Funeral held for ex-Meretz MK Gilon: ‘He roared with all his might when he saw evil’

Hundreds from across the political spectrum pay last respects to activist who championed the rights of the most vulnerable in society, who died Sunday at 65

Mourners listen to the wife of former Meretz MK Ilan Gilon at the social activist's funeral in Kfar Saba, May 3, 2022 (Screen grab)
Mourners listen to the wife of former Meretz MK Ilan Gilon at the social activist's funeral in Kfar Saba, May 3, 2022 (Screen grab)

Hundreds of mourners turned out on Tuesday for the funeral of former Meretz MK Ilan Gilon, the widely respected social justice campaigner who died on Sunday at the age of 65.

The funeral was attended by family, friends, lawmakers and cabinet ministers at the cemetery in the central town of Kfar Saba.

Gilon was eulogized by his wife, Yehudit, who said the pair met while at school.

“You were a brat in my eyes, and I was a nerd in your eyes. But ours was a love forever. Rushing forward with a burning passion, you were a hopeless romantic,” she said. “You wrote me poems, we shared thoughts and secrets. And now I am saying goodbye to you.”

“We had a love of 50 years. We knew we wanted a huge family, and today the whole family is here — that’s what Ilan wanted. There are masses of people here and you are everyone’s glue,” she said.

“You were a stubborn but forgiving man, you are the one who brought peace to the family. You neglected your health because of your humanity,” she said.

Meretz parliament member Ilan Gilon at faction meeting in the Knesset, on May 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Gilon served as chair of the Meretz faction in the Knesset and as a lawmaker from 1999 to 2003, and then again from 2009 to 2021.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, leader of Meretz, said that the former lawmaker was a fighter who gave support to those who needed it.

“Political life is difficult, and has a price, but Ilan knew how to put love and calm into it. He greeted everyone with a smile and a hug. He was supportive, gave confidence, and it was never fake,” Horowitz said.

“He was loved. It’s not easy to be loved as a public figure who stands by his positions and as a particularly determined ideologue from a political camp and ideology that is under continuous attack. He knew how to fight,” he said.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, the Labor party head, said that Gilon entered politics not because he wanted power, but rather because he wanted to give power to the people.

“Ilan was a compass for me when I entered the Knesset. He was always sharp, clear and ideological — he was not soft. He was the love he gave everywhere, but when he saw evil, he roared with all his might,” Michaeli said. “Some people come to politics because of power. Ilan took the power and gave it to people. He was not addicted for a second to power.”

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein told the Kan public broadcaster that while he and Gilon almost always disagreed, there was no animosity.

“This funeral speaks for itself. Generations of MKs have come to say goodbye. I did not agree with a word he said in almost any area. But he was always human and for him it came from the heart. I did not feel a rivalry, because with Ilan it was very difficult to quarrel. He always hugged at the end,” Edelstein said.

Ilan Gilon attends a protest calling for better healthcare for those with disabilities in Tel Aviv on June 13, 2017 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gilon was born in Romania and contracted polio as a child, leaving him with some difficulty in walking. He often used a mobility scooter.

When he was 9, his family immigrated to Israel and settled in the coastal city of Ashdod.

He was an active member of youth organizations and student groups, eventually translating his desire for social change into a run for local office, becoming deputy mayor of Ashdod as a representative of the left-wing Meretz party.

In 1999 he was elected for the first of his two stints in the Knesset as a lawmaker with Meretz, quickly becoming a key figure in advocating for labor rights, children, foreign workers and the vulnerable, as well as helping countless individuals who approached him for help.

He was also a key activist in protests to improve the lives of those with disabilities, campaigning for laws to improve access to buildings as well as increasing government benefits. He not only advanced those causes at the Knesset, but often attended protests.

In 2018 he withdrew his bid for the party’s leadership, saying that medical issues kept him out of the race.

Meretz’s Ilan Gilon (C), parents and supporters of young cancer patients hold placards as they attend a demonstration against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 25, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

When Gilon died on Sunday, tributes poured in from across the political spectrum.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the former Meretz lawmaker for helping those who were most in need.

“Ilan Gilon, a hard-working Knesset member who knew the Knesset, and an honest man with a huge heart, passed away this morning prematurely,” Bennett said in a statement. “He would work hard to solve individual problems of citizens who approached his office. He used to say, ‘A Knesset member should make decisions as if he were old, poor and sick, and not as if he were young, rich and healthy.’ Condolences to his family. May his memory be a blessing.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that Gilon was “one of the best among us.”

Aryeh Deri of the Shas party praised Gilon for helping those in need.

“Ilan was a man with a huge heart, a man who fought all his life for the underprivileged and needy. And he was a good man who was loved by everyone,” Deri tweeted.

Gilon is survived by his wife, Yehudit, four children and his grandchildren.

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