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Today in History: Levi Eshkol

Today In 1969, Levi Eshkol died while serving as Prime Minister of Israel.

Eshkol was born as Levi Skolnik in 1895 near Kiev, to an agricultural and Hasidic family. He became a Zionist activist in his youth and immigrated to Israel in 1914, working as a laborer and a job locator. During the First World War he was leaning to the Ottoman side, but by the end he was leaning to the British and joined the army, where he met several workers and activists and established the Jewish Workers’ Union (the Histadrut) in 1920. One of them was David Ben-Gurion, and at this point began the long and complex relationship between them. Eshkol slowly advanced in the ranks of the Histadrut, and he began representing the Histadrut in the Zionist congresses, and went on fundraising trips abroad, where his economic brain was first noticed. He became the treasurer of the Haganah, and helped found Mekorot company. Prior to the establishment of the state, Eshkol was already one of the senior politicians in the Jewish community, and he was appointed the first Director of the Ministry of Defense. After the establishment of the state, he changed his name to Eshkol, and became head of the State Settlement Department, in which he established crossings and development towns. He was elected to the Knesset in 1951 on behalf of Mapai, and was appointed Minister of Finance a year later, and during his decade in office the GDP rose by an average of 10% each year, with falling inflation and unemployment, but rising inequality.

 

At the beginning of the 60s, the Mapai leadership was in crisis due to the ‘Lavon affair’, and Ben-Gurion began to bring Eshkol closer to him, marking him as his intended successor. Ben-Gurion resigned in June 1963, and Eshkol replaced him immediately. As prime minister, Eshkol worked to expand foreign relations and educated the “national waterway”, and in the party arena he began to thaw the attitude toward the right-wing parties, and worked to unite the Labor Unity party with Mapai in order to create the “Ma’arach”. Ben-Gurion opposed these steps and began undermining the party, which led to the resignation of Eshkol and elections in 1965. Eshkol defeated Ben-Gurion in the elections on the party leadership and caused his retirement, but won the general election. His second term was more challenging: A severe economic recession began in 1966, the PLO began to cause problems, and in 1967 the Arab states heated the arena and threatened Israel’s existence again. Eshkol formed a unity government, and after a speech in which he was apparently stammering and critical, he resigned as Minister of Defense and gave it to Moshe Dayan. In the war that broke out in June and lasted for six days, Israel overwhelmingly defeated the Arab states, which even gave an economic boost. He was more popular than ever, but died of an heart attack in 1969. He was replaced by Golda Meir.

Photo source – Wikipedia

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