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Ben-gurion Resigns Premiership; Disagrees with Cabinet on Lavon

February 1, 1961
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion resigned tonight, after having summoned a special meeting of the Cabinet. He submitted his resignation to President Izhak Ben-Zvi, thus bringing about the automatic resignation of the Cabinet. Under the law, Mr. Ben-Gurion and his Cabinet remain as a caretaker Government.

In his letter of resignation, Mr. Ben-Gurion stated: “My understanding of my obligations forbid me to bear responsibility for the Cabinet decision on December 25, as this would be incompatible with fundamental principles of justice and the basic laws of the State.”

He was referring to the Cabinet meeting which, on December 25, unanimously accepted the report of a seven-member Ministerial Committee that exonerated former Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon of charges that he had given the orders that resulted in a “security mishap” in 1954. Mr. Lavon, now secretary-general of Histadrut, the Israel Federation of Labor, resigned from the Defense Ministry in 1955.

The same Ministerial Committee had also charged that certain high-ranking Israel Army officers had falsified documents to implicate Mr. Lavon before an investigating committee that probed into the 1954 “mishap” five years ago.

Though the Cabinet members “acted in good faith in approving the whitewash of Lavon, ” Mr. Ben-Gurion continued in his letter of resignation, “this does not change the fact that injustice has been caused. ” Apparently, Mr. Ben-Gurion added, “many failed to realize that whitewashing one means finding another one guilty.”


Evidently referring to criticism that his methods with regard to the Lavon issue “are a threat to democracy” in Israel, Mr. Ben-Gurion stated in his letter: “Democracy is as dear to me as it is to any other citizen. But democracy also means the rule of law and the separation of powers. ” He told the President he was convinced that “the truth, as to whether Lavon lied or a high-ranking officer lied, can be established only by a court or by judicial inquiry.”

In such an inquiry, Mr. Ben-Gurion told the President, “both sides can bring witnesses, submit documents, and be cross-examined.” He pointed out that, when the Cabinet approved the “whitewashing” of Mr. Lavon, he had warned that he could not accept collective responsibility for such a decision and would have to draw his own conclusions.

There were two possibilities as to what may happen now. One is that Mr. Ben-Gurion’s strongest backers–Minister of Agriculture Moshe Dayan, Minister of Labor Giora Josephthal and Minister of Education Abba Eban–will urge him to form a new Cabinet from his own supporters. Such a move, however, is feared as likely to bring an open split in the dominant Mapai party.

The other possibility is that the Premiership will be offered to Moshe Sharett, former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister during Mr. Ben-Gurion’s absence from the post in 1954-55. Another member of the Cabinet considered a strong possibility for the Premiership, Minister of Finance Levi Eshkol, indicated last week he would not accept the post if it were offered to him.

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