again. A few months later, in that same year of 1933, Haim Arlosoroff, the Head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, w׳as killed, and Moshe Sharett w׳as elected to succeed him. This meant, in fact, being Foreign Minister of the Jewish people, of the Jewish State in the making. He retained this post until the United Nations put an end to the mandate which the League of Nations had established, and it was by the most natural of transitions that he became, on 14 May, 1948, Foreign Minister of the newly independent State of Israel.
It is hard to say in which function he played the more glorious role: as “Foreign Minister”