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Biography - Levi Eshkol

Biography - Levi Eshkol

Levi Eshkol (1895-1969), was Prime Minister of Israel in the 6-Day war. Eshkol was born in 1895 in the Ukrainian village of Oratovo (near Kiev). He had a traditional Jewish upbringing and education which continued when he entered a Hebrew high school in Vilna at the age of 16 and joined the Zionist group, "Tzeirei Tzion" (Youth of Zion). In 1914, at the age of 19, he came to Palestine, then still a part of the Ottoman Empire, where he worked as an agricultural laborer and political activist.

During World War I, he volunteered for the Jewish Legion of the British Army, and joined the group which founded the settlement of Degania Beth.

Eshkol later worked in the Histadrut Labor Federation's Agricultural Center. He participated in the establishment of "Mekorot," Israel's water utility, in 1937, and served as its chief executive until 1951.

In 1940, he became a member of the Haganah, and in 1947 he organized the recruiting drive for what became the Israel Defense Forces. With the establishment of the State he became the first Director≠General of the Ministry of Defense, in effect the supplier of the material which kept the Israeli army in the field. He also became the head of the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency's Settlement Department in 1948.

In 1951 Eshkol was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Development and from 1952 until 1963 he served as Minister of Finance. He remained Chairman of the WZO/JAFI Settlement Department until 1963. Eshkol is largely responsible for obtaining funds to develop the country, absorb massive immigration waves and equip the army.

In June 1963, Eshkol assumed the post of Prime Minister. His careful preparation and able administration were probably responsible in large part for the success of Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, but at the time, Eshkol was perceived as weak.† When Egypt and Syria precipitated the crisis, Eshkol appeared to hesitate and he stuttered while speaking on the radio. Pressure grew to take on Moshe Dayan as Defense Minister and establish Government of National Unity. Eshkol complied, relinquishing the Defense portfolio to Moshe Dayan and bringing Menachem Begin of Herut into the cabinet. Dayan got a great deal of credit for the 6 day war, though in fact he had not been in charge of defense arrangements in the preceding period.

Eshkol found other sources of military supplies for the Israeli armed forces, particularly in the United States, after France began its military boycott of the Jewish state before the 1967 war. The war itself was a vindication of his efforts at the Ministry of Defense to provide the IDF with the best equipment available. In just six days, Israel succeeded in conquering the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights, as well as the Sinai peninsula. Following the war, Eshkol oversaw the re-unification of Jerusalem, the fresh wave of immigration and the huge economic boom.

Levi Eshkol died in office on February 26, 1969 of a heart attack.

Adapted from: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/eshkol.html

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