Shulamit Aloni– A symbol of tolerance

Shula was a performer. What I wouldn’t give to see her just one more time, her charisma, her vast knowledge and steadfast faith in her beliefs.

Shulamit Aloni 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Shulamit Aloni 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On January 24, Shulamit Aloni – lawyer, MK, activist, personality and Israel prize winner – died at the age of 85. She was most remembered for her tireless fights in the struggle for human and civil rights in the State of Israel and her gumption, never backing down to stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves.
I grew up in a highly politicized home. How politicized? Let’s just say when everyone else was addicted to TV shows like Dallas or Dynasty, my parents would gather excitedly on the family couch to watch the Moked evening news program.
They would get particularly excited by the bloody disputes between the heinous rightists and beloved leftists. There was no room in the middle – only the good guys and the bad guys, like in the old Western films. And they always waited to see who would draw first.
The same characters always performed in these Westerns. The smooth-tongued MK Tzachi Hanegbi and former prime minister Ehud Olmert were usually cast in the role of the villain you love to hate, and MKs Haim Ramon and Yossi Sarid often competed for the role of the sheriff who was sent in to save the town.
But with all due respect to these two, when things got particularly hairy, there was only one person capable of overcoming the villains. She would appear with her blonde curls, oversized hoop earrings and in a booming, uncompromising voice would dare them: Go ahead, make my day.
That’s right. It was Shula “Eastwood” – the undisputed queen. And when my father would see Shulamit Aloni stride into the studio, he would lean back in his chair and declare, smiling, “Here we go. Now she’s gonna set everyone straight.” And then she would put everyone in their place. Even people who didn’t agree with Aloni’s views – and I’m talking about the vast majority – could not help but be impressed by her charisma, her vast knowledge and her steadfast faith in her beliefs.
In the gloomy 1980s, when the Left suffered from an image of indecisiveness, having Aloni in their midst was like a breath of fresh air. As I watched her expounding her views on the small TV screen, I realized that Israel could be something altogether different. A country that was liberal, tolerant, proud of its secularism and never apologizing to nationalistic and religious leaders.
And I’m certainly not the only one. Granted, Aloni never succeeded in galvanizing the masses, but to paraphrase the well-worn cliché about the Velvet Underground, it could be said that anyone who listened to Shulamit Aloni could develop a social and political consciousness.
She touched people in a much more fundamental and profound way than any popular leader like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ever will.
On June 23, 1992, I was in the middle of my post-army trip to Africa. To be more exact, I was sailing on a ferry on Lake Tanganyika on my way from Burundi to Zambia. My girlfriend (at the time) and I had been trekking for almost six months, and we had barely come upon any other Israelis. But as the faithful son of Moked addicts, I knew it was a special holiday in Israel: Election Day. And so, as the sun began to set, the two of us huddled in a corner on the d e c k with our Sony shortwave radio and tuned in to Reshet Bet.
From the moment we heard the sampling results, we understood the good news (from a leftist perspective, at least). But the catharsis was slow to come. Neither did it happen during the prime minister-elect’s speech. Because, with all due respect, how can I say this without damaging the Rabin legacy: He was not much of an orator.
But then the broadcast shifted to the other victor of the evening: the leader of a party that had just won 12 seats, and would become an integral part of the new government coalition. The moment I heard Shulamit Aloni’s voice over the radio, I began crying like a little boy. Maybe because I was remembering the “Westerns” I had grown up on, all those evenings watching Moked. And here I was, listening to the woman who was almost an outcast, but who at last was finally going to have a taste of unimaginable victory.
Even today, knowing the sad ending to the story, I love to think back to when Shulamit shone in all her glory and was a symbol of tolerance, uncompromising principles and remarkable charm. Although she spoke incessantly about justice, she never acted self-righteously.
She had a wonderful sense of humor and was very personable. As a result, she was the only politician I’ve ever really admired.
More than any of the qualities she is remembered for (and justifiably so!), what I remember most acutely about Shulamit Aloni is that she was an absolutely fantastic performer. What I wouldn’t give to see her one more time on TV, scuffling with her embarrassed haredi opponent as she quoted scripture by heart. “Would you look at her? She’s a champion,” my father would say as he smacked the arms of his chair.
So, thank you, Shula, for always giving us something to hope for.