TEL AVIV (May. 20)
Shimon Peres, Deputy Defense Minister, and Yosef Almogi, Housing Minister, resigned their Cabinet posts today in the growing internal struggle in the Mapai pary leadership between former Premier David Ben-Gurion and Premier Levi Eshkol.
In their letters of resignation, both men said they were doing so in response to Premier Levi Eshkol’s challenge last week to Mr. Ben-Gurion’s Mapai followers in the Cabinet to resign if they shared Mr. Ben-Gurion’s statement that Mr. Eshkol was “unfit” to lead the party and the country.
The party crisis was deepened today when Mr. Ben-Gurion’s followers called a mass rally for next Tuesday to seek to persuade the party to have Mr. Ben-Gurion head an election list for the forthcoming balloting for a new Parliament. Mr. Ben-Gurion again openly challenged Mr. Eshkol’s party leadership with a letter to morning newspapers today in which he again called the Premier unqualified and added he would not allow his name to be on the joint Mapai-Achdut Avodan list negotiated by the Premier. The alignment has been vehemently denounced by Mr. Ben-Gurion.
Premier Eshkol reportedly tried to persuade Mr. Peres not to resign but the Deputy Defense Minister, after lengthy talks with leaders of the Ben-Gurion opposition faction in Mapai, decided to quit. He met with top officials of the Defense Ministry and said that after 18 years of service in the security field, he was “compelled” to resign because of “recent developments” within the Mapai party. He said he was doing so with regret and deep sorrow.
Mr. Almogi said in his resignation letter that he had resigned in response to the Premier’s challenge “which left me no other way but to tender my resignation.” He criticized the Premier’s challenge as one that demands “confession” and one which belittled the positions of those who disagreed with the Premier. Mr. Eshkol was expected to inform Parliament next week of the resignations.
BEN-GURION MAKES HIS VIEWS AGAINST ESHKOL PUBLIC IN THE PRESS
In his letter to the press, Mr. Ben-Gurion declared: “I will not give my hand to an alignment list which in my opinion does not come to strengthen the unity of Israeli labor but contrarily, although I believe many supporters of alignment want true union.” Adding that he had worked with Mr. Eshkol for many years in the Histadrut, Israel’s labor Federation, the Jewish Agency and the Government, he said he can only praise his “efficient work’ in those areas.
“But,” he continued, “it became clear to me, to my regret, that he lacks the essential qualities required for the responsible post of Premier. His qualities do not coincide with the position of Premiership. Members thinking otherwise may act as they wish. There is no obligation to place me at the head of the party’s election list and I shall not be placed at the head or end of a list which, in my belief, does not fit the needs of the State of Israel.”
The sharp tone of the letter, which surprised his followers, was regarded as a setback for the Ben-Gurion faction, as was the attendance at the ceremony of the Mapai-Achdut alignment signing yesterday of Mayor Abba Khoushy of Haifa, who is a Ben-Gurion supporter and who has endorsed the idea of a Mapai election list headed by Mr. Ben-Gurion.
Both Davar, the organ of the Histadrut, and Lamerhav, the newspaper of Achdut Avodah, welcomed today the alignment agreement and called on the leftist Mapam, which is not in the present coalition Government, to join the alignment. The newspapers described the pact as “more than a coalition but no quite a union.”
Mapai and Achdut Avodah leaders expressed the hope that foes of the alignment would eventually support it. Efforts were underway to persuade those opponents to change their minds on the premise that “basically,” all the labor parties were united in outlook. Premier Eshkol said last night that the Mapai-Achdut agreement marked “a great hour not only for the signatories but also to the nation at large.” He called the agreement a turning point toward eliminating divisions in the nation and expressed the hope that there would not be a split in the Mapai.