Weizman, Ezer 1924–2005
Weizman, Ezer 1924–2005
OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born June 15, 1924, in Tel Aviv, Palestine (now Israel); died April 25, 2005, in Caesarea, Israel. Military leader, politician, and author. Weizman, a former president of Israel, is also credited with creating his country's air forces and helping to lead Israel to victory in its fight for independence and in 1967's Six-Day War. A member of the influential Weizmann family, whose members have long been important Jewish leaders—he later dropped the last letter from his surname—Weizman was born when Tel Aviv was still part of British-controlled Palestine. During World War II, therefore, he joined the British Royal Air Force as a pilot, seeing action in India, Egypt, and Libya. After the war, he studied aeronautics in London before joining the underground military organization Haganah. As a fighter with Haganah, he helped lead a tiny air force of nine planes during Israel's fight for independence from Egypt in 1948. With the war won, he was made a commander of the Fighter Squadron. He received further training at England's Royal Air Force Staff College in England, graduating in 1951. Weizman dedicated himself to building his infant nation's air forces as commander of the Israel Air Force from 1958 to 1966. As chief of operations, he convinced his superiors that its Air Force should lead a preemptive strike against Arab forces that were mobilizing for war. Organizing that attack in 1967, during which the Israelis destroyed the majority of their enemy's planes, Weizman was credited with ensuring victory in the Six Day War that would help secure Israel's borders, along with gaining the territories in the Golan Heights and West Bank. Now a hero to his nation, Weizman retired from the air force in 1969 and entered politics. Initially, his support was with the Likud Party, but he was selected to be minister of transport under Prime Minister Golda Meier, whose Labor Party dominated Israeli politics for the next decade. During most of the 1970s, however, Weizman stayed out of politics and occupied himself as an executive at Cyclon, an aviation plant for the shipping firm Mercantile Fruit Carriers. He was back in politics by 1977, when he helped Likud put Menachem Begin in the prime minister's office. Weizman served as Begin's minister of defense for the next three years. Previously a hardliner, Weizman surprised many of his colleagues when his views began to soften and he became an integral negotiator in the 1978 Camp David peace talks with Egypt. During these talks, he even became friendly with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Weizman also changed his mind about the Gaza Strip and West Bank, saying that Palestinians, not Israel, should govern them. Arguments with colleagues over this matter led to his resignation from the cabinet in 1980. He returned to the private sector and worked to organize a moderate party that made only a minor showing in Israel's 1984 elections. Weizman consequently joined the Labor Party and was named minister of Arab affairs under Shimon Peres and later Yitzhak Shamir. In this office, Weizman caused a stir in his support for Arab families whose houses were being demolished by the Israelis. While serving as minister of science and technology from 1988 to 1992, Weizman butted heads with Shamir, who accused him of negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization illegally. Weizman was dismissed from the Cabinet, though he remained in his ministerial job. Retiring from politics in 1992, he still had a great deal of cache with the Israeli public for his past services to his country. As a result he was elected president in 1993, a ceremonial office in Israel that carries no power compared to the prime minister. Nevertheless, Weizman was a dutiful president, an office his father had held before him. He was reelected in 1998 and campaigned to get Ehud Barak elected prime minister. Accused of having accepted bribes from businessmen in the 1980s and 1990s, Weizman was not formally charged with a crime, but he nonetheless resigned the presidency in 2000. He recorded his life story in two memoirs: Lekha shamayim, lekha arets (1975), which was translated as On Eagle's Wings: The Personal Story of the Leading Commander of the Israeli Air Force (1977), and The Battle for Peace (1981).
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Weizman, Ezer, On Eagle's Wings: The Personal Story of the Leading Commander of the Israeli Air Force, Macmillan (London, England), 1977.
Weizman, Ezer, The Battle for Peace, Bantam (New York, NY), 1981.
Chicago Tribune, April 24, 2005, Section 1, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2005, p. B9.
New York Times, April 25, 2005, p. A21; May 6, 2005, p. A2.
Times (London, England), April 26, 2005, p. 53.