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David Levy: The man who made the Mizrachi mainstream

דוד לוי, דצמבר 1969 | צלם לע"מ ישראלי

This (Sunday) evening, it was reported that David Levy, one of Israel’s top politicians in the late 20th century, passed away at the age of 86. Levy was known at the time as the first of the senior politicians of Mizrachi origin, who took pride in his tradition and did not try to fit into the Israeli melting pot. Levi served in the best of the senior positions in Israel – a member of Knesset, the Minister of Construction, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs three times. Levy was also Deputy Prime Minister for a total of 17 years, but was unable to reach the desired position; however, when a Prime Minister of Mizrachi descent iwill eventually be elected in Israel, it will be clear that Levi paved the path, way back then.

Levi’s life story was full of wandering and turmoil, and in many people’s eyes symbolizes the story of the Mizrachi community as a whole. Levi was born in Morocco in 1937 to a simple family, educated professionally as a carpenter and attracted to Zionist ideas. In 1957, when Levi was almost 20 years old, his family immigrated to Israel and lived in Beit She’an. Levy worked in diferent jobs in the development town, but eventually found himself unemployed – and received initial publicity when he broke into the employment office building and broke a door in protest of its incompetence. Finally, Levy found work in construction, and during the 60s he began to enter local politics – first in the Mapai party, and later in the Begin-led Herut Party. In 1965 he was elected to the City Council.

In 1969, he was elected to the Knesset, where he was the youngest Knesset member. After the “upheaval” of 1977, Levy became a member of the government, and in his capacity as Minister of Construction he was involved in the “Neighborhood Rehabilitation Project” – a comprehensive project to help the weaker and more peripheral sectors of Israeli cities. In the First Lebanon War, Levy stood out as a moderate voice, and after Begin’s resignation there was an expectation that Levi would even be elected as his replacement – but in the end Yitzhak Shamir was elected to the leadership, and Levi remained a senior member of the party, in the Ministry of Construction and later in the Foreign Ministry. In 1995, he resigned from the party and formed the “Gesher” party, of a right-wing social nature, which eventually ran with the Likud. Levy served as Foreign Minister for a year and a half and resigned in 1998 in protest of government policy toward the weaker sectors, leading to the collapse of the government soon after. In 1999, he crossed the line to the Labor Party, and again served as Foreign Minister under Ehud Barak – but within a year he resigned, returning to the Likud. Voters began to destain his changing of parties, and he eventually retired from politics in 2006.

Levi married Rachel, whom he met in the immigrant camps on the way to Israel, and the couple had no less than 12 children, two of whom served as MKs – Jackie Levy (who also served as Mayor of Beit She’an) and Orly Levy-Abukasis. In 2018, Levy was awarded the Israel Prize for his life’s work and for his many years of public service. Levi’s image was most prominent in the landscape of Israeli politics, and in many eyes he was a border-breaker and a symbol of an entire population that had not been adequately represented. Levy placed the Mizrachi community on the political map as a dominant force, and thus helped their cultural and social flourishing, which is certainly expressed positively in the State of Israel today.

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