May 28, 2015

1954. Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharett Responds to Foreign Criticism

An Interview with Moshe Sharett
Prime Minister Moshe Sharett (right) with Mayor of Nazareth Amin Gargurah, July 24, 1955 (source)
Israel's Prime Minister Moshe Sharett sat down with Bill Downs in 1954 to address foreign criticisms of the country. In preparing for the interview, Downs submitted his questions to the Sharett camp to be revised or cut by the Prime Minister based on what he chose to answer.

"It is understood," Downs wrote, "that Prime Minister Sharett can eliminate or revise the questions to his convenience without subjecting the interviewer to ask so-called 'loaded' questions of a propaganda nature. The purpose of the interview is not propaganda, but information." This was also done when he interviewed Egypt's then-Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Included below is a transcript of the interview followed by Downs' original questions which he submitted through CBS.

The following is a list of questions and answers which we hope will explain the present Zionist policy. After traveling through three Arab League countries, we posed the arguments against Israel in form of questions. The answers reflect the policy of the present Israeli government of Moshe Sharett.
Arabs say that Israel is to the Moslem world what Indochina is to the free world.

Ridiculous. Israel has no intention of expansion unless her self-defense forces her to such action. One way to stop such prognostication is to negotiate a peace treaty. Israel has repeatedly asked for such negotiations, and the Arabs have refused.

How about the argument "we got here first"?

This is meaningless. How far back do you want to go? Remindful that Mohammed did not appear on earth until 662 AD; therefore there could be no Moslems before that time. Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt to the Holy Land before the appearance of Christ or the Moslem prophet.

Arabs say that the establishment of Israel upset an amicable cultural, economic, and political balance which promised years of peaceful coexistence. How?

Untrue. Since even World War II, there was increasing rivalry between the Hashemite Kingdom and Ibn Saud. This was equally true in Egypt and other Arab states where there were increasing anti-Jewish attacks. In fact, no Jews were allowed residence in Jordan, they were ghettoized in Damascus and tolerated in Lebanon only because of the strong Christian influence. Eighty percent of the Egyptian businesses burned in the 1952 uprising were Jewish. On the other hand, after World War I there was notable tolerance of Jews by the Arabs who profitably sold lands and properties to Zionists.

The Arabs say that the problem of Jewish persecution is not solved by establishing a "Ghetto State."

Nonsense. The idea of establishing a Jewish state is not the result solely of persecution. The concept is biblical in origin. As Moslems long to return to Mecca, as the Hindus aim at a pilgrimage to the Ganges, such are the precedents. One cannot call the Vatican a Catholic ghetto or Mecca a Moslem ghetto.

Arabs say that Israel's existence violates the UN Charter and its guarantees of ethnological and national sovereignty. Ethnologically, the Arabs outnumbered the Jews in prewar Palestine three-to-one.

The UN has recognized the State of Israel to the extent of participating in a peace plan, rejected by the Arabs, and accepting a delegation to its various authorities. All major powers including the Iron Curtain countries have recognized the existence of the nation. As for the three-to-one majority, it was the Arabs who flew. They were not, for the most part, driven out.

What is the answer to the Arab argument that there is no logic to a state which uses immigrants to create refugees?

If no war had been started by the Arab states there would have been no refugees.

What is the Israeli answer to the three-way plan now being broached by UN compromisers entailing compensation, border readjustment, and repatriation?

Israel has offered to compensate Arab refugees for property taken over under an international agreement for the rehabilitation and settlement of these unfortunate people on new lands with freedom to make their own living without paying tribute to a dictator, a monarch, or a sheik. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has spent $250 million during the past five years for the rehabilitation of the Arab refugees. But no rehabilitation has taken place, and it would appear that they are being deliberately kept in their camps as a diplomatic and political weapon to be used against Israel.

Regarding border readjustment, Israel has made a number of offers to adjust trouble spots which invoke unfair and difficult conditions on residents of the border areas, but Arab states have rejected all attempts to solve these problems.

Regarding repatriation, Israel has already repatriated some Arabs who desired to return to the country to join with their families who remained in Israel. However, mass repatriation of 800,000 persons is impossible. It would form an unsolvable security problem, and the first concern of the Israeli government is the nation's security.

Could monies received on compensation payment now being received by Israel from Germany be used for compensating Arab refugees?

As stated previously, Israel has offered compensation for lost Arab land and properties along the lines of the German restitution agreement. But it was to be handled on an international basis and within the framework of a peace treaty.

It has been charged that Israel is using her most effective weapon, military strength, as a diplomatic club and thus employing a deliberate policy of border pressure to bring the Arabs to heel. Is this true?

There is no deliberate policy of border pressure. Israel has a security policy to defend its present frontiers. Not an inch of the armistice zone will be yielded until the Arabs agree to negotiate difficult border questions. No Israeli civilian or soldier who became a casualty on the border will go unavenged, as it is that casualties are suffered as a result of acts of aggression. Security of the state is the prime policy of Israel.

US policy is attempting to solve a dilemma. America wants anticommunist defensive strength in this part of a world for a larger struggle. She also wants to balance the power in the Zionist-Arab struggle. How can this problem be solved?

The first step is to achieve peace among the Middle East countries. The Turkish-Pakistan pact, with the possible inclusion if Iraq, has no meaning without this peace. After peace is achieved, the problem will be to build up the democratic structure and economies of the Middle East nations to make them free and self sufficient and to give their peoples hope for the future. There must be change in the ruling groups which now dominate the Arab peoples. Some people have called them "adult juvenile delinquents in Cadillacs."

What is Israel's reaction to the statement by Under Secretary of State Byroade that the US will not tolerate acts of aggression by either side?

This is fine. It is in conformation with the May 1950 agreement between America, Britain, and France guaranteeing the stability of the Middle East.

What about the fear that the Zionist moderate as typified by the Ben-Gurions and Moshe Sharetts are being undercut by events and time, and thus will be forced to surrender to expansionist extremists?

Nonsense. The Israeli army is a civilian army. Its leaders are willingly subordinate to the popular will, and that will is toward peace. There is consultation by the government and the army on the highest level before any armed action is taken.

What part does the religious struggle have in the present conflict? Is it, as the Arabs claim, a predominately nationalist fight as opposed to a Jewish-Arab religious conflict?

The Arabs for once are right in this analysis. The Semitic people whether Jew or Moslem have been able to live together culturally for centuries. It is only the Christians who suffered persecution in this part of the world for purely religious reasons.


The following questions are designed to be expository and informative and aim to project the policies of the Israeli government through the personality of its prime minister. It is requested that the question and answer technique be used, because the soundtrack of the television film will also be used for the CBS radio network—thus giving double coverage. It is understood that Prime Minister Sharett can eliminate or revise the questions to his convenience without subjecting the interviewer to ask so-called "loaded" questions of a propaganda nature. The purpose of the interview is not propaganda, but information.

Respectfully submitted,

Bill Downs
1. The new state of Israel is beginning its seventh year. The nation has known no peace, but despite the hostility of the neighboring Arab world Israel has prospered. What are the major factors behind this success?

2. Before we get into the complex problems of war and foreign affairs, just what are the outstanding domestic problems now facing your government?

3. The world is becoming increasingly concerned with the explosive stalemate between Israel and the Arab states. What has Israel done to resolve this stalemate?

4. What, in brief, are the minimum requirements for settlement with the Arabs from the viewpoint of the Israeli government?

5. If this dangerous stalemate continues, what would be Israel's next move? What are the chances of full-scale resumption of the fighting?

6. The US State Department has recently made a number of statements apparently designed to strengthen the military defenses of the Middle East. Included are proposals for arms aid to Iraq. How does this affect the peace potential in the Middle East?

7. Under Secretary of the State Department [sic] Byroade has called on Israel to give assurances to the Arab world that Israel will not so crowd itself with immigrants that she will explode her present borders. What is your reaction?

8. The Communist Party, as it is in the US, is legal in Israel. Are there signs of any menacing growth of the extreme left here?

9. Establishment of the State of Israel resulted in some alleged 800,000 Arab refugees fleeing to the surrounding Moslem nations. What is your policy regarding these people?

10. In a sense, America is the nation in the middle regarding the Arab-Israeli struggle. The result has been great suspicion of US policy and motives. Why is this, and what can be done about it?