Former Knesset speaker and energy minister Yitzhak Berman died on Sunday, just two months after his 100th birthday.
A former member of the pre-state paramilitary group Etzel, Berman was born in Berdichev (in today’s Ukraine) in 1913 before moving to Mandatory Palestine in 1920.
He served as an intelligence operative with British forces in the Balkans during World War II, and in the fledgling Israel Defense Forces from 1948 to 1950.
Berman’s time in public service was relatively short, but he was widely respected on the Israeli right, where he is remembered fondly.
He entered the Knesset on the Likud list in 1977 and served until 1984. He was Knesset speaker from 1980 to 1981, then briefly served as minister for energy and infrastructure. He quit the government in 1982 over its response to the Sabra and Shatila massacre, during which Israel’s Phalangist allies in Lebanon killed more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians in refugee camps from Sept. 16 to 18, 1982.
He was outraged at Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s resistance to establishing a commission of inquiry.
His resignation on Sept. 30, 1982, the threat of others to follow and a mass protest in Tel Aviv all led Begin to set up the Kahan Commission, which found that high-ranking officials — notably defense minister Ariel Sharon and chief of staff Rafael Eitan — bore personal responsibility for not stopping the massacre.
The findings forced the resignation of Sharon, Eitan and others.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, also of Berman’s Likud party, said on Sunday that “the pain at his passing is the pain over the passing of a generation,” one that “invested all its energies in the establishment of the State of Israel and built it as a strong, stable state with a deep-rooted democratic tradition.”
Berman “symbolized sensitive, trustworthy leadership, leadership characterized by its honesty and humility,” Edelstein said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday that “everyone who knew [Berman] knew a nationalist, an Israeli patriot and a true Jew. I think he was also an exemplary public servant.”