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Levi Eshkol

1895 - 1969.

Levi Eshkol was an Israeli politician and the third Prime Minister of the State of Israel, between 1963 and 1969.

You can see on this YouTube link a short video explaining his accomplishments.

Levi Eshkol
Source: Government Press Office (Israel).

Levi-Yitzchak Shkolnik was born in the Kyiv region (Russian Empire), where he received a traditional Jewish education, completed by general studies. In 1911, in Vilnius, in the Jewish gymnasium, he joined the students' association Zeiri Zion (Youth of Zion). He deepened his connections with the Zionist movement and was elected to the local executive committee. In 1913, he joined Hapoel Hatzair.

In 1914, he immigrated to the Land of Israel.

During World War I, Eshkol joined the Ottomans and obtained exemption from military service through connections and cash payments. After the British invasion, he was compelled to join the Turkish army but managed to escape.

In 1916, he was elected to the Union of Agricultural Workers of Judea committee and joined HaPoel Hatzair, where he became involved in its leadership. It was a step up in his public status, as one of the leaders of the labor movement in Israel

In July 1918, towards the end of the war, Eshkol, contrary to his party's decision, volunteered with the Jewish Legion of the British Army. He served until the summer of 1920.

That same year, Eshkol helped to found:

  • The Kibbutz Degania (next to the Kinneret),

  • The Histadrut (Israel's General Federation of Labour),

  • The Haganah (main paramilitary organization in the Yushuv, and ancestor to the IDF).

At the beginning of 1922, Eshkol assumed three positions:

  • A member of the Histadrut Council (21 members headed by General Secretary Ben-Gurion),

  • Member of the Histadrut Executive Committee (seven members),

  • And the representative of "Hapoel HaTzair" on the executive board of the "Agricultural Center" (an organization formed during the Yishuv period, serving as a collective entity for both working settlement workers and those involved in agricultural education.).

Eshkol advocated for a national water company and successfully established the Mekorot Water Company in February 1937. He served as its director until 1951, overseeing its expansion into residential areas and the construction of water lines in the southern Negev area. By 1947, over 200 kilometers of water lines were operational.

Eshkol returned to serve in the Haganah high command from 1940 to 1948 and ran the organization's Treasury. He engaged in arms acquisition for the Haganah before and during the 1948 War of Independence.

Between 1942 and 1944, Eshkol served as Secretary General of Mapai (a democratic socialist political party in Israel, which was the dominant force in Israeli politics until its merger into the modern-day Israeli Labor Party in 1968).

In 1947, David Ben-Gurion asked him to lead the national recruitment center, which helped create the Israel Defense Forces. Israel became independent in May 1948 and Eshkol was chosen as Director-General of the Ministry of Defense from May 1948 to January 1949.

During the time of mass immigration to the State of Israel (1949–1950), Eshkol headed the Settlement Department in the Jewish Agency. During his tenure as head of the settlement department, he oversaw the establishment of 371 new settlements and the expansion of about 60 additional settlements.

Eshkol was elected to the Knesset in 1951 as a member of the Mapai party and served as Minister of Agriculture for a year.

In 1952, he was appointed Finance Minister and held that position for 12 years.

In 1954 he completed legislation for the establishment of the Bank of Israel.

In 1961, Ben-Gurion asked to retire as prime minister and recommended Eshkol as his successor. Mapai made Ben-Gurion stay. Ben-Gurion continued to lead Mapai in the 1961 legislative election but struggled to form a coalition and relied on Eshkol's negotiations with rival parties.

When Ben-Gurion resigned in June 1963, Eshkol was elected party chairman by a broad consensus and appointed Prime Minister.

Eshkol formed Israel's 12th government in 1963.

During his Prime Ministership, Levi Eshkol:

  • Opened the National Water Company,

  • Fulfilled Ze'ev Jabotinsky's wish and brought his body and his wife to Israel where they were buried in Mount Herzl Cemetery,

  • Improved Israel's foreign relations by establishing diplomatic relations with West Germany in 1965 and cultural ties with the Soviet Union. This also allowed Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel.

  • Was the first Israeli Prime Minister invited on an official state visit to the United States in May 1964,

  • Ensured US political and military support for Israel before the Six-Day War of June 1967,

  • Brought about the abolition of the military government over the Israeli Arabs and introduced a conciliatory policy towards rival parties (The military government over the Israeli Arabs was a military government that the State of Israel controlled over the Arab settlements on its territory, starting in 1948 until its abolition in 1966).

  • Led the Israeli government during and after the Six-Day War,

  • Before the Six-Day War, a leadership crisis erupted. Eshkol was forced to appoint Moshe Dayan as Minister of Defense (belonging to Rafi Pary), and to establish the National Likud government (which is a political coalition) with the participation of Menahem Begin's Herut party (a major conservative nationalist political party in Israel from 1948 until its formal merger into Likud in 1988),

  • Formed the basis for the Alignment* (HaMa'arakh) in 1964 and created the second alignment in 1969.

While serving as Prime Minister, he died from a heart attack in February 1969.

Eshkol was laid to rest at Mount Herzl and was the first prime minister interred at the Great Leaders of the Nation Plot.

*The first Alignment was a 1965 alliance of Mapai and Ahdut HaAvoda. The two parties continued to exist independently but submitted joint electoral lists. Often called the Labor Alignment, the alliance lasted three years until a merger with Rafi in 1968 created the unitary Israeli Labor Party.



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