Levi Eshkol

  • Issue: March 1970
  • Plate no.: 277
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Method of printing: Photolithography

Levi Eshkol was born on October 25, 1895, in Ortovo in the Kiev province, Ukraine, to Deborah and Joseph Shkolnik. While attending high school in Vilna, he joined the "Young Zion" movement, which was connected to the "Hapoel Hatza'ir" party in Eretz Israel and at their inspiration, he immigrated to Israel in 1914. For lack of an alternative, he did casual work in Petah Tikvah, and later joined a group which was formed on a cooperative basis to cultivate the land at Kalandia (Atarot) near Jerusalem. Later still he worked with his group on the land of Kiryat Anavim, Kefar Uriah, and Rishon le-Zion.

In 1918, along with 50 members of his party, he joined the "Jewish Legion" (40th Royal Fusiliers), one of the Jewish Battalions in the British Army - despite the fact that many members of the party opposed enlistment on humanitarian grounds. It became clear, however, that Zionist feeling overcame militarism, from the fact that he was demoted from lance-corporal to private and given detention for overstaying his leave when he attended the laying of the corner-stone of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Two years later he was discharged at the request of the party to take up the position of director of the agricultural department of "Hapoel Hatza'ir." In the same year, Kibbutz Deganyah Bet was founded. Eshkol was one of the founders and remained a member until his dying day. But the kibbutz was soon asked to release Eshkol for public duties. In 1921 he took part in the founding congress of the General Federation of Labor, the Histadrut, and as from 1922 was active mainly in the Agricultural Center and in settlement work.

In the early years of the Nazi regime - from 1933 to 1936 - Eshkol was head of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency office in Berlin, an emissary of the "Hechalutz" movement in Germany and Poland, and did valuable work organizing transfer of property of Jews leaving Germany. After his return to Eretz Israel, where he was intensely active for a time in agricultural settlement work at the Agricultural Center, and in the management of settlement and agricultural companies and institutions such as "Nir," "Mekorot," "Amidar," and "Shikun," he returned in 1940 to the plow at Deganyah; but very soon, in 1944, when the split in Mapai (Israel Labor Party) began, he was called upon by Ben-Gurion to return to the city and fill the post of chairman of the Tel Aviv Labor Council. Throughout this period he was active in the high command of the Haganah of which he was also treasurer for a number of years. With the establishment of the state, he was appointed director-general of the Ministry of Defense and in 1949 was appointed director of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency - a post which he held until 1963. He was the central figure in the settlement program of tens of thousands of immigrants in hundreds of new agricultural settlements, and it was he who initiated regional settlement in the Lachish region, the Adulam district, and elsewhere.

 In October 1951 he was appointed minister of agriculture and also served as minister of development. In June 1952 he was appointed minister of finance and thereafter was responsible for the economic development of Israel.

In June 1963, with the resignation of D. Ben-Gurion, Eshkol was elected prime minister and minister of defense. In this capacity, he saw his primary mission in equipping and strengthening the Israel Defense Forces. In his term of office, the United States began to supply aircraft and armor to Israel. Among his other achievements is the successful activation of the I.D.F. to forcefully thwart Syrian and Lebanese attempts to divert the Jordan and thus to deprive Israel of her water supplies.

In 1965, Eshkol took another step towards the fulfillment of his old dream - the unification of the labor movement - with the adoption of the decision to convene the "Mapai-Ahdut ha-Avodah" alignment, although this step caused the breakaway of the "Rafi" faction led by Ben-Gurion.

In the elections to the Sixth Knesset at the end of 1965, the Alignment, under Eshkol, was victorious. The subsequent period was dominated by the "recession policy" which the Government was forced to pursue in order to preserve economic stability. In 1967, the focus of attention was diverted from economic stability to the question of survival in the face of the Arab countries' threat of a war of extermination against Israel.

In view of the seriousness of the situation, a Government of National Unity was formed under Levi Eshkol, and the years of toil and preparation invested in the Israel Defense Forces bore fruit in the Six-Day War, in which the enemy was defeated on three fronts. After the victory the efforts of Eshkol and his cabinet were directed towards obtaining a just and lasting peace, and it was he who laid the foundation of the policy which determined Israel's stand against political and international pressures that prevented progress towards a political settlement in the area.

In the same period he attained another achievement in the fulfillment of his old dream - the unification of the Labor movement - when in January 1968, "Mapai", "Ahdut ha-Avodah", and "Rafi" united to form the Israel Labor Party. A year later, Eshkol succeeded in establishing a Labor-Mapam alignment, as a first step towards final unification.

Levi Eshkol passed away on February 26, 1969, of a sudden heart attack at his home in Jerusalem. He was privileged to lead the nation in good years despite some difficult times, and he succeeded in leading Israel in one of its finest hours, the time of comradeship and unity which preceded and accompanied the Six-Day War. Under his leadership, Jerusalem, the capital of Israel was united, a peaceful relationship between rival factions in the nation was established, and the basis was laid for the close involvement of the Jews in the Diaspora in the responsibility for the survival of the State of Israel.

The portrait of Eshkol on the stamp is based on a photograph; the tab is inscribed Prime Minister of Israel 1963-1969 and bears the emblem of the state.

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Levi Eshkol