Golda's Kingmaker

Arie "Lova" Eliav is a man I've known for 45 years. He was a personal friend and a professional comrade. Throughout his life he groomed a number of pupils. I consider myself one of them.

My first memory of him is also my most intense. To this day I don't know whether to attribute it to his naivete or his foresight. After Levi Eshkol passed away, the Labor Alignment began the search for a successor. The entire leadership convened, led by Golda Meir, who was the secretary-general at the time. Everyone was wondering who would become the next prime minister.

All the major figures were present, and I don't remember exactly what it was I did there, standing among those lions and the lioness. One man raised his voice in favor of one candidate, while another had his own idea. This continued until Lova was given the floor and surprisingly proposed that Golda be named. His reasoning was even more surprising: "Golda needs to be prime minister," he said, "because she wants it the most."

A hush fell over the crowd. You could hear Pinhas Sapir breathing heavily, Yehoshua Rabinowitz biting his fingernails, Israel Galili walking around the room with a melancholy gait, as if his handiwork was going for naught.

Golda grew pale. She couldn't believe her ears. "I want? What's the matter with you, Lova? What's this nonsense?" Then Lova grew pale.

You have to understand what really happened here. With one, short sentence, Lova obliterated a years-long tradition that sanctified "the code of the movement": Leaders don't have personal desires. It is only if their movement commands them, sends them to do a job, only then do they agree, and not before letting out a bitter sigh that portends the grueling fate that awaits them.

That was Lova: describing what he saw in an unfiltered manner. He said forcefully what he believed to be true. Golda didn't like this, and Lova paid a heavy price for his strange conduct.

He became even odder more than 40 years ago when he proposed that we leave the territories, before we entangled ourselves in the web of occupation and made it harder to disengage. He called for the establishment of a Palestinian state at a time when saying this was tantamount to treason against the homeland and a stab in the back of the people.

Would anyone today believe that the talented, smart, courageous, humane and special Lova was never named to a ministerial post? Of course, every corrupt person sooner or later gets appointed. Perhaps this helps prove that people like him - a bright man among the blind, a sober man among the inebriated - can make their mark and blaze a trail without titles and the trappings of power.