BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — Felicia Langer, an Israeli-German Holocaust survivor who won both plaudits and attacks for her activism and legal work in defense of Palestinians, has died aged 87 in Germany.
She rose to prominence in the 1960s and 70s defending Palestinian detainees from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, also authoring several books highly critical of Israeli forces.
The left-wing activist, who drew much scorn for calling Israel an “apartheid” state, in 1990 emigrated to Germany, where she became a citizen in 2008.
Langer was awarded the 1990 Right Livelihood award, sometimes dubbed the Alternative Nobel Prize, and in 2009 Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit by then president Horst Koehler.
The German prize sparked bitter controversy and led some previous recipients to return their own awards.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany charged that the country had honored a person who had been been “obsessively demonizing” Israel.
Langer was born in 1930 in Poland to Jewish parents, who fled the Nazi invasion for the Soviet Union when she was eight years old.
In exile, says her personal website, “she learnt what it meant to be a refugee, to belong to an underprivileged minority, to live in bitter poverty.”
‘Bridge the abyss’
Most of her family were killed in the Holocaust and her father, a lawyer, died in Soviet captivity.
After the war, Langer married concentration camp survivor Mieciu Langer in 1949.
The following year the couple moved to Israel, where her mother lived and where Langer studied law.
She soon concentrated on defending Palestinians in Israeli court cases on land confiscations and alleged abuses, and also represented Israeli conscientious objectors.
“After the war in 1967, she enlisted to expose and document human rights violations in the occupied territories,” wrote Dov Khenin, a Jewish Knesset member for Israeli communist party Hadash, in a tribute.
“In the days when allegations of torture during interrogations were not believed, she was the first to denounce them.”
But Langer closed her legal practice in 1990 and emigrated to Germany, declaring that the legal system in Israel had become “a farce” and that she no longer wanted to serve as its “fig leaf.”
Moving to the southwestern city of Tuebingen, where her son lived, she lectured at universities, worked with Palestinian refugees and continued to author books.
Having been diagnosed with cancer, she died on Friday in the hospital, reported public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, citing family members.
“Felicia Langer was an example of courage, dedication and commitment, and saw as one of her life’s tasks helping to build a bridge over the abyss of hatred between peoples,” wrote Khenin, whose Hadash is allied with three Arab parties.
“In other days that will come, the days of peace, streets and squares will be named after her.”