David Levy

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David Levy

David Levy (born 1937) was the Israeli minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister in the Likud-led government established in 1990.

David Levy was born in Rabat, Morocco, in December 1937 and lived in the development town of Beit Shean after immigrating to Israel with his family in 1957. His father, Moshe, was a carpenter in Morocco but became unemployed soon after the family migrated to Israel. His brother, Maxim, was also active in Israeli politics.

Levy was popular with the generation of Israelis who arrived in the country after independence, especially those of North African origin. To a significant degree he was a "man of the people" and seemed to have a good deal of attraction with the common man in Israel, partly because in many respects his biography was very similar to that of most of the immigrants to Israel from North Africa. In Israel his family lived first in a ma'abarot (the tent camps set up to temporarily house new immigrants). Then they moved to the development town of Beit Shean. Unemployment was widespread, as was poverty. As a teenager Levy was involved in protests against conditions and even spent some days in jail. He also worked in the cotton fields of a nearby kibbutz and organized a strike to protest working conditions. When they were first married, his wife, Rachel, worked as a cook and cleaning woman at the town school. They had a large family of 12 children.

Beginning of a Poltical Career

Levy began his political career in the Histadrut (the Israel labor federation) and later served as chairman of its faction in the Likud Party bloc. He was a candidate for the position of secretary-general of the Histadrut in the 1977 and 1981 elections, but he failed to win. At the age of 26 (1963) he was elected to represent the construction workers' union on the Beit Shean Worker's Council. The next year he was elected to the Municipal Council on behalf of the Herut Party and soon became deputy council chairman. He joined the Herut Central Committee.

First elected on behalf of the Herut Party to the Seventh Knesset (parliament) in October 1969, he was re-elected to all subsequent Knessets on behalf of the same faction in the Likud bloc. Levy was appointed minister of immigrant absorption in June 1977, and minister of construction and housing in January 1978. In August 1981 he became deputy prime minister and minister of construction and housing, and he retained those posts in the National Unity Government established in 1984. In the government established in December 1988 he became deputy prime minister and minister of construction and housing. As minister of housing he worked out various approaches to facilitate housing for young couples through subsidized mortgages and various guarantees for builders. He became minister of foreign affairs in the Likud-led government established by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in June 1990, while retaining the position of deputy prime minister.

Political Views

Levy was a vocal advocate of the need for Israel to be strong, secure, and self-sufficient; such a position, he believed, would ultimately lead to peace. Levy's precise views on foreign policy issues were not well articulated and the evidence does not present a clear picture. He supported the Camp David Accords (1978) and helped to secure their passage in the Israeli parliament. He endorsed Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 1985 and was the only Likud minister to do so. At the same time, in the spring of 1990 he was one of the so-called "constraints ministers" who reduced Prime Minister Shamir's ability to move ahead on the peace plan which had engaged Egypt and the United States in the quest for negotiations to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the case of peace with Egypt and of the withdrawal from Lebanon he diverged from the mainstream of Likud to the more moderate left, but in the spring of 1990 he diverged to the more hardline right.

Some of his views on foreign policy became clearer after he assumed the post of foreign minister in June 1990. He rejected the central elements of United States Secretary of State James Baker's plan for an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. He made clear that he would find unacceptable the inclusion of the Arab residents of East Jerusalem or those deported from the West Bank or Gaza Strip in the peace talks with Israel. He believed this to be a requirement of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and would refuse their demands while saying yes to the United States. Levy was consistent in his strong opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state and to negotiations with the PLO.

Levy established for himself a strong political constituency, based on but not limited to the disaffected and lower-income Sephardic/North African community in Israel. He also developed impressive political skills and a range of experience in various domestic arenas. In 1990 he added the foreign affairs portfolio— providing another crucial element essential to his expected movement toward the position of prime minister.

Consistent Conflict

In 1993, Benjamin Netanyahu won 54 percent in the Likud primary to Levy's 26 percent, to gain the leadership of the opposition party. He further vowed not to take a leadership role in a Netanyahu team.

He eventually reconciled with the Likud and Netanyahu enough to accept a position as Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, although his tenure was consistently marked with public and frequent disagreements with rival Netanyahu.

Levy had twice before threatened to smash party unity, in each case if he were not appointed to a top cabinet post—the result being that he became deputy prime minister under Menachem Begin and foreign minister under Yitzhak Shamir. He boycotted the Central Committee meeting of the Likud in 1995, vowing to defect and found a new political party. The new party would be centrist, and would support the evolving peace agreement with the Palestinians, with the condition that no Israeli settlements are dismantled and that the security of Jewish settlers would have been insured. Several days later, however, he rescinded his vow to leave and publicly announced that he would stay with the Likud party.

In August 1996, Levy again vowed to represent a new party in general elections as candidate for prime minister. "New Way" was regarded as able to chip away at the Likud's power base and win a nominal number of seats in the parliament in November 1996. He provided no political agenda for the New Way, but called for the suspension of peace talks with Syria unless it curbed attacks against the Israeli army in south Lebanon by Hizbolla guerrillas.

Further Reading

The reader interested in learning more about David Levy is faced with the fact that the only biography of Levy is in Hebrew— Aryeh Avnery, David Levy (Israel: 1983). The reader should also consult more general works on Israeli society and politics. These include Bernard Reich, Israel: Land of Tradition and Conflict (1985); Asher Arian, Politics in Israel: The Second Generation, Revised Edition (1989); and Bernard Reich and Gershon R. Kieval, Israeli National Security Policy: Political Actors and Perspectives (1988). Israel's internal trouble with the PLO is described in Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'an, Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising—Israel's Third Front (1990). □