Former Meretz chairwoman Shulamit Aloni died on Friday morning at the age of 85.
Aloni was first elected to the Knesset in 1965, with the Labor Alignment. She was a minister-without-portfolio for three months in 1974, under Yitzhak Rabin’s first term as prime minister, when she headed the Ratz party that eventually merged into Meretz.
Aloni most famously served as education minister during Rabin’s term in 1992-1993, continuing in various cabinet roles, first under him and then briefly in a government headed by Shimon Peres.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to the Aloni family on Friday. In a written statement, Netanyahu said that “despite the deep differences between us over the years, I appreciated her contribution to Israeli public life and her determination to stand up for the things that she believed in.”
Sending his condolences from Davos, Switzerland, Peres reflected on the life of Aloni.
Aloni like Peres, spent part of her adolescence at the Ben Shemen Youth Village, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and some years later, Aloni shared a hut at Kibbutz Alumot, south of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) with Peres and his wife, Sonia. Many years later, Peres and Aloni served together in a government headed by Rabin.
Like many people from across the political spectrum, Peres lauded Aloni as a fighter for peace and civil rights, who left her imprint on the struggle for the equality of women, minorities and the weak sectors of society that the mainstream had marginalized.
Peres characterized Aloni as a courageous fighter for social democracy.
He said that she was a rare combination of a sharp intellect, personal strength, and stubborn individualism all bound up with a fascinating social sensitivity. She had an impact on many areas of the social map of Israel and of Judaism as a member of the pre-state Palmah and Hagana, as a member of Knesset and as a minister in a series of governments, said Peres.
She never gave in to despair, he continued, and viewed life as a series of ups and downs in which there were wars tempered by significant pioneering breakthroughs.
Current Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said Aloni was a fearless fighter for justice.
“Aloni was tremendous, courageous and a groundbreaking, fearless fighter of justice,” she said. “She will be unforgettable by every Israeli who carries the importance of equality and human rights in their heart.”
Former Knesset speaker MK Reuven Rivlin eulogized Aloni, saying she was the last politician of his generation to speak her mind.
Aloni was born Shulamit Adler in Tel Aviv in 1928. Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a carpenter, both descended from Polish rabbinical families. Her parents served in the British Army during the Second World War. During the War of Independence she was involved in the fight for the Old City of Jerusalem and was captured by the Arab Legion.
After the war, Aloni worked with refugee children and helped to establish a school for immigrant children.
She taught school while studying law.
In 1952, she married Reuven Aloni (a founder of the Israel Lands Administration).
They moved to Kfar Shmaryahu and had three sons: Dror Aloni – later an Israel Navy captain, mayor of Kfar Shmaryahu and head of the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, Nimrod Aloni – a professor of educational philosophy, and Udi Aloni – a film director.
Aloni retired from political life in 1996.
She received the Israel Prize in 2000 for her lifetime achievements and special contribution to society and the State of Israel.