One memory competes with another from years of working together. I will never forget our meeting with Noam Shalit. He came to us to help work for the release of his son, Gilad, and started talking, and I know that that I’m not supposed to look at Ilan but I do so anyway and I see his eyes reddening, and how he chokes up, and he holds my hand and we both start to cry. And of course we acceded to his request. This story typifies Ilan’s politics, a politics of people, of compassion and of humanity.
They’ll talk a lot about the fact that he was a fighter for social justice and for peace, but he was also someone who had a tough struggle with pain and disability every day. But instead of withdrawing inward to deal with his challenges, Ilan took his personal difficulty, the fact that he had been disabled by polio, and turned it into a public battle to help the disabled.
For Ilan, the government’s abuse of weaker members of society and the undermining of workers’ rights was not inevitable. He saw the situation as one that is possible to change, and harnessed all his parliamentary power to bring about such a change.
His motto was: “A member of Knesset must make decisions as though he were elderly, poor and ill, and not as though he were young, healthy and rich.” Let’s put it like this – Ilan was a bulldozer. Was? It’s hard to think in those terms.
By the strength of his personality and despite being a member of the opposition, Ilan was able to harness the coalition to the battles that were important to him, and he passed numerous laws that promoted the rights of the handicapped and the disabled – laws whose main focus was concern with people’s welfare and equality.
I met Ilan during the 1992 election, when Meretz was established. I came from Ratz, the Movement for Civil Rights and Peace, and Ilan came from Mapam, the United Workers’ Party. In 1999, we were both elected to the Knesset. We cooperated there, argued about priorities, and fought internal political battles – we competed against each other for the leadership of Meretz. There were ups and downs, but between us there was always mutual respect, personal affection and a sincere and genuine concern for the future of the left in Israel, and we always remained good friends.
There are now quite a number of politicians who presume to have views similar to Ilan’s: in favor of social democracy and social justice, supporting the end of the occupation and vowing to pursue peace. But as opposed to Ilan, who was a straight shooter, something feels false when we hear them. There is a huge gap between the politics represented by Ilan and the new, opportunistic politics that have characterized the public discourse in the past decade.
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Ilan was totally committed to creating a better Israel. His vision for a State of Israel with a clear conscience and a strong moral backbone is exactly the same vision that guides the left today, and that we are all trying to fulfill in Israel.
A hug and condolences to Yehudit and the family, and to all of us who miss him already.