Politician Simha Erlich Dies
Simcha Erlich. Photo: Israeli National Photo Collection

June 19, 1983

Simha Erlich, the deputy prime minister in Israel’s first two Likud-led governments, dies.

Born in 1915 in what is now southeastern Poland, where he was involved in a Zionist youth group, Erlich moved to Palestine in 1939 on the eve of World War II. After working as a farmer, he studied optics and founded a lens-making factory. He served on the Tel Aviv City Council from 1955 to 1969, including a period as deputy mayor from 1961 to 1965.

He turned to national politics in 1969 and was elected to the Knesset as part of the Gahal list, a coalition of Herut and the Liberal Party, for the first of four consecutive terms. In 1973, 1977 and 1981, Erlich was elected as a member of Likud, which combined Herut, the Liberals, the Free Center, the National List and the Movement for Greater Israel but at the time gave its constituent parties independence. Erlich rose to chairman of the Liberal Party in 1976, putting him in a key position for the 1977 Knesset election, the first that did not produce a coalition led by the Labor Party or its predecessors. Instead, Likud formed a government under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Erlich became the deputy prime minister and finance minister.

At the Finance Ministry, Erlich attempted to liberalize the Israeli economy. He eased the import of goods, abolished the travel tax and ended limits on the possession of foreign currency. (The previous prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, resigned the Labor leadership and thus eased Begin’s path to power after his wife, Leah Rabin, violated currency regulations.) The dramatic changes led to soaring inflation and a widening trade deficit, however, and Erlich resigned his Cabinet post Nov. 7, 1979. He remained deputy prime minister, and he became agriculture minister after the 1981 election. He held both posts until his death.