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June 22, 1990 - Image 35

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-06-22

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ometime this summer,
David Levy, Israel's
new foreign minister,
will arrive in Washington
for an official visit.
For the Bush administra-
tion, Levy is "David Who?"
In anticipation of his trip to
the United States, the U.S.
Embassy in Tel Aviv has
been busily compiling a
dossier on Levy. The picture
emerging is of a new kind of
Israeli foreign minister, diff-
erent in background, style
and substance than his
Although Levy is relative-
ly unknown in Washington,
he is well-known in Israel,
where he has served in suc-
cessive cabinets since 1977.
Moreover, since Menachem
Begin's retirement in 1983,
Levy has been the official
number two figure in the
Likud, and he is widely seen
as the likely replacement for
Yitzhak Shamir, when the
75-year-old prime minister
eventually steps down.
For Levy, the foreign min-
istry is a significant and
long sought stepping-stone
toward the top spot. In
Israel, where peace and war
remain the dominant con-
cern, international expertise
is considered a prerequisite
for national leadership. It
was the need to acquire for-
eign policy experience that
convinced Levy to abandon
his power-base at the
patronage-rich housing min-
istry for the niceties of di-
The halls of Levy's new of-
fice in Jerusalem are fes-
tooned with the photographs
of his predecessors — Moshe
Sharett, Golda Meir, Abba
Eban, Yigal Allon, Moshe
Dayan, Menachem Begin,
Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon
Peres and Moshe Arens —
all firmly grounded in the
Eastern European political
and cultural traditions of the
Israeli elite.
By contrast, Levy, who
immigrated to Israel in the
mid-1950s from Morocco,
settled in the small Galilee
town of Beit Shean and
spent his first years in the
country as a building
worker, an outsider. Indeed,
Levy's North African origins
and working-class
background are the basis of

Levy: unpredictable, and a possible successor to Shamir.

David Levy:
Mystery Man

Israel's new foreign minister is
different in background, style and
substance than his predecessors.


Israel Correspondent

the political appeal which
won him his present post.
The word most frequently
used to describe David Levy
is "authentic." Like other
North African immigrants,
his family was
unceremoniously shuttled
off to a distant development
town where his father, a
middle-class tailor in
Morocco, was forced to do
manual labor in the fields of
neighboring kibbutzim.
Levy himself was rejected
for military service and
often had to scramble to
make a living.
At one point, he became so
frustrated at his inability to
find work that he turned
over tables at the local labor
exchange, earning him a
brief jail term.
Last week, at his swearing-
in ceremony, when reporters
complimented him on the
good looks of his son,
Shimon, an infantry officer,
the new foreign minister
alluded to those early days.
"He should be handsome,"
Levy observed tartly. "I had
time to work on him while I
was unemployed."
After becoming a construc-
tion worker, Levy showed a
strong streak of ambition,
teaching himself Hebrew
from newspapers and trying
to break into union politics.
His first approach was to the
Labor Party, which showed
little interest in the aspiring
politician. So, like other tal-
ented outsiders of his ge-
neration, Levy turned to the
Herut Party, forerunner of
the Likud, where Menachem
Begin recognized his elec-
toral appeal and helped get
him elected to the Knesset.
In 1977, when Begin ap-
pointed Levy to the cabinet,
he became the butt of
"David Levy jokes," which
portrayed the young politi-
cian as an ignorant, un-
sophisticated buffoon. These
jokes, circulated mainly by
his opponents in the Labor
Party, had an unanticipated
affect; they elicited soli-
darity from Israel's large
North African community,
which saw the humor, cor-
rectly, as an ethnic slur.
Levy parlayed his increased
popularity with the immi-
grants into political power in
the Herut Central Corn-



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