Controversial Israeli politician Maxim Levy dead at 52

JERUSALEM — Maxim Levy, the firebrand mayor of Lod and co-founder of the Gesher Party, died of a massive heart attack at Assaf Harofeh Hospital last Friday night, despite feverish efforts to resuscitate him.

Levy, 52, served in the Knesset until five months ago, when he was elected mayor of Lod, the town to which his family was sent when they immigrated from Morocco in 1957. His brother David Levy leads the Gesher Party and is an ex-foreign minister.

Maxim Levy, who is survived by his wife Carmela and three children, chaired the Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee while serving in the Knesset. Likud faction leader Ze'ev Boim called Levy's death a "terrible tragedy," adding that he was a friend and colleague for years.

Levy's political career started early. By 1970, he was active in Lod's branch of the Herut Party and was a member of the workers' committee of Israel Aircraft Industries, the leadership of which he assumed in the latter part of the decade.

Already known for his rhetorical skills in 1983, Levy was elected mayor of Lod on an independent list after he failed to make the Likud list. By 1989 he had gained enough Likud support to lead the party's list. He won that election as well as the next in 1993, in which he dominated the ballots with 91 percent of the votes.

Also in 1993, a rising Levy was elected chairman of the Likud Central Committee, defeating candidates close to Benjamin Netanyahu. This subsequently led to friction between Levy and the future prime minister.

In 1995, Levy and his brother David left the Likud to forge Gesher, in which David served as chairman and the

Keeping its independence but jumping from the center-right to the center-left of the political spectrum, Gesher in 1999 joined Ehud Barak's One Israel list, which handily won the elections. When David Levy resigned as Barak's foreign minister, Gesher became an independent party in the Knesset. But as brothers, Maxim and David's relations began to deteriorate after Sharon's victory in the 2001 elections. The brothers began to differ on their Knesset voting, with Maxim toeing the Likud line and David often straying from it.