Weizman, Ezer

views updated May 23 2018


WEIZMAN, EZER (1924–2005), Israeli air force commander, politician, and seventh president of Israel, member of the Ninth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Knessets. A nephew of Chaim *Weizmann, he was born in Tel Aviv. He learned flying at the Haifa Aviation Club, joined the British Air Force in 1942, obtained his pilot's wings in 1944, and served in Egypt and India. In 1946 he joined the iẒl. In 1947 he joined the Haganah's air service, which preceded the establishment of the Israel Air Force of which he was one of the founders. At the beginning of the War of Independence he was sent to Czechoslovakia to learn to fly Messerschmidt planes and fly one of them back to Israel. In the course of the war he participated as a fighter pilot on all fronts, and flew ammunition and supplies to the Negev and to *Gush Etzyon. He was appointed squadron leader in 1949, and in 1950 was named head of operations of the Air Force staff. The following year he attended the raf Staff College in England and became wing commander in 1953. Weizman was appointed commander of the Israel Air Force in 1958, serving in that position until 1966. During his tour of duty he formulated the air-force strategy that was successfully implemented in the first hours of the Six-Day War of 1967. From 1966 to 1969 Weizman served as head of the Operations Branch in General Headquarters, and was appointed deputy chief of staff with the rank of major general under Chief of Staff Yitzhak *Rabin. When Rabin suffered a 24-hour breakdown at the outbreak of the Six-Day War, he asked Weizman to take command but soon returned to active service. In 1969 Weizman retired from the army, and joined the *Ḥerut Movement. Though not elected to the Seventh Knesset in 1969 he was appointed minister of transportation on behalf of Gaḥal in the second government established by Golda *Meir, resigning from the government, along with other members of Gaḥal, against the background of Meir's willingness to consider the Rogers Plan. From 1971 to 1972 he served as chairman of the Ḥerut movement but resigned over a controversy with Menaḥem *Begin on the distribution of seats in the party's Central Committee. He rejoined the Ḥerut Movement in May 1973. After his son Shaul was wounded in the course of the Yom Kippur War, Weizman started to become more moderate in his approach to the conflict with the Arabs. In the 1977 elections he served as the Likud's campaign manager, and was elected to the Knesset and appointed minister of defense.

He played a major role in the peace process with Egypt, establishing warm relations with Egyptian President Anwar *Sadat and Prime Minister Mustafa Halil. He was a member of the delegation, headed by Begin, which negotiated the Camp David Agreement with Egypt in September 1978, and participated in the negotiations leading up to the Peace Agreement with Egypt in March 1979. He was responsible for the Litani Operation in Lebanon in March 1978 but soon thereafter proposed the establishment of a National Peace Government – an idea rejected by Begin. Weizman became increasingly critical of the government's attitude toward a settlement with the Palestinians and clashed with Ariel *Sharon over his settlement activities. In May 1980 he resigned from the government, allegedly over cuts in the defense budget, but in fact because he disagreed with Begin over the way in which the negotiations on autonomy for the Palestinians were being conducted. In November 1980 he voted against the government in a vote on a motion of no-confidence. As a result he was expelled from the Ḥerut Movement, but refused to relinquish his Knesset seat. From 1980 to 1984 Weizman engaged in business, but before the elections to the Eleventh Knesset in 1984 he decided to form a new party by the name of Yaḥad, which won three seats. Soon after the elections, however, he joined the Alignment, and thus helped tip the balance in favor of the establishment of a National Unity Government based on parity between the two main political blocs and a rotation in the premiership. From 1984 to 1988 Weizman served as minister without portfolio, in charge of Arab affairs. In the government formed by Yitzhak *Shamir in 1988 Weizman was appointed minister of science and technology. However, at the end of 1989 Shamir threatened to fire him from the government because he had had unauthorized contacts with plo members. After the breakup of the National Unity Government in March 1990 he decided to distance himself from politics, and in February 1992 resigned his Knesset seat, calling upon Shimon *Peres and Yitzhak *Rabin to do the same.

The following year he was elected as Israel's seventh president. He was Israel's most political president, frequently speaking his mind and being criticized for it. When Rabin was prime minister, Weizman was disappointed with the way the peace process with the Syrians was progressing and hoped to meet with President Hafiz al-*Asad in Jerusalem or Damascus, feeling that he had much in common with the Syrian president, since both were presidents, both had been pilots, and both had lost sons in accidents. But Asad did not respond, and Weizman adopted a more rigid position toward Syria. After the Palestinian terrorist attacks in the beginning of 1996, he called for the suspension of talks with the Palestinians. After Binyamin *Netanyahu was elected prime minister he criticized him for the way he was conducting the peace process, and enraged Netanyahu by visiting President Hosni *Mubarak of Egypt to discuss ways of getting the peace process out of the stalemate it had entered. He was also criticized by Yosef Tomi *Lapid for going to see the mentor of Shas, Rabbi Ovadiah *Yosef, to try to convince him to support the peace process. Weizman managed to enrage many women by expressing chauvinist positions regarding the place of women in society, the homosexual community by making homophobic remarks, and many citizens for his frequent refusal to reduce the sentences of prisoners imprisoned for criminal offenses. Nevertheless, due to his charm and sincerity, and his practice of visiting the families of fallen soldiers, and visiting many of the wounded in the hospital, he was extremely popular in the general public, and was viewed by many as "the ultimate Israeli" – for better or for worse. Weizman was elected to a second term as president in 1998, and could have remained president until 2003. However, following a police investigation over alleged improper financial contacts with the French millionaire Eduard Sarousi (the investigation was closed for lack of evidence), and failing health, he decided to resign in July 2000, and retired to his home in Caesarea.

He wrote On Eagles' Wings: The Personal Story of the Leading Commander of the Israeli Air Force (1979); The Battle for Peace (1981); with Dov Goldstein, Lekha Shamayim, Lekha Ereẓ (1993); and Rut Sof: Biografiyah (2002).


S. Eilati (ed.), Yaḥad Shivtei Yisrael: Rav Si'aḥ im Nesi Medinat Yisrael (1996); Y. Kotler, Hapolet: Ezer Weiẓman Kemot Shehu (2000).

Ezer Weizman

views updated May 23 2018

Ezer Weizman

Ezer Weizman (born 1924) was an Israeli air force commander and statesman who became president of Israel in 1993. Weizman changed from a hard-liner to a leading advocate of peacemaking with the Arab nations.

Ezer Weizman's career was a stormy one, with a number of sharp personal transitions: from the professional military to civilian life, from politics to the private business sector and back to politics, and from membership in the right-wing Gahal party to affiliation with the left-wing Labour party. Throughout his life, Weizman remained one of the more colorful and controversial figures in Israel.

Love of Flying

Weizman was born in Tel-Aviv, Palestine (now Israel), in 1924. His uncle was Chaim Weizman, leader of the Zionist movement during the period before the two World Wars and later first president of the state of Israel. Soon after his birth Weizman's parents moved to Haifa where his father, Yehiel, taught agronomy. When he was 16 Weizman trained with the infantry of the Palestinian Jews' underground military organization, but he soon became fascinated with flying. "The air force is full of fine fancies, " he later wrote in his autobiography, On Eagle's Wings (1976). "Planes, flying, spreading your wings; the clouds and the roar of the engines; and that wonderful feeling of power, of being different."

In 1942 Weizman earned his pilot's license and saw service during World War II in Egypt and India as a Royal Air Force fighter pilot. Demobilized in 1946, he became a strong advocate of the need for Jewish civil and military aviation as part of preparations for independence. In 1947 Weizman was given charge of a squad of Piper Cub aircraft. The squad supplied isolated Jewish settlements and became the nucleus for the modern Israeli air force.

Modernized Air Force

During the 1948 Israeli war of independence Weizman took part in Israeli's first air strike against Egypt, which then had a vastly superior air force. Following the war he remained as a career air force officer and helped build the fledgling air force into a strong, separate wing of the Israeli military. In 1950 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and chief of operations for the air force. In 1951 he studied in England at the Royal Air Force Air Command College. Back in Israel Weizman served as commander of an air base from 1953 to 1956, then became chief of the air force general staff. Weizman's efforts to make the air force more modern and independent culminated in May 1966 when he was promoted to chief of operations of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Weizman's advocacy of air superiority and the use of pre-emptive air strikes was vindicated in the dramatic success of the 1967 Six-Day War. During the first hours of the war Egypt's air force was virtually destroyed on the ground, assuring Israel victory. Nevertheless, Weizman did not hide his disappointment in January 1968 at being denied promotion to chief-of-staff.

Entry Into Politics

In 1969 Weizman, then a major general, resigned from the military. Known publicly for his hard-line stance, he entered politics, becoming minister of transportation in the government of national unity led by Golda Meir. Weizman was a member of the right-wing Gahal political faction of the Likud party. When Gahal protested Meir's call for a cease-fire to end the conflict with Egypt in January 1970, Weizman resigned his post. He engaged in a variety of business enterprises as well as in Gahal politics and maintained an uneasy relationship with Likud leader Menachem Begin because of his outspoken views. Weizman's hard-line policies were evolving into support of peace through power. In On Eagle's Wings he explained, "We must be sensitive to any hint of peace and open our hearts to any Arab attempt to put an end to the wars. But there is no prospect of this happening if we don't build up our military, economic and social might."

As director of Begin's 1976-1977 campaign for prime minister, Weizman was instrumental in engineering the political upset of May 1977, which saw Begin and his Likud party victorious at the polls after 29 years in opposition. When the new Likud-dominated coalition government assumed office, Weizman was named minister of defense. With typical energy and zeal, he continued the efforts of his predecessor, Shimon Peres, at rebuilding the armed forces. Weizman personally pursued a closer military supply relationship with the United States.

Promoter of Peace

Following Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's dramatic peace initiative in November 1977, Weizman became an architect of Begin's strategy. He argued strongly that Egypt's willingness to recognize Israel and to negotiate a settlement of the Middle East conflict posed an historic opportunity. "My job had changed, " Weizman noted in his second book of memoirs, The Battle for Peace (1981). "Instead of a war room, I found myself in the negotiating chamber—and again I urged full speed ahead." During months of tedious negotiations Weizman used his warm personal relationship with Sadat to encourage the peace process, which eventually resulted in the 1979 Israel-Egypt Treaty. However, the process involved him in frequent sharp policy differences and heated exchanges with Premier Begin and other cabinet members. Finally, in 1980 Weizman resigned from the cabinet. He withdrew completely from politics, retiring to his home in Caesaria and various business projects.

In 1984 Weizman re-entered politics. He organized and headed a new political party, Yahad (Together), hoping to fill the center of the Israeli political spectrum. Expected to do well at the polls following an active campaign, the party did poorly, gaining only four seats. The two largest parties, Labour and Likud, were locked in a stalemate, and Weizman's seats were crucial. He helped form the National Unity government of both parties, becoming a minister in the Prime Minister's Office. Eventually, he completed his political metamorphosis by integrating his party into the Labour Alignment.

Weizman by the 1990s advocated Israel's withdraw from occupation of the Golan Heights, direct negotations with Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Weizman's advocacy of peace continually led to clashes with other officials. Named minister of science in the Likud-Labour coalition government headed by Yitzhak Shamir, Weizman secretly met with members of Arafat's PLO, which was then off-limits. Shamir threatened to fire him, then relented partially, but Weizman was drummed out of the inner cabinet, which decided on foreign policy.

In 1993 the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, named Weizman to a five-year term as president, a largely ceremonial office that carries prestige but little power. During peace talks in 1995 he questioned whether interim Prime Minister Shimon Peres could make decisions after many sleepless nights. He defied the prime minister by refusing for months to free some Palestinian prisoners because, Weizman said, they had "blood on their hands." With the peace process of the mid-1990s unraveling, Weizman pressured Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Weizman "sees himself as the voice of the people, " The Economist noted (August 31, 1996). Throughout his career in the delicate realm of Israeli politics, Weizman steadfastly remained his own man.

Further Reading

Weizman's book On Eagles' Wings (1976) provides insights into his political career. His book The Battle for Peace (1981) details the long peace negotiations of 1977-1979 and his key role in them. A helpful source is William Stevenson, Zanek!: A Chronicle of the Israeli Air Force (1971). □

Weizman, Ezer

views updated Jun 27 2018

Ezer Weizman

Born Ezer Weizmann, June 15, 1924, in Tel Aviv, Israel; died of respiratory infections, April 24, 2005, in Caesarea, Israel. Politician. For 50 years, as Israel's air force chief, defense minister, and president, as a leader and a political maverick, a warrior and peacemaker, Ezer Weizman provoked his country with his bold, brash personality. Like many Israeli politicians, Weizman first became famous by leading Israel to a military victory in a war with its Arab neighbors, then became an advocate of peace later in life. But Weizman's transformation was even more dramatic than most: he helped plot a bold pre-emptive attack on Egypt in 1967, then helped forge a peace treaty with Egypt eleven years later. In politics, he was an unreliable ally, pushing prime ministers on the right to negotiate with Israel's Arab foes and pressing left-wing prime ministers to be cautious of them. "A commander should have some kind of personal hallmark, which sets him apart from everyone else," he wrote in On Eagles' Wings, his memoir, according to the Washington Post. His outspokenness and unpredictability became his signature.

Weizman was born in 1924 into one of the most prominent Jewish families in what is now Israel. His uncle, Chaim Weizmann, became the first president of Israel, and many of his aunts, uncles and other relatives were leaders in charities and schools across the country. His father, Yehiel Weizmann, was an agronomist who taught at the Technicon, a prominent school. Weizman dropped the second "n" from his last name to distinguish himself from his famous uncle.

During World War II, when Israel was part of the British mandate of Palestine, Weizman volunteered to join Britain's Royal Air Force with the help of his uncle, president of the United Jewish Organization. He flew a fighter plane in Egypt and India, returning home in 1946. A year later, Weizman helped organize the beginnings of what became Israel's air force and he flew missions against Egyptian forces during Israel's war for independence in 1948 and early 1949. After the country was founded, he helped build up the air force, purchasing modern fighters from Europe. Rising quickly through the ranks, he became commander of the air force from 1958 until 1966, and personally led the training of many Israeli fighter pilots.

In 1967, as deputy chief of staff of the military, he helped plan the pre-emptive strike in the Six-Day War that practically destroyed Egypt's air force. In two hours, 300 Israeli fighter planes attacked 600 Egyptian planes on the ground, destroying 200, and they destroyed 200 more in a few hours of air combat. Commentators said Weizman's raid won the Six-Day War in its first six hours. The raid made him hugely popular in Israel.

After the war, the outspoken Weizman pushed for Israel to annex Arab areas in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. His outspokenness hurt his military career; it became clear he would not become the military chief of staff. He resigned from the army in 1969 and joined the conservative party Gahal, which led to him becoming minister of transportation for a short time. Throughout the 1970s, he engaged in a respectful power struggle with fellow conservative leader Menachem Begin. Weizman worked with Begin to build up the new Likud party and managed Begin's winning campaign for prime minister in 1977. Weizman became defense minister in Begin's cabinet.

Both men negotiated a historic peace treaty with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Begin and Sadat won the Nobel Peace Prize for the 1978 deal, but Weizman did much of the secret shuttle diplomacy that kept the negotiations going. His friendly approach to Sadat and Egyptian negotiators at Camp David, the American president's retreat, helped make the talks there a success.

The stark change from hawk to peacemaker was evident in his two books, On Eagles' Wings, written in the mid-1970s, and The Battle For Peace from 1981. In the first, he argued Israel should annex the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but in the second, he defended the peace accord and seemed sympathetic to Sadat's argument that the West Bank and Gaza Strip belonged to the Palestinian Arabs who lived there. Some attributed Weizman's change of heart to the serious wound his son, Shaul, sustained in 1970 during the War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt, but Weizman dismissed such speculation as amateur psychology. (Shaul died in a car accident in 1991.)

In 1980, when tensions with Begin grew into open hostility, Weizman left the cabinet. He formed a new party, Yahad (which means Together), hoping to create a moderate force in Israel's parliament, the Knesset. Yahad did not do well in the election, but still became influential because Likud and the left-wing party, Labor, had almost the same amount of strength in the Knesset. He joined the cabinet of prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, but Shamir fired him in 1990 for meeting with a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) when negotiating with that group was illegal. Other members of the cabinet convinced Shamir to reinstate him, but he left again in 1992 to protest the government's refusal to negotiate with the Palestinians.

The Knesset elected Weizman president in 1993. Although the presidency is supposed to be mostly ceremonial, Weizman often expressed his opinions on how the prime ministers were doing. He disagreed with the Oslo peace accords of 1993 and pushed Labor prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres to stop negotiating with the Palestinians after suicide bombings. But when hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister in 1996, Weizman took the opposite approach, expressing unhappiness with Netanyahu, inviting Yasser Arafat to his home, and asking the United States to help Arafat and Netanyahu resolve their differences.

Weizman also took a broad view of his ceremonial responsibilities as president, visiting prisoners, refugees, and wounded soldiers returning from Lebanon and traveling to small, remote towns in Israel three days a week to display the Israeli flag. He stepped down before his second term as president ended, under pressure from an investigation into $300,000 in unreported gifts he had received from a French businessman and an Israeli businessman when he was a government minister in the 1980s and early 1990s. Weizman once claimed politics had never been his biggest ambition. "The thing I wanted more than anything in my life was to be commander of the air force," he said when asked in 1980 if he wanted to be prime minister, according to the Independent. "That was my piece of cake. Everything else is a little bit of cream." Weizman died of respiratory infections at his home in Caesarea, a resort town on the sea in Israel, on April 24, 2005. He was 80. He is survived by his wife, Re'uma Shamir Schwartz, and his daughter, Michal. Sources: Independent, April 26, 2005, p. 36; New York Times, April 25, 2005, p. B8; Washington Post, April 25, 2005, p. B5.