Yossi Sarid, intrepid and erudite voice of Israeli left, dies at 75

Sarid, often controversial and outspoken in his denunciation of Israeli policies in the West Bank, headed the left-wing Meretz party from 1996 until 2003.

December 4, 2015 22:38
Yossi Sarid, a former education minister and member of Knesset, dies at 75

Yossi Sarid, a former education minister and member of Knesset, dies at 75. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)

Yossi Sarid, the eloquent, erudite and sharp-tongued ideologue of the Left, died Friday night of cardiac arrest.

He was at home with his wife Dorit watching the television news when he said he felt unwell, and lost consciousness almost immediately afterwards.

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Magen David Adom paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive him.

Sarid, who was 75, had in recent years suffered from a series of ailments including a benign brain tumor.

A former education and environment minister, Sarid, who also once headed the left-wing Meretz party, retired from politics a decade ago.

After years of being an object of derision on the Right, Sarid would have been pleasantly surprised at the complimentary eulogies he received from some of his strongest political rivals.

President Reuven Rivlin, a former Knesset Speaker, communications minister and Likud MK described Sarid as “one of the great parliamentarians and politicians of Israel, who was a tough and challenging adversary, who, though his criticism was sharp and painful, was regarded with great respect even by those who totally disagreed with him.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Sarid “a unique voice in Israeli politics, an opinionated and acerbic individual.” Even though they disagreed on many issues said Netanyahu, he appreciated Sarid’s loyalty to his chosen path, his broad education and his meticulous use of Hebrew as an orator and a writer.

Sarid’s Hebrew was on such a high level, that when the late Menachem Begin was prime minister, he urged Knesset members of all parties to sit in the plenum when Sarid spoke so that they could learn proper use of the language.

Sarid was perhaps best remembered as an important leader of Israel’s peace camp.

Sarid headed Meretz for a decade. The party’s current leader Zehava Gal-on called Sarid’s passing a tremendous loss for the country as he had been a teacher and beacon of morality who loved Israel.

Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Ahmad Tibi, who had a close association with Sarid, praised the onetime peace negotiator for standing up consistently on behalf of Palestinian rights.

Sarid was born in Rehovot on October 24, 1940, to Yaakov and Doba Sznajder.

His father, a onetime director general of the Education and Culture Ministry changed his name to Sarid (Hebrew for remnant) because he was the sole survivor of his family, having lost all his close relatives in the Holocaust.

Survived by his wife Dorit, their three children and several grandchildren, Sarid will be laid to rest on Sunday at 3 p.m. in a civil ceremony at Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha.

Former Labor MK Yael Dayan, whose daughter is married to Sarid’s son, said his death symbolized the passing of a generation and that the country lacks leaders of his caliber today.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, who encountered Sarid in the Knesset when she was still a member of Likud, said it was possible to disagree with him, but impossible not to listen to him. He was someone who fought with all his heart for the country, she said.

Sarid had an early start in Israeli politics. Right after completing his compulsory service in the IDF, Sarid worked for Israel Radio and the now defunct Davar newspaper, which was a leftist publication.

Mapai, the forerunner of the Labor Party and current Zionist Union, soon after appointed him spokesman, when he was 24. He quickly became a spokesman for many of the country’s legendary political icons from David Ben-Gurion on down.

He was a speechwriter and diplomatic adviser to former prime minister Levi Eshkol, and an aide to the late finance minister Pinhas Sapir, who made him his protégé.

Sarid won election to the Knesset in 1974 on a Labor-Alignment ticket. Ten years later, he moved further to the left and joined the Citizens Rights Movement headed by Shulamit Aloni, a fellow Labor breakaway. Together with Ratz, Mapam and Shinui, the party later evolved into Meretz.

In 1992, Sarid was appointed environment minister by the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and in 1999 he was named education minister under prime minister Ehud Barak.

A year later, Sarid famously quit the coalition over a dispute with his deputy, MK Meshulam Nahari of Shas.

Sarid succeeded Aloni as Meretz leader in 1996, a position he held until 2003 when he stepped down and was succeeded by Yossi Beilin. He retired from politics in 2006, when his term in the Knesset ended.

Even after his retirement, Sarid remained an unwavering voice on behalf of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a strong advocate for civil rights and human dignity.

He wrote a regular op-ed column for Haaretz. In his final offering published on Friday, Sarid was severely critical of the relatively light punishment given Jewish terrorists in comparison to Palestinian Arab terrorists.

Sarid also spoke on Army Radio’s The Last Word where he scathingly attacked the policies of the Netanyahu government, especially those regarding the Palestinians.

He also lectured at the International Disciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, and taught voluntarily at schools in high-security areas such as Sderot and Kiryat Shmona.

He also wrote several books.

Beilin said in an interview with Army Radio that despite the latest violence, Sarid had not given in to despair and remained as determined as ever about the Palestinian issue.

Though well-versed in the Bible which he read on a daily basis, Sarid was completely secular.

He was well liked beyond the political establishment, as well. Israeli radio and television stations ran programs about him from Friday night onwards, and news of his death was published on many foreign websites in addition to Israeli ones.

Television personality Dan Shilon, a non-biological twin of Sarid’s having been born on the same day, worked with him at Israel Radio early on in their careers. Shilon noted that he had made a point of not inviting politicians to his home, but that he made an exception for Sarid because he never asked for any favors.

Rivlin fondly recalled how Sarid had so gracefully exited the political stage, writing on his 75th birthday in October: “At my age, I don’t have to settle accounts of winning and losing. Whatever I earned is mine and no one can take it away from me. Whatever I missed out on is already too late to accomplish. At this stage of my life, I don’t miss anything and nothing can hurt me.”

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