Jerusalem — Former Israeli foreign minister David Levy, whose rise from manual laborer to the international stage inspired fellow Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern descent, died on Sunday aged 86.

Born in Rabat, Levy was among a wave of Moroccan Jews who moved to Israel in its early years. Many felt sidelined by the mainly Ashkenazi, or European Jewish, leadership – an ethnic resentment that resurfaced in a recent constitutional crisis.

A construction worker with a high-school education, Levy clambered from municipal to trade union to national politics, mainly as part of the conservative Likud party, which mobilized Mizrahi support to sweep to power in a 1977 general election.

As housing minister in the 1980s, he led projects to improve the infrastructure for poor Israelis. Appointed foreign minister in 1990, he was mocked by rivals for his poor English – though his French was fluent. He served three terms in that role.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, paying tribute to Levy, recounted how he paved his own way and served the public for decades.

“On the national level he left his personal mark on political life, while looking after weaker populations who were familiar with hardship,” Netanyahu said.

“We didn’t always agree on everything, but I always appreciated his sense of mission.”

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