Ben Gurion Takes Leave from Premiership; Remains Defense Minister
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Ben Gurion Takes Leave from Premiership; Remains Defense Minister

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David Ben Gurion today administered another snub to the four left-wing Ministers–who opposed the Israel arms pact with West Germany–by announcing he was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the Premiership. He said he would continue his duties as Defense Minister and also would continue as Acting Minister during the absence on a South American tour of Mrs. Golda Meir.

This situation would permit Mr. Ben Gurion to abstain from sitting at the same table with the dissident left-wing Ministers in a caretaker Government. As Defense Minister he need not attend all Cabinet meetings, while as Premier he must preside at every meeting. Last night Mr. Ben Gurion snubbed the Mapam and Achdut Avodah Ministers when he ostentatiously took a seat on the Mapai benches in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, instead of at the usual place at the center table. He is usually flanked and faced by the left-wing Ministers when he sits at the center table.

He was criticized for both actions. The press disapproved of his plan to retire temporarily to his retreat at Site Boker, a kibbutz in the Negev. Even the vehemently anti-leftist organ of the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel advised Mr. Ben Gurion “to control his anger” and not abandon administration of the Government. The newspaper said that if Mr. Ben Gurion felt that personal honor did not permit him to finish out his coalition partnership with Mapam and Achdut Avodah, then the stand had the same validity for the Minister whom he would ask to deputize for him as Premier.

Mr. Ben Gurion apparently was not deterred from his opposition to having anything to do with the leftist Ministers even though it was practically certain that the present coalition–including the Mapam and Achdut Avodah–would continue as a caretaker Government. So far the Mapai, Mr. Ben Gurion’s party, had failed to obtain passive support of the opposition General Zionist or National Religious Party for a minority Government without the two leftist parties until the November elections.

The other criticism came from one of the four left-wing Cabinet members, Israel Bar-Yehuda of Achdut Avodah, the Minister of the Interior. Commenting on last night’s “demonstration” when Mr. Ben Gurion sat on the Mapai benches in Knesset, Mr. Bar-Yehuda said today this was a contravention of the law which bans demonstrations within a certain distance from the Knesset building. He said “a demonstration inside the Knesset is more serious.”


Meanwhile, President Ben Zvi continued today his consultations with party leaders on the formation of a new government. He met this afternoon separately with deputations of the right-wing Herut and the General Zionists. He was expected to consult tomorrow with leaders of the National Religious Party, left-wing groups, the Communists, the Progressive Party and the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel.

The dissident Ministers of Mapam and Achdut Avodah today made public copies of letters they sent to the President in which they disputed Mr. Ben Gurion’s version of the West German arms crisis which led to his resignation. In almost identical letters, the four left-wing Ministers asserted that Mr. Ben Gurion disregarded a unanimous 1954 resolution of the Knesset against arming West Germany.

They also disputed the argument that the sale of the $3, 000, 000 worth of Israel-made arms to West Germany was necessary for the security of Israel. The Ministers also asserted it was Mr. Ben Gurion who brought about public discussion of the arms agreement, following disclosure in a West German newspaper of the pact, and that it was Mr. Ben Gurion who had insisted ion a debate in Knesset which “he now states caused injury to the state and jeopardized its security.”

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