Navon recalls the man who didn't want to be mayor

In 1965, when David Ben-Gurion insisted that Teddy Kollek head the Rafi Party's list for the Jerusalem municipal elections, Kollek insisted he was "unqualified."

January 5, 2007 02:29
1 minute read.


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In 1965, when David Ben-Gurion insisted that Teddy Kollek head the Rafi Party's list for the Jerusalem municipal elections, Kollek refused, insisting he was "unqualified" and would "fail" in the job if elected. So Shimon Peres (now vice premier), Yitzhak Navon (later the fifth president of Israel and an education minister) and Moshe Dayan (the late general and chief of staff) went to the lobby of the Tel Aviv Hilton, where they knew Kollek was to have an appointment with an important guest. "I know what you want!" Kollek told his surprise guests. "It's an important job," Navon insisted. "It's Jerusalem!" said Dayan. "You can do it," declared Peres. But Kollek, who was to be the unforgettable mayor of Jerusalem for 28 years, insisted that he wanted to leave public service and go into business. Navon said, "If you don't succeed as mayor, you can go into business afterwards. If you don't run, B-G will insist that I head the list." In the end, after Navon persuaded Prof. Andre Chouraqui, a noted Sephardi Jewish scholar, to be number two on the list, Kollek reluctantly agreed to take the top spot. The rest is history. Navon, at 85 a decade younger than Kollek and, like him, a close aide to Ben-Gurion, recalled this incident with irony on Thursday after returning from the former mayor's funeral on Mount Herzl. Navon said that Ben-Gurion loved Kollek because he "hated yes-men. He didn't like compliments. Teddy always argued and said what he thought. When his military secretary Nehemia Argov argued with B-G about a biblical verse, B-G was correct and Nehemia said, 'You're right as usual,' B-G banged his fist on the table and said, 'The 'as usual' was unnecessary.' Teddy would not throw around compliments with B-G." Navon praised Kollek's 89-year-old widow, Tamar, who herself is frail, and said, "What a wonderful woman. Teddy wouldn't have gotten anywhere without her support for him and his career. They were together for 70 years."

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