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April 03, 1992 - Image 31

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-04-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

BACKGROUND

David Levy's Complaint

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy says he is
stepping down, a move that could hurt the
chances of the Likud Party that nurtured him.

DOUGLAS DAVIS

Foreign Correspondent

I

n the tough old Fifties, an
unskilled, unemployed,
19-year- old immigrant to
Israel from Morocco, newly
married with one child, was
contemptuously turned
away when he sought a
laboring job at his local
employment office in Beit
She'an.
Humiliated at the perceiv-
ed ethnic slight and
distraught by the prospect of
his wife, pregnant with their
second child, having to seek
menial domestic work to
support the family, the
young man's violent temper
exploded and he trashed the
office.
This week, in a flash of
anger reminiscent of his Beit
She'an youth, Israeli For-
eign Minister David Levy
performed the political
equivalent of his earlier rage
when he announced his in-
tention of leaving Prime
Minister Yitzhak Shamir's
Likud government, citing
insults, slights and con-
spiracies.
Addressing supporters at a

seaside hotel south of Tel
Aviv, he accused the
government of alienating
the United States, usurping
his role in the peace process
and conspiring to demote
him in the party hierarchy
to a position below his arch-
rivals, Defense Minister
Moshe Arens and Housing
Minister Ariel Sharon, on
the list of Likud candidates
for the June 23 election.
In fact, the clue to Mr.
Levy's decision can probably
be found in his obsession
with pride and honor that
was given expression during
that traumatic incident
almost 40 years ago.
Today, Mr. Levy, 54, com-
mands a substantial ethnic
following among the
majority Sephardi Jews of
Oriental origin and he is
regarded as pivotal to
Israel's delicate political
balance as the major parties
gear up for elections.
His undoubted political
strength was acknowledged
when he was appointed for-
eign minister and given the
title of deputy prime min-
ister, which theoretically
made him first among

Quick Study

The net result of David
Levy's violent explosion
at the Beit She'an
employment office in
1957, just months after
his arrival in Israel, was a
12-day jail term that
transformed the rough
immigrant into a cunning
political animal.
"At a certain stage I
stopped feeling sorry for
myself and began to think
of ways to change my con-
dition and those who
shared a similar fate to
my own family," he said
years later. "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
game."
David Levy was a quick
study. He plunged into
local politics and quickly

rose to a leading position
in the Histadrut labor
federation, which brought
him national prominence
and a seat in the Knesset
(parliament) in 1965.
Twelve years later, when
Menachem Begin broke
Labor's monopoly on
power, Mr. Levy was
swept along and was ap-
pointed immigrant ab-
sorption minister.
In the eyes of the elitist,
Ashkenazi-dominated
Labor aristocracy, he in-
stantly became a symbol
of the Likud's lack of in-
telligence, experience and
culture. The result was an
avalanche of David Levy
jokes that portrayed the
new minister as an inept
dunderhead. These days,
nobody is telling jokes
about David Levy, who
has helped himself to po-
litical power and proved
himself to be an astute
operator with a highly
developed sense of sur-
vival. ❑

equals for succession as par-
ty leader.
That aspiration was dealt
a serious blow last month
when Mr. Levy placed se-
cond with just over 31 per-
cent of the votes, ahead of
Mr. Sharon with 22 percent
but way behind Mr. Shamir
himself, who won 46 percent
of the vote of the party's
3,000-member central com-
mittee.
If anything, however, Mr.
Levy's support was inflated
because Mr. Arens, the man
most likely to succeed the
76-year-old Mr. Shamir, did
not participate in the con-
test.
While Mr. Levy and his
Sephardi followers were con-
sidered the key to the 1977
electoral victory of
Menachem Begin's revi-
sionist party, speculation is
now rampant that Mr. Levy
is preparing to effect another
revolution by switching
sides and throwing his sup-
port behind Labor Party
leader Yitzhak Rabin.
It is a move that could seal
the electoral fate of Likud
and lead to a radical re-
alignment of the entrenched
political configuration,
drawing the moderates from
both Labor and Likud into a
new centrist alliance and
leaving the established par-
ties with little more than
their hard-core ideological
rumps.
Mr. Levy's decision came
as a shock to Mr. Shamir,
who reportedly first learned
of it on television, but it
could not have come as a
complete surprise given the
strains that characterized
relations between the two
men since Mr. Shamir decid-
ed to lead the Israeli negoti-
ating team to the Madrid
peace conference last Oc-
tober.
In a fit of pique over that
perceived slight, Mr. Levy
chose to stay home rather
than appear at the negotia-
ting table in a supporting
role when Israel's delegates
set off to face their adver-
saries.
He also displayed his
anger during the Gulf War
when he tried to rein in his
deputy, Benjamin
Netanyahu, from media ap-
pearances advancing Israel's
case. Mr. Netanyahu later
defied Mr. Levy, who does
not speak English, by travel-

David Levy is being accused of pulling a power play.

ing to Madrid last fall for the
peace talks. Mr. Netanyahu
has been transferred to the
Prime Minister's Office,
where he has the rank of
deputy minister.
David Levy might now rail
against his erstwhile cabinet
colleagues for their hard-line
position on the peace pro-
cess, but political observers
in Jerusalem recall that only
a few years ago Mr. Levy
was counted with Ariel Sha-
ron among the most hard-
line opponents of any polit-
ical or territorial concessions
for peace.
"He doesn't have an
ideological bone in his
body," said one former polit-
ical ally. "He is a populist
and what we are witnessing
now is a naked power play."
According to the pundits,
Mr. Levy has despaired of
ever winning the Likud
leadership and is now
preparing to draw deeply on
his powerful oratory and his
unquestioned popularity
among the Sephardi com-
munity to form a new party
and run in his own right.
Some members of Likud
want to win him back; others
have advised the prime min-
ister to tough it out and slam
the door on Mr. Levy for his
ingratitude to the political

movement they regard as
having nurtured him and
made his reputation.
Mr. Levy cannot formally
submit his resignation until
the cabinet meeting on Sun-
day and his resignation
cannot take effect for 48
hours after that. Of course,
the opera is not over until
the fat lady sings, but
whatever happens the effect

Mr. Levy is
regarded as pivotal
to Israel's delicate
political balance.

of his action will continue to
be felt long after the episode
is forgotten.
Following a decade of
unblinking focus on Soviet
immigration and West Bank
settlements, any future
Israeli government will have
to confront the voice of
Sephardi disaffection that
David Levy raised this week
and assign an increasing
share of the state's scarce
resources to this majority
community if they are to
have any hoping of securing
a majority at the ballot
box. ❑

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

31

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