Sapir (Koslowsky), Pinḥas

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SAPIR (Koslowsky), PINḤAS

SAPIR (Koslowsky), PINḤAS (1907–1975), Israeli labor leader, member of the Fourth to Eighth Knessets. Born in Suwalki, Poland, Sapir went to the Tahkemoni religious school and later attended a teachers' seminary in Warsaw. Early in his youth he joined the *He-Halutz movement and served as its treasurer. He emigrated to Palestine in 1929 and settled in Kefar Saba, where he worked at first in citrus groves. At that time he organized several strikes over the issue of Jewish labor and was consequently arrested in 1932. Later on he started working as an accountant and was also instrumental in the founding of the water supply service and a popular credit bank in Kefar Saba. In the years 1937–47 he served as the deputy of Levi *Eshkol in Ḥevrat ha-Mayim, which turned into the *Mekorot Water Company and later became the national water company of the state of Israel. In 1947 he was appointed to the committee in charge of preparing the Negev settlements for the approaching *War of Independence. In February 1948 Sapir was appointed deputy head of the Civil Defense of the Yishuv, and was eventually granted the rank of lieutenant colonel. In August 1948 he was sent to Europe to coordinate purchases of military equipment. In 1948–53 he served as director general of the Ministry of Defense, under David *Ben-Gurion. In 1953–55 he served as director general of the Ministry of Finance under Eshkol. Sapir was appointed minister of commerce and industry in 1955 and served in this ministry until 1964. One of his main tasks in this position was to encourage domestic and foreign investment in industries – both private and public – in the new development towns. He was first elected to the Fourth Knesset on the Mapai list in 1959. Sapir was instrumental in revealing many of the facts connected with the *Lavon Affair that finally led to the resignation of Ben-Gurion from the premiership. When Eshkol replaced Ben-Gurion as prime minister in 1963, Sapir succeeded him as minister of finance, serving in this position until 1968. As minister of finance he was responsible for the controversial policy of economic slowdown in the years 1966–67, which was designed to decrease the deficit in the balance of payments, improve the structure of investments and employment, and foster productivity for export. In August 1968, Sapir succeeded Golda *Meir as secretary general of the newly founded *Israel Labor Party, serving in this position until 1970. In 1968–69 he served in the government as minister without portfolio. Following Eshkol's sudden death in February 1969, Sapir was considered as a possible heir, but Meir was chosen by the Labor Party for the post. After the elections to the Seventh Knesset in 1969, he was once again appointed by Meir as minister of finance, and served again as minister of commerce and industry in 1970–72, after Gaḥal left the coalition.

Sapir was reappointed minister of finance in the short-lived government formed by Meir after the elections to the Eighth Knesset. Following her resignation in April, he declined to stand as a candidate for the premiership or to serve in the government formed by Yitzhak *Rabin, whom he himself had nominated. In June 1974 Sapir was unanimously elected as chairman of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency, following the death of Louis *Pincus.

Sapir was one of the few Labor leaders who was disturbed by Israel's territorial expansion resulting from the Six-Day War, especially for economic reasons, and the social and demographic ramifications. He had reservations about Jewish settlement beyond the Green Line. He also acted to prevent the appointment of Ariel *Sharon as chief of staff.

Sapir's ideological rivals accused him of excessive pragmatism, and betrayal of the socialist ideals of his party. He had the image of a strong man, and the black notebook, in which he was accustomed to jot down notes, turned into a symbol. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Sapir helped navigate the Israeli economy through stormy seas, and he was personally responsible for many of Israel's economic achievements under Labor rule.

After his death in 1975 the development center named for Pinḥas Sapir was opened at Tel Aviv University, to engage in research in economic, industrial, social, political, cultural and educational development.


A. Avneri, Sapir (1970); wzo, Pinḥas Sapir 56675735, 19071975: Ḥazon ve-Hagshamah (1975); M. Na'or, Ẓemiḥato shel Manhig: Pinḥas Sapir 19301949 (1987); M. Na'or, Pinḥas Sapir Ish Kefar Saba (1987); D. Levy, Pinḥas Sapir ve-ha-Pitu'aḥ ha-Ta'asiyyati shel Yisrael (1993); B. Karni, Pinḥas Sapir: Shalit Be'al Korḥo (1996).

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]