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Dispute over Lavon Remains Suspended Until Eshkol’s Return from U.S.

May 5, 1964
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The new dispute in the years-old Lavon Affair–involving, this time, a disagreement between Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and former Premier David Ben-Gurion–remained in suspension today as the leadership of the dominant Mapai party agreed to postpone a further possible fight on the matter, so as to show the world that Mr. Eshkol has the united backing of his party on the eve of his scheduled visit to the United States at the invitation of President Johnson.

The affair had flared up again this weekend after Mr. Eshkol, consigning the Lavon dispute to past history, invited Pinhas Lavon, former Defense Minister and former secretary-general of Histadrut, the Israel Federation of Labor, to return to the Mapai councils, With Mr. Ben-Gurion insisting, by letter, that Mr. Eshkol was not empowered to reverse the 1961 Mapai decision to oust Mr. Lavon, the party leadership met here for nearly five hours last night, arguing the matter, Mr. Ben-Gurion was not present, but strong factions inside Mapai argued for his point of view.

In a letter to last night’s meeting, Mr. Ben-Gurion explained he was not attending the session because he regards the entire matter as “a comedy,” He charged that the issue has been revived by the Israeli newspapers and radio, and insisted that the Mapai Secretariat cannot discuss a matter that had already been settled by the entire party.

At one point, the meeting was suspended while a compromise was drafted by Mrs. Golda Meir, the Foreign Minister; Pinhas Sapir, Minister of Finance; and Zalman Aranne, Minister of Education. They proposed that Mr. Eshkol be permitted to make a statement on the issue. Yosef Almogi, Minister of Housing, walked out of the meeting in protest against that proposal. Mr. Eshkol then made his statement, declaring that he had taken the action for the rehabilitation of Mr, Lavon after consulting with many Mapai members, but contending that the action was his own and did not contradict any official Mapai decisions.

Reuven Barkat, secretary-general of Histadrut, told the session that the record must show that Mr. Eshkol’s statement had been heard but neither accepted nor rejected by the Mapai leadership. On that note, and with the common agreement that Mr. Eshkol must not be faced with a divided party before his departure for the United States, the meeting ended. However, it seemed certain that, next month, after Mr. Eshkol returns from his American visit, the matter will be revived for further argument inside Mapai.

Meanwhile, supporters of Mr. Ben-Gurion left today for Sdeh Boker, the ex-Premier’s home, to confer with the elder statesman, and to listen to any reactions he might have as a result of last night’s session. All leaders of Mapai agreed, however, that Mr. Eshkol, due to arrive in Washington June 1, will be going to the United States with the backing of the entire Mapai party.

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