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
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 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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