Eshkol, Levi (Israel)

Reference work entry


Levi Eshkol, Zionist and Labour politician, was prime minister from 1963–69. The high point of his premiership was the Israeli victory in the Six Day War with the Arab states in June 1967. He died in office from a heart attack on 26 Feb. 1969.

Early Life

Born in the Ukraine in 1895, Eshkol went to Palestine when he was 18. During the First World War he joined the Jewish Legion of the British Army. He was later among the founders of the Histadrut (General Federation of Jewish Labour), involved in the promotion of co-operative agriculture. He was director-general of the ministry of defence in 1950, minister of agriculture and development in 1951 and minister of finance from 1952–63. He was also treasurer of the Jewish Agency, responsible for raising development funds and overseeing the absorption of Jewish immigrants.

Career Peak

When Labour premier David Ben-Gurion retired from politics in June 1963, Eshkol succeeded him as prime minister and minister of defence. In 1964 he made the first state visit of an Israeli prime minister to the United States, laying the foundation of the close relationship that endures to this day. He also established diplomatic relations between Israel and the then Federal Republic of (West) Germany. In domestic politics he brought together rival factions to form the Labour Party, and set up a government of national unity, including opposition leader Menachem Begin, to secure victory in the Six Day War in 1967.

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