JERUSALEM (Mar. 29)
David Levy’s ongoing feud with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir culminated Sunday in the foreign minister’s announcement that he would resign from the government.
Levy, who is also a deputy premier, stressed he was not resigning from the Likud party, to which, he reminded his supporters, he gave “my youth and my love.”
But he sounded almost like a Laborite in the long, bitter recital of grievances against the party leadership, which he gave to several hundred loyal followers gathered in a Herzliya hotel.
Levy accused his ministerial colleagues of political pigheadedness for courting a crisis with the United States, “as though we have an alternative to America’s friendship.”
He dwelt on his differences with the party leadership over the peace process, saying he had to fight constantly for policies of relative moderation and endure charges of “selling out” to the Arabs for proposals that were entirely consistent with the 1978 Camp David accords.
The Moroccan-born Levy, the highest-ranking Sephardic member of the Cabinet, hinted strongly at anti-Sephardic bias among the majority of Likudniks who are of Ashkenazic background.
He spoke of their contemptuous attitude toward him and how his policy initiatives on behalf of the poorer segments of society were frequently squelched by his own party.
Referring to those socioeconomic policies with which he is associated, Levy said he added to Likud’s ideology a dimension not previously stressed in its doctrines and thereby induced many more people to join the party.
Though visibly grieved by his announcement, Levy’s followers responded with a standing ovation and broke into their signature song, “David, Melech Yisrael,” (David, king of Israel).
SHAMIR MAY TRY TO HEAL RIFT
The government Levy is leaving will be replaced after the June 23 elections. But his departure and the biting criticism of his valedictory is hardly an advantage for Likud in the midst of a bitter election campaign.
There was no immediate reaction from the Prime Minister’s Office to Levy’s announcement.
Some observers predicted that Shamir would attempt to heal his rift with Levy in the days ahead and prevail upon him to reconsider. But others felt Shamir might quickly appoint a new foreign minister in an effort to minimize the pre-election fallout from this open feud within the ruling party.
Although his relations with Shamir have long been shaky, mainly because of Levy’s relatively moderate foreign policy views, the break Sunday stemmed from Levy’s bitterness over the way his supporters were shut out when the Likud Central Committee picked the party’s election slate on March 1 and 2.
Levy charges his supporters were shut out of safe spots on the election list because of collusion between the camp of Shamir and his lieutenant, Defense Minister Moshe Arens, and that of Ariel Sharon, the hard-line housing minister.
The internal strife has been hurting the Likud politically. And in the view of most pundits, Levy’s move is likely to aggravate the damage.
Likud campaign spokesman Yossi Ahimeir issued a call to party loyalists Sunday to work harder than ever for success on Election Day.
With respect to the current crisis with Washington over its linkage of a settlement freeze with loan guarantees, Levy said much of Israel’s complaints were legitimate. But he clearly implied that some of the blame for the damaged state of relations resides with his Cabinet colleagues.
Meanwhile, unnamed Foreign Ministry officials were quoted by Israel Television within minutes of Levy’s announcement as expressing fear that his departure and possible replacement by a Likud colleague may well lead to a hardening of Israeli foreign policy positions in the period leading up to the election.