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.”
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.
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.
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