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Weizman, Ezer

WEIZMAN, EZER (1924–2005), Israeli air force commander, politician, and seventh president of Israel, member of the Ninth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Knessets. A nephew of Chaim *Weizmann, he was born in Tel Aviv. He learned flying at the Haifa Aviation Club, joined the British Air Force in 1942, obtained his pilot's wings in 1944, and served in Egypt and India. In 1946 he joined the IẒL. In 1947 he joined the Haganah's air service, which preceded the establishment of the Israel Air Force of which he was one of the founders. At the beginning of the War of Independence he was sent to Czechoslovakia to learn to fly Messerschmidt planes and fly one of them back to Israel. In the course of the war he participated as a fighter pilot on all fronts, and flew ammunition and supplies to the Negev and to *Gush Etzyon. He was appointed squadron leader in 1949, and in 1950 was named head of operations of the Air Force staff. The following year he attended the RAF Staff College in England and became wing commander in 1953. Weizman was appointed commander of the Israel Air Force in 1958, serving in that position until 1966. During his tour of duty he formulated the air-force strategy that was successfully implemented in the first hours of the Six-Day War of 1967. From 1966 to 1969 Weizman served as head of the Operations Branch in General Headquarters, and was appointed deputy chief of staff with the rank of major general under Chief of Staff Yitzhak *Rabin. When Rabin suffered a 24-hour breakdown at the outbreak of the Six-Day War, he asked Weizman to take command but soon returned to active service. In 1969 Weizman retired from the army, and joined the *Ḥerut Movement. Though not elected to the Seventh Knesset in 1969 he was appointed minister of transportation on behalf of Gaḥal in the second government established by Golda *Meir, resigning from the government, along with other members of Gaḥal, against the background of Meir's willingness to consider the Rogers Plan. From 1971 to 1972 he served as chairman of the Ḥerut movement but resigned over a controversy with Menaḥem *Begin on the distribution of seats in the party's Central Committee. He rejoined the Ḥerut Movement in May 1973. After his son Shaul was wounded in the course of the Yom Kippur War, Weizman started to become more moderate in his approach to the conflict with the Arabs. In the 1977 elections he served as the Likud's campaign manager, and was elected to the Knesset and appointed minister of defense.

He played a major role in the peace process with Egypt, establishing warm relations with Egyptian President Anwar *Sadat and Prime Minister Mustafa Halil. He was a member of the delegation, headed by Begin, which negotiated the Camp David Agreement with Egypt in September 1978, and participated in the negotiations leading up to the Peace Agreement with Egypt in March 1979. He was responsible for the Litani Operation in Lebanon in March 1978 but soon thereafter proposed the establishment of a National Peace Government – an idea rejected by Begin. Weizman became increasingly critical of the government's attitude toward a settlement with the Palestinians and clashed with Ariel *Sharon over his settlement activities. In May 1980 he resigned from the government, allegedly over cuts in the defense budget, but in fact because he disagreed with Begin over the way in which the negotiations on autonomy for the Palestinians were being conducted. In November 1980 he voted against the government in a vote on a motion of no-confidence. As a result he was expelled from the Ḥerut Movement, but refused to relinquish his Knesset seat. From 1980 to 1984 Weizman engaged in business, but before the elections to the Eleventh Knesset in 1984 he decided to form a new party by the name of Yaḥad, which won three seats. Soon after the elections, however, he joined the Alignment, and thus helped tip the balance in favor of the establishment of a National Unity Government based on parity between the two main political blocs and a rotation in the premiership. From 1984 to 1988 Weizman served as minister without portfolio, in charge of Arab affairs. In the government formed by Yitzhak *Shamir in 1988 Weizman was appointed minister of science and technology. However, at the end of 1989 Shamir threatened to fire him from the government because he had had unauthorized contacts with PLO members. After the breakup of the National Unity Government in March 1990 he decided to distance himself from politics, and in February 1992 resigned his Knesset seat, calling upon Shimon *Peres and Yitzhak *Rabin to do the same.

The following year he was elected as Israel's seventh president. He was Israel's most political president, frequently speaking his mind and being criticized for it. When Rabin was prime minister, Weizman was disappointed with the way the peace process with the Syrians was progressing and hoped to meet with President Hafiz al-*Asad in Jerusalem or Damascus, feeling that he had much in common with the Syrian president, since both were presidents, both had been pilots, and both had lost sons in accidents. But Asad did not respond, and Weizman adopted a more rigid position toward Syria. After the Palestinian terrorist attacks in the beginning of 1996, he called for the suspension of talks with the Palestinians. After Binyamin *Netanyahu was elected prime minister he criticized him for the way he was conducting the peace process, and enraged Netanyahu by visiting President Hosni *Mubarak of Egypt to discuss ways of getting the peace process out of the stalemate it had entered. He was also criticized by Yosef Tomi *Lapid for going to see the mentor of Shas, Rabbi Ovadiah *Yosef, to try to convince him to support the peace process. Weizman managed to enrage many women by expressing chauvinist positions regarding the place of women in society, the homosexual community by making homophobic remarks, and many citizens for his frequent refusal to reduce the sentences of prisoners imprisoned for criminal offenses. Nevertheless, due to his charm and sincerity, and his practice of visiting the families of fallen soldiers, and visiting many of the wounded in the hospital, he was extremely popular in the general public, and was viewed by many as "the ultimate Israeli" – for better or for worse. Weizman was elected to a second term as president in 1998, and could have remained president until 2003. However, following a police investigation over alleged improper financial contacts with the French millionaire Eduard Sarousi (the investigation was closed for lack of evidence), and failing health, he decided to resign in July 2000, and retired to his home in Caesarea.

He wrote On Eagles' Wings: The Personal Story of the Leading Commander of the Israeli Air Force (1979); The Battle for Peace (1981); with Dov Goldstein, Lekha Shamayim, Lekha Ereẓ (1993); and Rut Sof: Biografiyah (2002).


S. Eilati (ed.), Yaḥad Shivtei Yisrael: Rav Si'aḥ im Nesi Medinat Yisrael (1996); Y. Kotler, Hapolet: Ezer Weiẓman Kemot Shehu (2000).