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David Levy, champion of Mizrahi Jewish rights and former minister, dies at 86

Netanyahu: He put his stamp on political life, looked out for weaker sectors

Former Israeli Politician David Levy at a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) on Sept. 3, 2018 (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90).

David Levy, a former Knesset Member and Israel Prize winner, known as one of the first champions of Israel’s Mizrahi Jews, died at age 86 in his home in the town of Beit Shean, Israeli media reported on Sunday.

The dedicated family man left behind his wife, 12 children – two of whom joined politics after him – over 40 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

“Together with all citizens of Israel, I deeply mourn the passing of David Levy, may his memory be a blessing – a dedicated public servant for decades, a minister, and deputy prime minister,” stated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Levy was born in Rabat in French Morocco, before immigrating to Israel at age 20. He took up residence in Beit Shean, one of Israel’s “development towns,” characterized by its economically weak populations of largely Middle Eastern descent.

Levy "paved his way in life with his own two hands. In the local sphere, he contributed to the development of Beit Shean, which became a symbol for the growth of the development towns on the periphery,” Netanyahu said.

The former minister quickly became a leader of the Beit Shean working class, organizing a strike among workers in the nearby kibbutzim, demanding higher quality drinking water from their mostly Ashkenazi (European) Jewish employers. He went on to join the Likud party which, until then, had never been part of a government. At the time, Israeli politics was dominated by Jews of Ashkenazi descent, mostly represented by the Labor Party which controlled the government uninterrupted until 1977.

Under the leadership of Menachem Begin, Levy campaigned for worker’s rights and helped bring hundreds of thousands of disaffected Mizrahi Jews into the Likud, contributing to the stunning mahapakh (turnaround) of 1977, when Likud took the government from the Labor party for the first time in Israel’s history.

“In the national sphere, he put his personal stamp on political life, while looking out for distressed weaker sectors,” Netanyahu wrote.

Levy later led the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, as well as the Housing and Construction Ministry, before serving three stints as Israel's foreign minister. In this role, he was instrumental in forging diplomatic ties with several countries after the Cold War, including China.

“We did not always agree on everything, but I always admired his sense of mission,” Netanyahu added in his condolences.

“My wife Sara and I convey our condolences to the extended Levy family in the knowledge that David’s precious memory will be enshrined in the hearts of our people for years and generations.”

Levy was honored with the prestigious Israel Prize for his lifetime achievement at the end of his political career.

His political efforts were continued by two of his children: Orly Levy-Abekasis served as a Member of Knesset (MK) for the Yisrael Beytenu party and her own party, Gesher; her brother Jackie was an MK for Likud and served as the mayor of Beit Shean for 15 years.

The importance of Levy's legacy was highlighted by the numerous condolences he received from all across Israel’s political spectrum, including both the former leader of the radical left-wing Meretz Party, Zahava Galon, as well as far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

In a statement, the Kibbutz Movement noted that despite ideological differences, Levy was greatly appreciated "for his commitment to the social issues he promoted with devotion, his political moderation, and his public courage, including support for the peace process between Israel and Arab countries.”

David Levy’s life story is “an impressive expression of true and inspiring social leadership,” Israel’s President Isaac Herzog said.

“He will be remembered in Israel’s history as a symbol of statesmanship and groundbreaking social action that left a real mark on society and the country,” the president added.

“I had the privilege of working with him and learning from his wisdom and experience.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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