JERUSALEM, Oct. 17 (JTA) — Known for his strongly anti-Arab views, Rehavam Ze’evi, 75, became the first Israeli Cabinet minister to be slain by Arab terrorists in the history of the Jewish state.
A career officer in the Israel Defense Force, Ze’evi first served in the pre-state Haganah underground and in the Palmach, the Haganah’s commando units. He later rose to the rank of major general in the Haganah’s successor, the IDF, and served as a security and anti-terror adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Ze’evi was elected to the Knesset in 1988 as the head of Moledet — the Hebrew word for “homeland” — a party that advocated the voluntary transfer of Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries.
While Moledet de-emphasized transfer in its platforms for subsequent elections, it became the slogan by which Ze’evi was known — and, in the eyes of many Israelis, discredited.
Ze’evi was known for lashing out at Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, calling him “wicked” and a “murderer.”
In July, he stirred controversy when he referred to Palestinians working and living illegally in Israel as “lice” and a “cancer.”
He was controversial not only for his comments about Arabs, however. In 1997, Ze’evi taunted then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as a “Jew- boy” for allegedly selling out Israel’s security to U.S. interests. The two almost came to blows.
Despite his stinging rhetoric, Ze’evi was nicknamed Gandhi as a young man because of his thinness and physical resemblance to the Indian leader. The nickname stuck with him for life, though he joked that his philosophy was diametrically opposed to the nonviolence espoused by the original Gandhi.
Ze’evi had been a target of many verbal threats and was entitled to a
However, he rejected protection as a matter of principle,
fellow ministers said.
Yet he also was known for his kindness and personal loyalty, and he was personally liked even by many Israelis who disagreed strongly with his political views.
On Wednesday, on his way back from breakfast, Ze’evi was shot twice in the head outside his eighth-floor room Wednesday morning in Jerusalem’s Hyatt Hotel on Mount Scopus.
A resident of Ramat Hasharon in central Israel, Ze’evi often stayed at the hotel when in Jerusalem for Knesset business. His wife, Yael, said Ze’evi had remarked Wednesday morning on a “strange” Arab man staring at him throughout his meal.
He was brought without a pulse to Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, where doctors managed to restore his heartbeat. He died while in intensive care.
He was pronounced dead at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The Knesset convened a memorial session at 1 p.m.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a PLO faction that rejects peacemaking with Israel, claimed responsibility for the slaying.
The group said Wednesday’s attack came as revenge for the death of its leader, Mustafa Zibri, in an Israeli rocket attack in late August. The group vowed to attack more senior Israeli officials.
A sixth-generation Jerusalemite, Ze’evi was born in 1926 to a religious family in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood just outside the Old City walls.
He had a deep love and knowledge of the land of Israel and “knew every road in the country,” Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said. “That was his outlook. No one knows Israeli history like he did.”
Ze’evi served as a career IDF officer after graduating from the Command and General Staff College of the U.S. Army. He retired from the IDF before the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but returned to active service for the duration of that war.
From 1974 to 1977, he served as adviser to then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on anti-terror issues.
In 1982 he was appointed head of the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, which he helped establish and develop.
Ze’evi officially entered politics in 1988 as chairman of the Moledet party during Yitzhak Shamir’s term as prime minister. From February 1991 until January 1992, he served as minister without portfolio in the Shamir government.
Ze’evi later merged Moledet with two other right-wing parties to form a party called National Unity. As tourism minister in the current government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he also was chairman of a bloc that combined National Unity with the Israel, Our Home party of Russian immigrants.
Ze’evi disagreed with the Sharon government’s handling of the ongoing Palestinian uprising, favoring stronger military action.
On Monday, following the government’s decision to withdraw IDF troops from two Palestinian neighborhoods in Hebron, he convinced his fellow Cabinet member from the National Unity bloc, Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to resign from the government.
The resignation was to become official Wednesday.
Following the assassination, however, Lieberman said he was retracting his resignation and would re-evaluate his position once the seven-day mourning period was over.