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Photo: Levi Eshkol

Levi Eshkol (Shkolnik) (1895 – 1969)

Levi Eshkol was a statesman, a leader of Mapai (Workers’ Party of Eretz Yisrael) and the Labor Party, a Member of the Knesset, a minister and the Prime Minister from 1963 until his passing in 1969.

Eshkol was born in Ukraine. As a student in the Gymnasium high school, he joined "Tzeiri Zion" (Youth of Zion). He made Aliyah in 1913 and worked as a simple laborer and watchman. He was a founding member of Kibbutz Degania Beit and served in the Jewish Legion in the years 1918–1920. Eshkol initiated the establishment of several institutions and cooperatives within the Histadrut and headed some of them, including his leadership of "Mekorot" (Water Works) from 1937 until 1951. He was also involved in the transfer of Jewish-owned property out of Nazi Germany, and was a member of the Haganah national headquarters. From 1944 until 1948 he served as Secretary of the Labor Council of the Histadrut in Tel Aviv.

Eshkol was a member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, serving as its treasurer from 1949 through 1951 and as head of the Settlements Department from 1948 until 1963. During the War of Independence he was appointed Director General of the Defense Ministry under Minister David Ben-Gurion, in charge of the Ministry’s administration and the development of the defense industries in Israel.

From 1951 until his passing, Eshkol served as a member of the Knesset. He was Minister of Agriculture and Development in 1951-1952 and Minister of Finance from 1952–1963, making an evident impact on the economic development of Israel. In this post, Eshkol was viewed by Prime Minister Ben-Gurion as his successor. Upon Ben-Gurion’s resignation in 1963, Eshkol was indeed elected by a vast majority. Despite their good relationship, a short time later Ben-Gurion contested Eshkol and accused him of failing in his treatment of certain national affairs, in particular the "Lavon Affair."

Eshkol was considered a man of compromise and it reflected in his conduct: In 1964 he had authorized bringing the remains of Ze’ev Jabotinsky to Israel – a step towards reconciliation with the Herut movement and its leader Menahem Begin. His other actions included the improvement of trade and business relations with the United States and the annulment of the Military Government in Israel.

In from 1963 until 1967 he also served as Minister of Defense, passing his responsibilities to Moshe Dayan on the eve of the Six Day War due to public demand. His government was a national unity government as of June 1967, and it remained intact following his passing in February 1969.

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