Rivals and allies alike mourn Yossi Sarid, dead at 75

Ideological opponents and political allies have mourned the death of former Mertez party chairman Yossi Sarid, who passed away Friday from heart-related causes at the age of 75.

“Yossi Sarid was a unique voice in Israeli politics, an opinionated, sharp man,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the left-wing public official on Saturday.

“Although we differed on many issues, I appreciated his loyalty to his path, his broad education and the meticulous Hebrew expressed in his speech and writings. He will be remembered also for being a prominent parliamentarian, a longtime member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and an Education Minister who sought to advance the education system in Israel.”

President Reuven Rivlin, who served as an MK with the right-wing Likud party during Sarid’s tenure as head of Meretz, called the deceased parliamentarian a “tough political opponent, challenging and loyal to his views.” Sarid, Rivlin added, was “one of the greatest politicians of the State of Israel.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon of Likud mourned Sarid’s death as well, noting his unabated concern for the well-being of the state and its citizens.

“Despite the political debate I had with Yossi Sarid, I always appreciated his honesty and his integrity, his intelligence and sharpness of wit, and the fact that he followed the path he believed, according to his conscience and values, without having to deviate from or adapt to any passing fad,” Ya’alon said. “Sarid was an Israeli patriot whose concerns for the future of the country and its security were at the top of his mind, as a Knesset member, a minister of education, as a public leader, and as a sharp writer.”

President Reuven Rivlin, at his residence in Jerusalem on May 28, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

President Reuven Rivlin, at his residence in Jerusalem on May 28, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Sarid will be laid to rest Sunday, his family members said. The funeral for the veteran lawmaker and journalist will take place at 3 p.m. at the cemetery in Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

“Dad passed at around 9:30 p.m. [Friday], apparently from a cardiac problem from which he suffered for many years,” Sarid’s son Yishai said. “A brave leader, fighter for peace and justice and great Zionist has passed on. We are sad as a family and as part of the nation of Israel.”

Known for his articulate, sardonic style and colorful turn of phrase, Sarid was a member of nine Knessets between 1974 and 2006, serving as a lawmaker for the (Labor) Alignment, Ratz and Meretz parties.

An icon of the Israeli left, Sarid held two portfolios — education and environment — and led the Meretz party from 1996 to 2003, serving as head of the opposition for the latter two years of his party leadership.

He remained in parliament for 32 years, retiring in 2006, and then began a weekly column in the liberal newspaper Haaretz.

Meretz leader Zehava Galon paid tribute to her former colleague in a Facebook post Friday night.

“Yossi Sarid, my friend and mentor, is gone. The greatest lover of Israel and Israelis, his death is a tremendous loss for me and a heavy loss for the entire country,” she wrote. “Yossi has been my friend since 1984, when he left Labor and we became partners in party and path. He was a guide, a beacon of morality and responsibility, who always knew how to articulate his unique Hebrew in a clear, consistent and fearless voice.

“In his personality and actions, Yossi Sarid represented the finest character of the State of Israel: educating, democratic, secular, peaceful and striving for equality and love. He made this country better in every role he took, and I am committed to continue along his path and values,” Galon said.

Meretz Knesset faction chair Ilan Gilon said Sarid will “always be remembered as the man who made an indelible mark on education in Israel. After his political career, he became a journalist and man of letters of razor-sharp tongue and pure voice, loyal to the values of humanism, human rights and peace. His image will forever be etched in our hearts.”

MK Tamar Zandberg, a fellow Meretz member, said Sarid’s death was “a personal and political loss for the left and the whole country. We are talking about a leader, a sharp and honest person, a courageous man who I learned a lot from over the years. We cried over his departure from politics and now we mourn over his passing. May his memory be blessed.”

Meretz MK Issawi Frej said “Sarid was a father to me, and served as no less than a political and ideological compass. Yossi is one of the people thanks to whom I continue to believe in the possibility of making the State of Israel a better and more just place.”

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni called Sarid’s passing “the death of a fighter for the core of this country.”

“You could disagree with him, but you could not avoid listening to his razor-sharp words. Even at his most cynical, his words always came from the least cynical and most painful place possible. May his memory be a blessing,” she said.

Zionist Union head and leader of the opposition Isaac Herzog called Sarid “an important leader of the Israeli peace camp. His sharp, clear voice always stood out stubbornly for a brave uncompromising truth he believed with all his heart. As minister of education, he left a deep mark on the education system and the country as a whole. His beliefs, writings and life work will remain a formidable heritage that will be with us all for years to come.”

Merav Michaeli, another Zionist Union MK, also paid tribute to Sarid, calling him a role model. “I have been a fan of Yossi Sarid since June 1982 – I was in 10th grade that year when the [First] Lebanon War broke out. The only one to oppose it clearly and loudly was Yossi Sarid. All the others took more or less time to understand this was a futile war and I remember how impressed I was with his courage to come out against it.”

“He was a model for many of us and now a great loss for all of us, even those who opposed him. His is a voice Israel needs now more than ever, and it is our responsibility to continue sounding it. How sad it is to part with him so prematurely,” she added.

Yossi Sarid is survived by his wife, Dorit, and their three children.

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