(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Gideon Ben-Yisrael, the feisty long-time chairman of the Senior Citizens Union in the Histadrut and a member of the Histadrut executive, died on Thursday at age 91.
A lawyer by profession, Ben-Yisrael was born in Haifa, and like so many others of his generation joined the Hagana in its struggle against the British Mandate authorities. From 1938 to 1940, he was the Hagana recruiting officer in Jerusalem, and during the Second World War was one of more than 5,000 people in the Yishuv who volunteered to fight in the Jewish Brigade as part of the British armed forces.
In 1948, Ben-Yisrael wore the military uniform of the nascent State of Israel and fought in the War of Independence. He was wounded in the Battle for Jerusalem and left the army with the rank of major.
He subsequently studied international relations at the London School of Economics and on his return to Israel in 1953 went to Beersheba, where he served as secretary of the Workers Council.
From there he progressed to the Ministry of Labor, where he headed the division for labor relations, and also lectured on the subject at Tel Aviv University and at the Hebrew University. During the 1950s he was also a member of the coordinating committee of the Histadrut and chaired its department for organization and its workers’ council.
In 1959, he was elected to the Knesset on a Mapai ticket and in 1960 earned his law degree from the Tel Aviv branch of the Hebrew University. He failed to retain his seat in the 1961 Knesset elections, but returned to the Knesset a year later to fill the place of MK Herzl Berger who had died. In 1965, he was part of the Mapai breakaway movement that joined Rafi, a measure that permanently put an end to his Knesset career.
However he remained politically active and was a member of the Labor Party’s central committee and secretariat and also served as chairman of the party’s trade unions division.
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In September 2002, together with his wife, Ruth, an Israel Prize laureate and an internationally renowned expert in labor law, he published an article in the International Labor Review on the social dignity, status, and the right to representative freedom of organization of senior citizens..
Ben-Yisrael was in the forefront of a demonstration by retirees outside government offices in Tel Aviv in August 2011 demanding better treatment by the state for seniors.
He was a firebrand when it came to securing the rights of senior citizens, and he bombarded the media with press releases on a variety of related issues.
He is survived by his wife, Ruth, two daughters, two grandchildren, a brother and a sister. Ben-Yisrael will be laid to rest today, Sunday, at 2 p.m. at Tel Aviv’s prestigious Trumpeldor Cemetery, which is the final resting place of many of the pioneers of Tel Aviv and those who subsequently made significant contributions to the city’s cultural and economic development. The funeral cortege will leave from the Histadrut headquarters at 1 p.m.
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