Eshkol (Shkolnik), Levi

(1895–1969)
   Third prime minister of Israel. Eshkol’s strength as an Israel leader lay in his practical energy, his gift for conciliation, and his genial personality, flavoured with a Jewish sense of humour. His career was imbedded in every practical aspect of the yishuv’s growth.
   Eshkol was born in the Ukraine and came to Palestine at the age of nineteen. He was one of the founders of the kibbutz Degania Bet (1920). For three years from 1934, he worked in the Palestine Office in Berlin, handling the arrangements for the transfer of goods purchased with the funds of German- Jewish immigrants to Palestine. On his return he established the Mekorot Water Company, directed it for fourteen years, and initiated the National Water Carrier. In 1940, he was put in charge of the Haganah’s finances, including arms procurement. His influence grew steadily in the hierarchy of Mapai, the Labour Party, and he was its secretary during World War II. After the war he was nominated as head of the Jewish Agency’s agricultural settlement department, a post he held until 1963.
   In the War of Independence, Eshkol served under BEN-GURION as director- general of the Ministry of Defence. He was elected to the Knesset in 1951 and after a year as minister of agriculture and development, he became finance minister. In 1963 BEN-GURION finally resigned as prime minister and designated Eshkol as his successor.
   Where Ben-Gurion’s powerful personality had dominated his colleagues, Eshkol was a middle-of-the-road politician, seeking cabinet consensus and unity within the labour movement. He came under strong attack from BenGurion mainly over two issues. The first concerned the Lavon Affair, a security mishap in Cairo in 1956. Eshkol rejected Ben-Gurion’s demand to re-open the matter by appointing a judicial enquiry. The other bone of contention was the merger that Eshkol arranged between Mapai and a smaller left-wing labour group, Achdut Avodah. Ben-Gurion seceded with some of his supporters (including Dayan) and set up a separate faction called Rafi. In the general election of 1965, Rafi gained only ten seats in the Knesset and Eshkol was able to form a new government without it. He continued both as prime minister and minister of defence. In the crisis of May 1967, Eshkol's leadership was considered to be faltering and dilatory and there was growing pressure on him to relinquish the defence portfolio to Dayan. On the eve of the Six-Day War, he set up a wall-to-wall Government of National Unity with Dayan as minister of defence. This broad front was to last three years. In 1965, the Eshkol government established diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). Soon after, Eshkol visited the United States and was the first Israel premier to be received in the White House. He established cordial relations with President Johnson, and returned with an agreement for a joint Israel-US research project for nuclear energy and water desalination. In 1968, after the Six-Day War, Eshkol returned to the United States on an official visit. He was the guest of the president at his Texas ranch, and was given a promise for the supply of Phantom planes. Eshkol also toured several African countries, and in his talks with their leaders, brought to bear his unrivalled grasp of development problems.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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