The Irish Times

Israeli politician who sought accord with Palestinia­ns


Yossi Sarid Born: October 24th, 1940 Died: December 4th, 2015

Yossi Sarid, who has died aged 75, was an Israeli commentato­r and former cabinet minister who was the most articulate Israeli advocate of accommodat­ion with the Palestinia­ns.

On Army Radio, Sarid used his morning show, The Last Word, to rail eloquently and eruditely against prime minister Binjamin Netanyahu’s policies, especially as regards stalled negotiatio­ns on a Palestinia­n state and the political clout of the Jewish religious right.

A founder of the left-wing, secular and Zionist Meretz party, Sarid served as environmen­t minister under Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accord with the Palestinia­ns, and, after the centre-left premier was assassinat­ed two years later, as education minister under his successor, Ehud Barak.

With the election of right-wing prime minister Ariel Sharon, Sarid headed the parliament­ary opposition before leaving politics to devote himself to writing.

“He didn’t despair,” Yossi Beilin, an Oslo accord negotiator and former Meretz minister, told Army Radio. “Despite the years that passed, he always remained sharp and pugnacious.”

Sole survivor

Yosef (Yossi) Sarid was born in Rehovot in 1940, the son of Yaakov and Doba Sznajder. His father, a onetime director general of the education and culture ministry, changed his name to Sarid, which means “remnant” in Hebrew, because he was the sole survivor of his family, having lost all his close relatives in the Holocaust.

Yosef Sarid served in the artillery corps and as a military correspond­ent during his national service in the Israeli Defence Forces.

He later gained an MA in political science from the New School for Social Research in New York. Returning to Israel, he worked as a media aide to prime minister Levi Eshkol, of the left-wing Mapai party, which later merged into the Israeli Labor party.

He was first elected to the Knesset in 1973 on the Alignment list and was re-elected in 1977, 1981 and 1984. After the Alignment agreed to join a government with the right-wing Likud party in 1984, Sarid left the party to join a formation known as Ratz, which in 1992 joined with two other small groups to form Meretz.

Appointed minister

The new party won 12 seats in the elections that year and joined Yitzhak Rabin’s coalition. Sarid was appointed minister of the environmen­t, a position he kept when Shimon Peres formed a new government after Rabin’s assassinat­ion in 1995.

In 1996, Sarid became Meretz leader. Although the Labor Party won the most seats in elections that year, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu won the special election for prime minister and formed a right-wing government.

In the 1999 elections, Meretz won 10 seats. Sarid had said he would not join a coalition that included the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, but Labor leader Ehud Barak persuaded him to go back on that position. Sarid explained the breaking of his undertakin­g as a necessary compromise to promote the peace process. However, in 2000 he resigned from the government and Meretz quit the coalition.

Newspaper column

In the 2003 elections Meretz was reduced to six seats, after which Sarid resigned as party leader, to be replaced by Yossi Beilin. He remained a member of the Knesset until the 2006 elections, when Meretz was reduced to five seats, after which he retired from politics. In retirement he wrote a weekly column for Haaretz newspaper.

Known for his determined moral stance and his willingnes­s to pay the political price for that determinat­ion, Sarid was often referred to as Israel’s moral compass.

President Reuven Rivlin, a former Knesset speaker, communicat­ions minister and Likud deputy, described him as “one of the great parliament­arians and politician­s of Israel, who was a tough and challengin­g adversary, who, though his criticism was sharp and painful, was regarded with great respect even by those who totally disagreed with him.”

Netanyahu called him “a unique voice in Israeli politics, an opinionate­d and acerbic individual”. Even though they disagreed on many issues, said Netanyahu, he appreciate­d Sarid’s loyalty to his chosen path, his broad education and his meticulous use of Hebrew as an orator and a writer.

The Meretz party’s current leader, Zehava Gal-on, called Sarid’s passing a tremendous loss for the country, as he had been a teacher and beacon of morality who loved Israel.

Not all judgments were so positive. Michael Ben-Ari, a former deputy for the far right National Union party, said: “His identifica­tion with the Arab enemy was perfect. I searched tonight for his statement against the brutal murderousn­ess of Arabs, but found none. However, any retaliator­y action of the IDF merited his poisonous article in his home newspaper Ha’aretz ...”

He is survived by his wife, Dorit, and three children.

He was one of the great parliament­arians of Israel ... who, though his criticism was sharp and painful, was regarded with great respect even by those who totally disagreed with him

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