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|3rd Prime Minister of Israel|
21 June 1963 – 26 February 1969
|Preceded by||David Ben-Gurion|
|Succeeded by||Yigal Allon (Acting)|
|Minister of Defense|
26 June 1963 – 5 June 1967
|Preceded by||David Ben-Gurion|
|Succeeded by||Moshe Dayan|
25 October 1895
Oratov, Kiev Governorate, Russian Empire
|Died||26 February 1969
|Nationality|| Russian Empire
|Political party||Mapai, Alignment|
|Spouse(s)||Rebecca Maharshek (div. 1927)
Elisheva Kaplan (d. 1959)
Miriam Zelikowitz (until his death)
Levi Eshkol (help·info) (Hebrew: לֵוִי אֶשְׁכּוֹל; born Levi Shkolnik (Hebrew: לֵוִי שׁקוֹלנִיק) 25 October 1895 – 26 February 1969) served as the third Prime Minister of Israel from 1963 until his death from a heart attack in 1969. He was the first Israeli Prime Minister to die in office.
Levi Eshkol (Shkolnik) was born in the shtetl of Oratov, Kiev Governorate, Russian Empire (now Orativ, Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine). His mother (born as Dvora Krasnyanskaya) came from a Hasidic background and his father (Joseph Shkolnik) came from a family of Mitnagdim. Eshkol received a traditional Jewish education in Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania).
Eshkol joined Kibbutz Deganya Bet and married Rivka Maharshek. They divorced shortly after the birth of their daughter, Noa, in 1924. Eshkol's second wife was Elisheva Kaplan, with whom he had three daughters, Dvora, Ofra, and Tama.
Prior to and immediately after the establishment of the State of Israel, Eshkol was a member of the Haganah high command. He engaged in arms acquisition for the Haganah prior to and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After Israel's victory, Eshkol was appointed Director-General of the Ministry of Defense, serving from 1950 to 1951.
Eshkol was elected to the Knesset in 1951 as a member of Mapai party. He served as Minister of Agriculture until 1952, when he was appointed Finance Minister following the death of Eliezer Kaplan. He held that position for the following 12 years. During his term as Finance Minister, Eshkol established himself as a prominent figure in Mapai's leadership, and was designated by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion as his successor.
When Ben-Gurion resigned in June 1963, Eshkol was elected party chairman with a broad consensus, and was subsequently appointed Prime Minister. However, his relationship with Ben-Gurion soon turned acrimonious over the latter's insistence on investigating the Lavon Affair, an Israeli covert operation in Egypt, which had gone wrong a decade earlier. Ben-Gurion failed to challenge Eshkol's leadership and split from Mapai with a few of his young protégés to form Rafi in June 1965. In the meantime, Mapai merged with Ahdut HaAvoda to form the Alignment with Eshkol as its head. Rafi was defeated by the Alignment in the elections held in November 1965, establishing Eshkol as the country's indisputable leader. Yet Ben-Gurion, drawing on his influence as Israel's founding father, continued to undermine Eshkol's authority throughout his term as Prime Minister, portraying him as a spineless politician incapable of addressing Israel's security predicament.
Eshkol formed the twelfth government of Israel in 1963. His first term in office saw continuous economic growth, epitomized by the opening of the National Water Carrier system in 1964. His and Finance Minister Pinchas Sapir's subsequent "soft landing" of the overheated economy by means of recessive policies precipitated a drastic slump in economic activity. Israel's centralized planned economy lacked the mechanisms to self-regulate the slowdown, which reached levels higher than expected. Eshkol faced growing domestic unrest as unemployment reached 12% in 1966, yet the recession eventually served in healing fundamental economic deficiencies and helped fuel the ensuing recovery of 1967–1973.
Eshkol worked to improve Israel's foreign relations, establishing diplomatic relations with West Germany in 1965, as well as cultural ties with the Soviet Union, which also allowed some Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel. He was the first Israeli Prime Minister invited on an official state visit to the United States in May 1964. The special relationship he developed with President Lyndon Johnson would prove pivotal in securing US political and military support for Israel during the "Waiting period" preceding the Six Day War of June 1967.
Today, Eshkol's intransigence in the face of military pressure to launch an Israeli attack is considered to have been instrumental in increasing Israel's strategic advantage as well as obtaining international legitimacy, yet at the time he was perceived as hesitant, an image cemented following a stuttered radio speech on 28 May. With Egyptian President Nasser's ever more overt provocations, he eventually succumbed to public opinion and established a National Unity Government together with Menachem Begin's Herut party, reluctantly conceding the Defense portfolio to war hero Moshe Dayan, a close ally of Ben-Gurion's and a member of his Rafi party. Israel's overwhelming victory allowed Eshkol to remain Prime Minister despite never receiving recognition for his role in achieving it.
In the year following the war, Eshkol's health gradually declined, although he remained in power. He died of a heart attack, aged 73, in February 1969.
Commemoration and recognition
- Perpetual Motion: Noa Eshkol
- "New Israel Cabinet Sworn into Office in Knesset; German Issue Raised". JTA. 27 June 1963. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
- Avner, Yehuda (2010). The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership. The Toby Press. p. 599. ISBN 978-1-59264-278-6.
- Oren, Michael B. (2003). Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. New York: Random House. p. 316. ISBN 0-345-46192-4.
- Avner, Yehuda (2010). The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership. ISBN 978-1-59264-278-6. A first-hand account by Eshkol's English speechwriter.
- Dov Medved, Levi Eshkol, State and Party, 1948–1953, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 2004 (Hebrew with English summary).
- Levi Eshkol on the Knesset website
- Levi Eshkol's biography Knesset website (English)
- Short Biography of Levi Eshkol from the Jewish Virtual Library
- The Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem site. Office of Levi Eshkol, Jerusalem (S43), Office of Levi Eshkol, Tel Aviv (S63).
- NNDB entry on Levi Eshkol
- "Levi Eshkol, Forgotten Hero" – Essay from Azure: Ideas for the Jewish Nation
- Decisions of Levi Eshkol's cabinet after the Six Day War, Israel State Archives website:
|Prime Minister of Israel
Yigal Allon – acting
|Party political offices|
|Leader of Mapai
party merges to form Alignment
|Leader of the Alignment
Yigal Allon – interim