World-renowned political scientist, veteran diplomat and Israel Prize laureate Shlomo Avineri died at age 90 on Friday.
Avineri was an eminent professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry from 1975 until 1977 when he resigned following the Likud party’s victory under Menachem Begin.
He was known for his research into Karl Marx and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
“For 6 decades he was a revered lecturer at the Hebrew University and a visiting researcher at the world’s most respected research institutions,” the Hebrew University said in a statement. “Israeli academia is saying goodbye today to one of the giants of political thought in Israel and the world.”
Born in Poland in 1933, his family immigrated to Israel in 1939.
He studied at the Hebrew University, where he received his doctorate. He also attended the London School of Economics.
Avineri held several senior academic positions in his lifetime, including head of the Department of Political Science at Hebrew University, head of the university’s Levi Eshkol Institute, deacon of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and director of the Center for European Studies, in addition to visiting appointments at universities overseas.
He published 10 books during his career, and in 2013, wrote the first biography in decades on the founder of political Zionism, Theodore Herzl, entitled “Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State.”
The book contended that Herzl was not prompted to lead the national movement due to rising antisemitism and the Dreyfus Affair but by internal political struggles between national movements within his native Austro-Hungary.
Avineri also wrote essays and often contributed to the Haaretz daily.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Avineri served as a member of the international delegation that supervised democratic elections and oversaw the transition to democracy in Eastern Europe, from 1991 to 1994.
In 1996, he won the Israel Prize in political science.
Avineri declared himself to be among Israelis who were unsure how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be solved and criticized both sides for failures in the peace process.
“I belong to those who have a lot of criticism on the Israeli policy in the territories,” Avineri said in an interview with the Hartman Institute in February.
“But it is impossible to ignore that on the other side, the Palestinians, don’t have a serious voice that says: we made a mistake in 1948; we had to present the partition plan to the public, as the Jews accepted it,” he stated, referring to the Arab rejection of the UN partition plan.
He added that Israel should take into consideration the narrative of the Nakba — an Arabic word for catastrophe used to describe the founding of the State of Israel and the fleeing and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 War of Independence.
“But … I also ask that the Palestinian side says that this mistake was not only that they did not win, but the very fact that they set out to eliminate the State of Israel,” he said.
Avineri was married to Attorney Deborah Nadler, who died last year, and was father to Maayan Avineri-Rebhun, the academic secretary at The Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History.