Ora Namir, Former Minister and Women’s Rights Advocate, Dies

Serving as a Labor Party MK from 1974 to 1996, Namir worked on behalf of disabled children, children at risk, the Bedouin and Arab communities, battered women and the elderly

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Ora Namir at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, 1995.
Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Ora Namir at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, 1995. Credit: Yaakov Saar / GPO
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Ora Namir, a former MK, minister, ambassador and promoter of women’s rights, who was also the widow of former Tel Aviv Mayor Mordechai Namir, died Sunday. She was 88.

Namir served as a Labor Party MK from 1974 to 1996. During the 1990s she served as labor and social affairs minister and environmental protection minister. From 1996 to 2000, she was ambassador to China.

Namir was born in 1930 in Hadera. Her father, Pinhas Taub and mother, the former Miriam Trachtenberg, were members of the Hehalutz movement who immigrated to what was then Palestine in 1925; they were kibbutz members who after marrying moved to Hadera, where they worked at draining swamps and paving roads. In 1936 they were among the founding families of Moshav Hogla in Emek Hefer, where Ora and her sister grew up.

Namir studied education and served in the War of Independence with the 7th Brigade, later becoming an officer in the newly formed Women’s Corps. She later worked in the public diplomacy department of Mapai, the forerunner of today’s Labor Party. Minister Zalman Aran, who was party secretary, hired her to be the Knesset faction’s secretary and the secretary of the coalition. In 1954 she was named secretary to the consul-general in the Israeli Consulate in New York. During this period she divorced her first husband, Moshe Nahshon.

From left: Former Prime minister Ehud Barak, Ora Namir and then-governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer, 2010. Credit: Moti Kimche

When she returned to Israel she was named secretary for the “Exhibition of the Decade,” an art exhibition marking the state’s 10th anniversary. She later managed the office responsible for overseeing the construction of the Knesset building in Givat Ram.

In 1959 she married Mordechai Namir, a widower 33 years her senior, who had a son and daughter. Namir had served as Histadrut secretary-general, Israeli attaché in Moscow and had been an MK and labor minister. The year that they married he was elected mayor of Tel Aviv, a post he held for 10 years.

Ora Namir speaking in the Knesset.Credit: GPO

Namir herself was elected to the Knesset on the Labor Alignment ticket in 1974. In 1975, then−Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin appointed her chairman of the State Committee for the Status of Women; in this position she spent three years coordinating the work of various task forces that studied and made recommendations that would benefit women in the realms of personal status, employment, education, security, domestic violence and women’s representation. The committee sought to advance women’s rights and eliminate gender-based discrimination in all these areas.

The report that Namir delivered to then−Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978 was considered revolutionary. It included 200 recommendations, many of which were indeed implemented in the ensuing years. Among other things, the report called for passing legislation guaranteeing equality in employment, to reserve a quarter of the Knesset seats for women, to allow women to do any military job that wasn’t actual combat and to establish an authority that would evaluate women’s status in Israel.

During her years in the Knesset she focused on education and welfare. As chairman of the Knesset Education and Culture Committee she was dubbed “the national preschool teacher” for her work to enhance early childhood education. As chairman of the Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee she advanced the passage of the Minimum Wage Law, worked to regulate allowances for housewives and ultra-Orthodox families, and advanced the Adoption Law, the Senior Citizens Law and others.

In 1992 she spent five months as environment minister during the second Rabin government; during this short period she issued orders to reduce air pollution in Haifa by imposing personal responsibility on the offending companies. She was later named labor and social affairs minister. During that period she worked to promote fair wages and working conditions, and she set up a unit to oversee and enforce labor laws. She also worked on behalf of disabled children, children at risk, the Bedouin and Arab communities, battered women and the elderly, and worked to formulate policies that would reduce poverty.

Ora Namir and then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, 1992.Credit: Ziv Koren / GPO

The following laws can be attributed to her efforts while in the Knesset: the Minimum Wage Law, the completion of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law, the Single-Parent Families Law, the Blind People’s Rights Law, and the Demobilized Soldiers’ Law, along with regulations that improved the status of subcontracted workers and enhanced unemployment benefits.

From 1996 to 2000, Namir served as ambassador to China, where she worked to improve bilateral relations. For a short time afterwards she served as chairman of the Avshalom Institute for Israel Studies before retiring from public life.

Mordechai Namir died in 1975; the couple had no children.

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