MODAI (Madzovitch), YITZHAK (1926–1998), Israeli politician and businessman, member of the Eighth to Twelfth Knessets. Modai was born in Tel Aviv. He studied at the Ge'ulah High School in Tel Aviv, and as a high-school student joined the Haganah in 1941. He joined the British mandatory police in 1943. He served in the IDF in 1948–50 as a field officer and as a staff officer, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1951–53 he served as military attaché in London, and in 1953 headed the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese Mixed Armistice Commissions. Modai completed his studies in the Technion in Haifa as a chemical engineer in 1957 and received a law degree from the Tel Aviv branch of the Hebrew University in 1959. After that he entered the business world, and in 1961–77 was director general of the Revlon cosmetics company in Israel.
Modai joined the *Israel Liberal Party in 1961 and was appointed chairman of its Young Guard in 1962. He was a staunch supporter of the establishment of *Gaḥal, and as member of the Liberal Party executive consistently advocated full unity with the *Ḥerut Movement. In the course of the Six-Day War he was appointed military governor of Gaza. In 1969–73 he served as member of the Herzliyyah city council. Modai was elected to the Eighth Knesset in 1973, on the Likud list. Even though he objected to Israeli withdrawal from the territories, he expressed support for concessions on the Egyptian front, as long as Western Ereẓ Israel would not be redivided. In the government formed by Menaḥem *Begin in June 1977 he was appointed minister of energy and infrastructures, serving also as minister of communications from January 1979 to December 1980. In May 1980 Modai was elected chairman of the Liberal Party presidium. In the second government formed by Begin in August 1981, he was appointed minister without portfolio, and in October 1982 returned to the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructures. In the National Unity government formed in September 1984, Modai was appointed minister of finance. At first he worked in harmony with Prime Minister Shimon *Peres, and together they passed the Economic Stabilization Plan of 1985 that was designed to deal with a three-digit inflation rate and balance of payments difficulties. However, due to growing tensions in the government, Peres decided to switch him with Minister of Justice Moshe Nissim. As minister of justice Modai dealt with the GSS Affair, following the scandal over the killing of a terrorist that had been taken prisoner. In July 1986 Modai was forced to resign from the government after insulting the prime minister. Following the rotation in the premiership in October, Modai returned to the government as minister without portfolio. In 1984 he was elected chairman of the Liberal Party presidium, in which capacity he served until the Liberal Party and the *Ḥerut Movement finally merged into a single party in 1988. After the elections to the Twelfth Knesset in 1988 he was appointed minister of economics and planning. After the government approved the Shamir-Rabin initiative in May 1989 for holding elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Modai joined Ariel *Sharon, and David *Levy in opposition to the initiative. On the day of the vote on a motion of no-confidence in the government on March 15, 1990, Modai and four additional members of the Likud parliamentary group broke away from the group and established a parliamentary group by the name of the Party for Advancing the Zionist Idea. In the narrow government formed by Yitzhak *Shamir in June, he was once again appointed minister of finance, after demanding a vast financial guarantee to back up the agreement he signed to join the coalition. Modai objected to the American conditioning of the grant of financial guarantees to Israel in return for stopping the Jewish settlement activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He ran in the elections to the Thirteenth Knesset at the head of a new party called the New Liberal Party, but it failed to pass the qualifying threshold, and Modai returned to private business. He wrote Meḥikat Afassim (1988).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.