Pinhas Lavon Dead at 72

Funeral services were held today at Hulda for Pinhas Lavon, a veteran Labor Party and Histadrut leader who, as Defense Minister in 1954 became the central figure in this country’s most prolonged and bitter political dispute that led to the resignation of Premier David Ben Gurion. Mr. Lavon, who was 72, died yesterday at the Gedera Hospital for the disabled where he had been confined for several years, paralyzed and in a coma.

His career followed the pattern of many of Israel’s leaders who came from Eastern Europe identified with the kibbutz movement and rose to leadership positions in the Labor Party and government. Born Pinhas Lubianiker in Poland, Mr. Lavon attended Lvov University and immigrated to Palestine in 1929 at the age of 25. He founded the Gordonia Labor Zionist youth movement while still in Poland and after coming to Palestine was one of the founders of Kibbutz Hulda near Ramia. He also founded the Ichud Hakvutzot Vehakibbutzim, the united Mapai-sponsored kibbutz movement.

Mr. Lavon’s leadership abilities and talent as a speaker helped him rise rapidly in Labor ranks. He became secretary of Mapai and secretary of Histadrut. After the State of Israel was founded he entered the Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture. He also served for a time as a Minister-Without-Portfolio. When Ben Gurion retired temporarily in 1953 to his Sde Boker home, Mr. Lavon took over the Defense portfolio previously held by the Premier.

‘LAVON AFFAIR’ RECALLED

The famous “Lavon Affair” of the 1950s centered over whether Lavon, as Minister of Defense, had issued the orders for an abortive attempt by Israeli agents in Cairo to turn the U.S. and British governments against Egypt by trying to bomb U.S. libraries in Cairo and Alexandria and Egyptian theaters that showed British and American films. The plan was to have these terrorist acts attributed to Egyptians. But it misfired. The perpetrators were caught and exposed. One committed suicide, two were executed and five sentenced to long prison terms.

The incident rocked Israel and seriously compromised its relations with the U.S. and Britain. The government of the then Premier Moshe Sharett had not been consulted about the operation and Mr. Lavon said he had no knowledge of it. But Col Binyamin Gibli, chief of military intelligence, insisted that Lavon had given the orders to proceed with the plan. A committee of inquiry reached no conclusions.

Lavon resigned from the government but was subsequently elected secretary general of Histadrut. In 1961, evidence emerged that appeared to clear Lavon of complicity in the Cairo incident. The government issued a statement absolving him of responsibility against the protests of Ben Gurion who was once more Premier. Ben Gurion contended that the exoneration of Lavon was a miscarriage of justice and resigned, bringing down his government.

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