Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Eshkol Invites Lavon to Return to Mapai Leadership; Ben-gurion Silent

May 4, 1964
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Premier Levi Eshkol sought this weekend to consign to the past the celebrated controversy over Pinhas Lavon, by inviting the former Defense Minister and former Histadrut secretary-general back into the councils of the Mapai party. However, Mr. Lavon was not entirely satisfied with Mr. Eshkol’s gesture.

Former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who ousted Mr. Lavon from leadership, declined to comment on Mr. Eshkol’s action. It was indicated that Mr. Ben-Gurion had written to Mapai officials stating that Mr. Eshkol was not competent to repeal the decision which led to Mr. Lavon’s disappearing in 1961 from Mapai leadership, and that only party bodies could do it. Mr. Eshkol’s invitation to Mr. Lavon was made after consultation with various party leaders but without approval from any Mapai body.

Premier Eshkol’s invitation was contained in a letter to Prof. Nathan Rotenstreich, a leader of the intellectuals who have rallied to Mr. Lavon’s cause in the controversy which began in a security mishap in 1954, when Lavon was Defense Minister. Despite his insistence that he had not issued any of the orders which led to the security mishap, he was forced to resign. Later, when he renewed his charges that he had been made a scapegoat for the mishap–the details of which have never been publicized–he was forced out of Mapai leadership in a battle with Mr. Ben-Gurion.

As the battle gained momentum, the case was investigated several times. One probe was conducted a Ministerial Committee on which Mr. Eshkol served, which completely exonerated Lavon. Mr. Ben-Gurion refused to accept that finding. Mr. Lavon’s backers within Mapai, as well as the intellectuals, continued to press for his complete rehabilitation.

The Premier’s letter was read today by Prof. Rottenstreich to a gathering of 2,000 Lavon supporters who met to decide on splitting away from Eshkol if the Premier failed to act on the issue. Despite the widespread gratification in the party over the Premier’s invitation, it appeared that at least one branch of the Mapai felt that the invitation was an implied rebuke to Mr. Ben-Gurion. Prof. Rottenstreich indicated that Lavon’s supporters would withhold judgment until some definite action was taken by Mapai in the matter.

Premier Eshkol sent this letter after consultations with Mapai leaders who included Knesset Speaker Kaddish Luz, Foreign Minister Golda Meir, and Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir. Speaker Luz welcomed the letter saying it bridged over a serious gap and that it would help to strengthen Mapai and the Israel labor movement. Moshe Sharett, who was Prime Minister in 1954, said the letter “comes to correct an injustice” and that it prevented a crisis.

Recommended from JTA