Shlomo Hillel, an Israeli diplomat and Israel Prize laureate passed away on Monday at the age of 97.
“I received with great sorrow the news [of the] passing of Shlomo Hillel, the 10th Knesset speaker, internal affairs minister, police commissioner, and Israel Prize laureate,” said President Reuven Rivlin.
“He came from a great generation, a generation that fought with its hands for Israel’s independence and its existence as a safe haven for the Jewish people. He worked to bring immigrants to Israel from the Middle East in varying and many ways, both openly and in secret, and many owe them their immigration and ensuing lives in this country,” Rivlin finished.
Hillel held the position of Knesset speaker between 1984-1988. The Iraqi-born politician was also a Mossad agent, diplomat, politician, government minister, world chairman of United Israel Appeal and author.
As a young man, he was among the founders of Kibbutz Magan Michael; he was involved in the immigration of Iraqi, Russian and Ethiopian Jews, and one of his last official positions was that of World Chairman of Keren Hayesod.
He was the pride of Israel's Iraqi community.
It should be noted that Hillel, Iraqi born, played an important role in the creation of the State, in illegal immigration, in diplomacy and in Israel diaspora relations at a time when the country's hierarchy was of Ashkenazi descent (European descent), and looked down its nose at non-Ashkenazim, especially those from anywhere in the Middle East.
It was a time when Israel promoted aliya (immigration to Israel), but didn't like Olim (immigrants to Israel). Even when people of North African background began to find prominent positions in politics, academia and as novelists and poets, it took a long time for them to be treated as equals.
Among the exceptions were people of Iraqi background, many of who were well educated, and who in some cases came from affluent backgrounds.
Hillel was not an exception to the rule in the Labor Party.
Labor Party chair Merav Michaeli said that as recently as last Thursday, Hillel added his name to the Labor Party's Knesset list, and suddenly he is no longer here.
The affable Hillel she said, was the backbone of the Labor Movement, and left an indelible imprint in many places.Another Iraqi born politician was former minister and respected lawyer Moshe Shahal.Despite having held high office in different fields, Hillel remained a hail fellow well met individual, who always had time and a kind word for others.