Political Wisdom and Moral Pragmatism
Moshe Sharett and the Beginning of Relations with
An Insight by Binyamin Neuberger
In the early 1950s a dramatic episode occurred in the realm of Israel's foreign relations. The Jewish State decided – in spite of the Holocaust, which was still most strongly imbedded in the collective memory of all Israelis – to enter into direct negotiations with the Federal Republic of Germany's government over the European Jews' property plundered by the Nazis, and to sign a historic reparation agreement with her, and eventually, step by step, to establish mutual economic, political, military and cultural relations. This course of action was led in Israel by David Ben-Gurion (Prime Minister in the years 1948-1953 and 1955-1963) who referred to West Germany in those days as "the different Germany", and Moshe Sharett (Foreign Minister 1948-1956 and Prime Minister 1953-1955). On the subject of
While Israeli historian Yehoshua Jelinek, who has extensively researched Israeli-German relations, sees Ben-Gurion and Sharett – alongside German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Jewish leaders Nahum Goldmann and Jacob Blaustein and the American High Commissioner in Germany, John McCloy – as architects of the reparations agreement, Niels Hansen, a former German ambassador to Israel, who wrote the most comprehensive research about the beginning of relations between the two countries, sees Sharett, not Ben-Gurion, as the dominant Israeli factor who formulated policy vis-à-vis West Germany in the early 1950s. Gabriel Sheffer, Sharett's biographer, sees it this way also, and considers him to be the "motive force" and "main proponent" acting "backstage" towards abandoning the policy of boycotting
Hansen and Sheffer both claim that Sharett's policy towards Germany was a "well-planned active policy", having a "long-term view" and a "sustainable capability" in spite of the fact that in regard to this issue, Sharett remained in Ben-Gurion's "shadow". Thus, for instance, Hansen and Sheffer say that the critical meeting between Nahum Goldmann and Konrad Adenauer in
Whatever the differences of opinion regarding the political roles of Ben-Gurion and Sharett, all agree that Sharett was the leading figure in Israeli-German negotiations in the years 1951-1952 and from the outset of the establishment of relations between the two countries until his ouster from the post of Foreign Minister and from the government in June 1956, while Ben-Gurion continued to lead the selfsame policy during 1956-1963. There is also a consensus that in the early 1950s, the Foreign Ministry led by Sharett was a decisive factor in navigating the policy of the Israeli ship of state, and that its superb diplomatic staff headed by Sharett – Walter Eitan, Abba Eban, Gershon Avner, Shabtai Rosenne, Maurice Fisher, Haim Yahil, Eliezer Shinar – fulfilled an important role in the bringing about of the reparations agreement.
Sharett – a liberal and moderate statesman,