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Rehavam Ze'evi: A controversial figure

Zeevi, right, Yitzak Rabin
Gen. Ze'evi, right,with Israeli Chief-of-Staff Yitzhak Rabin in 1967. Both were later assassinated  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Ultra-nationalist leader Rehavam Ze'evi made a controversial tourist minister in Israel's coalition government.

The outspoken right-winger was brought into Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's national unity government earlier this year after his party's biggest showing in elections, only to tender his resignation about 48 hours before being shot in Jerusalem's Hyatt hotel Wednesday.

Ze'evi was not known for his work as tourist minister but instead for having "drawn a lot of animosity" during his political tenure for his approach to Palestinians and his political etiquette.

His nickname was Gandhi, because of the long Arab dress he wore during his underground days in the fight for independence against the British, but he displayed none of the Indian's pacificist traits.

The 75-year-old former army general who spoke Arabic took vehement anti-Arab positions in his years in parliament and had supported a "transfer" policy of expelling Palestinians from Israel.

The Jerusalem-born minister opposed Israeli-Palestinian interim peace agreements and handed in his resignation after Sharon decided to ease restrictions on the Palestinian population and withdraw troops from a Palestinian-ruled area of the West Bank.

In-depth: Mideast Centuries of Conflict 

In April, Ze'evi called on the military to destroy Palestinian National Authority President Yasser Arafat's house as a way to force him to reconsider whether to go on fighting Israel.

Observers say Ze'evi -- who had been a member of parliament for 13 years and was chairman of the right-wing Moledet Party -- enjoyed the rough and tumble of parliament, opposing moves to sanitise debate rhetoric.

"Parliament is not a manners school," Ze'evi said amid attempts to curb insults heard in the Knesset. The forthright politician sparked controversy in July for referring to Palestinians working and living illegally in Israel as "lice" and a "cancer."

Before joining the Knesset, he had an illustrious military career and served as a general in several branches of the Israeli army. He had fought in Israel's 1948 war of independence, the 1956 Sinai campaign, and the 1967 war.

He rose to the second highest military rank in the army, and only expressed his controversial views on entering politics.

His party showed its best ever electoral poll in February's election after it joined forces with the National Union, winning seven seats and two cabinet positions.

Ze'evi was staunchly secular, despite leading a coalition which was largely supported by ultra-religious settlers.

Previous attempts to bring him into the government had failed because of his forthright views and his being branded a racist against all Arabs.

The father of five was well known for wearing his military dog tags in memory of all those Israeli soldiers still missing in action.




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