Former Meretz leader, left-wing icon Yossi Sarid dies at 75
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Ex-party colleagues mourn loss of a fighter for 'humanism, human rights and peace'

Former Meretz leader, left-wing icon Yossi Sarid dies at 75

Veteran politician was an MK for 32 years, holding education and environment portfolios; will be laid to rest on Sunday

Yossi Sarid seen at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting during a discussion on the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War on parliamentary oversight of defense then and now. October 15, 2013. (Photo by Flash 90)
Yossi Sarid seen at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting during a discussion on the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War on parliamentary oversight of defense then and now. October 15, 2013. (Photo by Flash 90)

Former Meretz leader and long-term MK Yossi Sarid died Friday at the age of 75 and will be laid to rest on Sunday, his family said.

The funeral for the veteran lawmaker and journalist will take place at 3 p.m. at the cemetery in Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

Sarid’s son, Yishai Sarid, said Friday night that his father had died of heart-related causes.

“Dad passed at around 9:30 p.m., apparently from a cardiac problem from which he suffered for many years. A brave leader, fighter for peace and justice and great Zionist has passed on. We are sad as a family and as part of the nation of Israel.”

Known for his articulate, sardonic style and colorful turn of phrase, Sarid was a member of nine Knessets between 1974 and 2006, serving as a lawmaker for the (Labor) Alignment, Ratz and Meretz parties.

An icon of the Israeli left, Sarid held two portfolios — education and environment — and led the Meretz party from 1996 to 2003, serving as head of the opposition for the latter two years of his party leadership.

Born in Rehovot in October 1940, Yossi was the son of Yaakov Sarid, a director-general of the Education Ministry. His mother was a teacher.

After his national service, during which he was a military correspondent and a member of the artillery corps, Sarid began his political career as an aide to prime minister Levi Eshkol. He entered the Knesset in 1973, as a member of the Alignment, the forerunner of the Labor party.

Sarid left Alignment during the 11th Knesset, when the party entered a national unity government with Likud and ultra-Orthodox parties. He joined the now defunct Ratz, headed by Shulamit Aloni.

Yossi Sarid and Aryeh Deri speak in the Knesset, Sept. 27 1993. (Photo: Flash 90)
Yossi Sarid and Aryeh Deri speak in the Knesset, Sept. 27 1993. (Photo: Flash 90)

Sarid, who was on good terms with leaders of Mapam, then helped the two parties unite into what became Meretz. The party’s most notable leaders, Sarid and Aloni’s strong characters often led them to lock horns.

During Yitzhak Rabin’s 1992-95 government, the small faction was significant for its support of the peace process and later the signing of the Oslo accords.

After the 2003 election, when Meretz shrunk from 10 Knesset seats to 6, Sarid resigned as head of the party but stayed on as a lawmaker. A relative hawk in the leftmost party of mainstream Israeli politics, Sarid blamed then PA President Yasser Arafat for Meretz’s downfall, and said the violence of the Second Intifada made Israelis lose hope in peace.

He remained in parliament for 32 years, retiring in 2006, and then began a weekly column in the liberal newspaper Haaretz.

In a column published in that newspaper on October 9 this year, after his 75th birthday, Sarid’s acerbic style and fierce criticism of the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu and his government remained in full force.

“At my age, I am exempt from accounting for gains and losses. What I gained is mine – who will take what I have; and what I missed – it is too late to acquire. You can even no longer vote against me,” he wrote. “If I’m controversial, it means my words penetrate. And what would you do to me? Not accompany me on my last road? As if you accompanied me on my first,” he wrote.

“I do not write to blaze a trail in the desert. I write selfishly, to drain the poison that has accumulated, to vent my frustration and anger,” Sarid continued. “There were words of truth to Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas]; it is not he who is the master inciter, but Benjamin Netanyahu, who has perfected incitement to an art – inwardly and outwardly. And those who are preparing to be outraged – let them.”

Sarid was referring to the speeches by the Palestinian and Israeli leaders at this year’s UN General Assembly, when Netanyahu accused the PA of incitement.

A renowned public orator, Sarid once boasted: “Along the years, and with the approval of Menachem Begin, I made a name for myself as the most gifted speaker in parliament. When I would rise to the podium to speak as one of the younger MKs those days, Menachem Begin, the greatest speaker, would egg on his colleagues to enter the plenum to hear Yossi, ‘who is important to listen to in both form and content.’”

Begin, an adversary from Likud, is considered among the greatest rhetoricians in Israel’s political history.

Last year, Sarid told the student paper of the Political Science Department at Tel Aviv University: “I was involved in legislating dozens of laws, perhaps hundreds. But it is not for legislation that fame lies, if there is any fame at all. I made my reputation in my different roles, as someone determined to walk against the direction of the wind if it were a foul wind, swim against the current if it were murky, and pay the price for that determination.”

Upon his retirement, Sarid returned to writing, penning his political column in Haaretz in a style of embellished, literary Hebrew prose. He also wrote poetry, publishing six books in the genre. His last column was published by Haaretz on Friday, just hours before he died.

‘A beacon of morality’

Meretz leader Zehava Galon paid tribute to her former colleague in a Facebook post Friday night.

“Yossi Sarid, my friend and mentor, is gone. The greatest lover of Israel and Israelis, his death is a tremendous loss for me and a heavy loss for the entire country,” she wrote.

“Yossi has been my friend since 1984, when he left Labor and we became partners in party and path. He was a guide, a beacon of morality and responsibility, who always knew how to articulate his unique Hebrew in a clear, consistent and fearless voice.

“In his personality and actions, Yossi Sarid represented the finest character of the State of Israel: educating, democratic, secular, peaceful and striving for equality and love. He made this country better in every role he took, and I am committed to continue along his path and values.”

Yossi Sarid attends a protest against settlement activity in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, January 22, 2010. (Photo by Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
Yossi Sarid attends a protest against settlement activity in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, January 22, 2010. (Photo by Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Meretz Knesset faction chair Ilan Gilon said Sarid will “always be remembered as the man who made an indelible mark on education in Israel. After his political career, he became a journalist and man of letters of razor-sharp tongue and pure voice, loyal to the values of humanism, human rights and peace. His image will forever be etched in our hearts.”

MK Tamar Zandberg, a fellow Meretz member, said Sarid’s death was “a personal and political loss for the left and the whole country. We are talking about a leader, a sharp and honest person, a courageous man who I learned a lot from over the years. We cried over his departure from politics and now we mourn over his passing. May his memory be blessed.”

Meretz MK Issawi Frej said “Sarid was a father to me, and served as no less than a political and ideological compass. Yossi is one of the people thanks to whom I continue to believe in the possibility of making the State of Israel a better and more just place.”

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni called Sarid’s passing “the death of a fighter for the core of this country.”

“You could disagree with him, but you could not avoid listening to his razor-sharp words. Even at his most cynical, his words always came from the least cynical and most painful place possible. May his memory be a blessing,” she said.

Zionist Union head and leader of the opposition Isaac Herzog called Sarid “an important leader of the Israeli peace camp. His sharp, clear voice always stood out stubbornly for a brave uncompromising truth he believed with all his heart. As minister of education, he left a deep mark on the education system and the country as a whole. His beliefs, writings and life work will remain a formidable heritage that will be with us all for years to come.”

Merav Michaeli, another Zionist Union MK, also paid tribute to Sarid, calling him a role model. “I have been a fan of Yossi Sarid since June 1982 – I was in 10th grade that year when the [First] Lebanon War broke out. The only one to oppose it clearly and loudly was Yossi Sarid. All the others took more or less time to understand this was a futile war and I remember how impressed I was with his courage to come out against it.”

“He was a model for many of us and now a great loss for all of us, even those who opposed him. His is a voice Israel needs now more than ever, and it is our responsibility to continue sounding it. How sad it is to part with him so prematurely,” she added.

Yossi Sarid is survived by his wife, Dorit, and their three children.

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