Eshkol, Levi

(formerly Shkolnik)
(1895-1969)
   Prominent founding Israeli politician. Eshkol was born in Oratovo on 25 October 1895 in the Kiev district of the Ukraine. In January 1914, he set out as part of a contingent representing the Zionist youth organization, Hapoel Hatzair (The Young Worker), to the port of Trieste, from where he sailed for Jaffa. At first, he served as a common farm laborer and watchman but soon became involved in the building of a pumping station and was elected to the Workers' Agricultural Council of Petah Tikva. He entered military service in the Jewish Legion and upon demobilization in 1920 helped to create Kibbutz Degania Bet. When the Histadrut was created in 1920, Eshkol joined the executive board, and when Mapai was founded in 1929, he was elected to its Central Council. David Ben-Gurion became a powerful figure in the party, and with him, Eshkol was drawn into the party leadership. Eshkol increasingly was seen as a political appendage to Ben-Gurion because of the parallels in their careers and their friendship.
   After Israel's independence, Eshkol was appointed as director general of the Ministry of Defense. He was appointed head of the land settlement department of the Jewish Agency in 1949. In 1951, he became minister of agriculture and development and the following year minister of finance. Eshkol replaced Ben-Gurion as prime minister in June 1963 and served in that position until his death on 6 February 1969. He and Ben-Gurion split over the Lavon Affair, which led to the defection of Ben-Gurion from Mapai and the creation of Rafi.
   Eshkol was known for his contributions to Israel's economic development in a crucial period and for his skills as a conciliator. He led Israel through the Six-Day War (1967) and the crisis that preceded it. He was considered one of the more dovish of Israel's leaders and did not wish to formally annex areas inhabited by large numbers of Arabs. Nevertheless, on 27 June 1967, he issued an administrative order to apply Israeli law and administration to east Jerusalem.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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