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April 17, 1987 - Image 20

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-04-17

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Once the butt of
numerous jokes,
David Levy has
emerged as the
Great Sephardic
Hope in his quest
to be prime minister.

The Sephardi Revolution

Sixty percent of Israel's population is
now Sephardi, and many are looking
to David Levy to become the Jewish
state's first "non European" prime


Special to The Jewish News


erusalem — Israel took a small but
perceptible step towards a major
political revolution recently when
David Levy was elected to the Num-
ber Two spot in the hard-line Herut Party.
Levy, who commands a substantial
ethnic following among Israel's Sephardi
population — Jews who originated in
North African and Arab states — is now
a bit closer to his goal of succeeding
73-year-old Yitzhak Shamir as party leader
and, quite possibly, as prime minister.
"When the time comes I will compete
publicly for the leadership," he says. "It is
a legitimate desire and I do not have to
apologise for that. I have the will and the
The hour of triumph for Israel's majori-
ty "non-European" Jews appears to be
rapidly approaching.
Levy's fierce determination to become
prime minister on an unabashed ethnic
ticket might alarm Israel's Ashkenazi
(European) establishment as well as those
who oppose his hawkish positions, par-
ticularly on Jewish settlement in the
occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Born in Morocco, David Levy arrived in
Israel in the early Fifties. By 19, he was
married and expecting his first child. It
was a time of intense hardship and high
unemployment, particularly for the
600,000 "Oriental" Jews, few of whom were

22. Friday, April 17, 1987


equipped with the modern skills demand-
ed by the new state.
Levy, unemployed and humiliated by his
pregnant wife having to go out to do
menial domestic work, snapped. When he
was once more turned away by the local
labour exchange, he took the place apart.
The result was a 12-day prison sentence
— an experience which transformed the
rough, tough Levy into a cunning political
"At a certain stage, I stopped crying," he
says. "I stopped feeling sorry for myself
and began to think of ways to change my
condition and that of those who shared the
same fate as my own family.
"I understood that turning desks upside
down in an employment office was not the
way. I had to find a path that would lead
me to a position of influence from which
I could change things. I understood in-
tuitively that I had to learn the rules of the
He plunged into local politics and rose
quickly to a leading position in the
Histadrut Labour Federation, which
brought him to national prominence. In
1977, when Menachem Begin broke the
Labour Party's stranglehold on power and
became the first Likud prime minister,
David Levy received a big break.
He was appointed minister of immigra-
tion and instantly became a symbol in the

eyes of the elitest, Ashkenazi-dominated
Labour Party of the lack of intelligence, ex-
perience and culture in the victorious
Likud bloc, which is itself a coalition of the
dominant Herut and Liberal parties.
The result was an avalanche of David
Levy jokes, which pilloried the new
minister, portrayed him as an inept
dunderhead and hinted at his North
African origins. Sample:
"Have you heard the latest David Levy
joke?" a taxi driver asks his fare.
"I am David Levy," came the reply.
"Then I'll tell it very slowly."
Nobody is telling jokes about David
Levy anymore. In the past ten years, he
has shown himself to be an astute politi-
cian with a highly developed sense of sur-
vival, a keen understanding of the mood of
his constituency and a finely tuned ear for
the concerns of the right-wing grass roots.
His major rival in the Herut leadership
stakes is the formidable Ariel Sharon,
whose ambitions are no less grand, but —
for the moment, at least — well sheathed.
There will almost certainly be blood on
the floor when the moment of succession
arrives, probably at the end of the current
government, and the two men join battle
for the leadership of their party.
If Levy does indeed succeed, he will
break the traditional mold of Israeli socie-
ty, which was created in the secular,

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