Last Tuesday, Yossi Sarid called me. “What’s this story I heard about the rabbinate forcing women to pay child support? I heard you talking about this and I want to address this topic on my radio show.”
That’s just how he was – every single issue, no matter how large or small, managed to penetrate his armor and touch him.
Naturally, over the last 30 years that we’ve been friends, we’ve had many such discussions about politics, the “situation,” and our common worries about the future of our country.
Since that very first day when Yossi, who was a big star from the Labor Party, walked into the offices of Ratz (which later became Meretz) in 1984 with a cast on his broken leg, explaining that all he needed was “a small table, nothing more than that,” we’ve experienced political and personal ups and downs, and Yossi became much more than a partner and someone I could consult with on political issues. He became a friend.
I am very sad that Yossi, my friend, departed from this world so suddenly.
But the departure of Yossi Sarid, the leader of the Left and our courageous and dependable mentor, has been no less painful. He was a leader who, despite his cynicism and harsh criticism, loved the State of Israel so very much, and did everything he could to make it a better place.
Words cannot describe Yossi Sarid.
He himself was phenomenal with words – he had an incredible talent for writing and rhetoric. When he would speak at a Knesset plenum session, everyone would quiet down and even MKs with views that were 180 degrees away from his own would hang on his every word, enjoying his rich language and dashing precision.
With sharp language, Yossi articulated his values and positions, which to this day we still follow in Meretz. He brought honor to the Knesset and to his constituency who believed in him wholeheartedly.
But Yossi wasn’t just a man of words.
He was first and foremost a man of action, a political giant who left a deep impression due to his integrity and courage, even years after he retired from politics. When Yossi courageously opposed the First Lebanon War, he did so even though he knew he would pay a heavy price. When he was part of the Rabin government and worked to end the occupation and the settlements, it almost cost him his life.
But nothing stopped him. He never zigzagged for even a moment, never put a mask on, or a bullet-proof vest.
He never tried to sweet talk his way with anyone. He once made a comment about his work habits, saying, “I made a name for myself by working hard in all the positions I’ve held. I didn’t care that I was fighting against the wind, swimming against the murky current.”
Yossi was an incorruptible politician, who put the needs of the public above all without any bias. As minister of education, he was the first one to succeed in moving funds away from central Israel and the kibbutzim, where many Meretz voters resided, and allocating them to the periphery.
He made sure that the Arab education sector was receiving an equal share of funding. Yossi wasn’t just commended by students around the country for his commitment as the legendary minister of education – by supporters and detractors – but also for the years he spent as a simple teacher in Kiryat Shmona and Sderot.
Yossi was an unusual politician. A social worker by nature, he would field calls from any and everyone who approached him for help. He responded to every single request from the public, without checking who they had voted for or who they intended to vote for in the future. Yossi was my teacher, a true model public servant. I was lucky to have had such a teacher.
Yossi Sarid dedicated his life to the struggle against a reality in which Israel is becoming more violent and less democratic. A messianic state that is withdrawn and paranoid, which is being led by repressive governments that pass racist legislation and deepen the discrimination against Arab citizens.
A reality in which building in settlements continues, no efforts are being made to end the occupation, and no alternative plans are being suggested, except to continue living by the sword.
In his words and his deeds, Yossi fought to create the best identity possible for the State of Israel: educated, secular, democratic, peace-loving, egalitarian and loving. He never let the inciting voices around him force him to choose between being leftwing and Zionist.
The more he embraced his faith in his beliefs, the stronger became his Zionist mission for this country he loved unconditionally.
Yossi resigned from the Knesset and as leader of the Meretz party over a decade ago, but he continued being an impassioned Meretz supporter, offering advice, and serving as one of the party’s central pillars.
Just a few months ago, he wrote, “Meretz is more relevant now than ever. If it weren’t for Meretz, there would be no Left at all – only a rocky Right and a sandy Center. Especially in a void such as this, there is a need for a voice crying in the wilderness.
We must make our mark in the desert.”
As the current leader of Meretz, I consider Yossi’s words as a living will and testament, a guide for how we should continue our struggle for the character of our country that he loved so, and make our mark in the desert, to stand up for the values he held and the path he paved.The writer is an MK and head of the Meretz party.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.