Esther Herlitz, a former MK, an Israel Prize laureate and the country’s first female ambassador, died this week at the age of 94.
Herlitz was born in Berlin in 1921, and her family emigrated to Israel in 1933. Her father, George Herlitz, was the founder of The Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem.
Herlitz joined the Jewish Agency’s diplomatic corps in 1946, and in the 1950s served as Israel’s consul in New York. She was among the pioneers in establishing ties between Israel and US Jewry as well as US leadership, and was also a member of the negotiating team that discussed compensation to Holocaust survivors from the German government.
In 1966 Herlitz was appointed as Israel’s envoy to Denmark, being the first woman to serve as an ambassador abroad. She later joined the Alignment party (predecessor to today’s Labor) and served in the Knesset from 1974 to 1977 and again from 1979 to 1981. As a member of Knesset, Herlitz was the first woman to join the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. She was also considered a trailblazer on issues of gender equality.
In 2015 she received the country’s highest award for contributions to Israeli society — the Israel Prize.
Following her passing on Thursday, Labor leader Isaac Herzog eulogized Herlitz, saying she “was a role model for strength and integrity in a tough political world.” He said she helped “form the identity of the Labor movement… may her memory be blessed.”