Ilan Gilon, Former Meretz Lawmaker, Dies at 65

Gilon made social justice one of the central missions of his career

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ilan Gilon in his house, in 2020.
Ilan Gilon in his house, in 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Former Israeli lawmaker Ilan Gilon, who served as a Knesset member for the left-wing Meretz party, died on Sunday at the age of 65.

Gilon, who made social justice one of the central missions of his career, served as a lawmaker in the Knesset between 1999 and 2003, and between 2009 and 2021.

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Gilon was born in Romania in 1956, and as an infant he suffered from polio, which left him with a leg disability. He began his career in Israeli politics in the now-defunct left-wing Mapam party (which ultimately became one of the components of Meretz), was the first coordinator of Meretz Youth, and eventually served as deputy mayor of Ashdod.

During most of Gilon's time in the Knesset, Meretz was a small opposition party. Prior to the election early last year, he had been in contention to become the head of the party, but dropped out of the running due to his ailing health.

Gilon, a member of the left-wing group Hashomer Hatzair, said his political doctrine stemmed from three prophets: Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah: “Amos spoke of distributing national wealth, Isaiah of dividing the land, and Jeremiah said ‘go, be human beings,’" he said. "Anybody who is for all three of these, I’ll establish a party with, anybody who is for two of them, I’ll establish a government with.”

In January 2017, Gilon made headlines fighting to bring financial assistance to the disabled to the level of the country's minimum wage. Although the government was against the move, an early proposal passed, an unusual achievement for an opposition lawmaker. The bill failed to pass, but it led to agreements with government representatives to raise assistance to the disabled.

Politicians across the political spectrum paid tribute to Gilon. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote that "Gilon was an honest man with a huge heart" who "worked hard to solve the individual problems of citizens" who approached his office.

In an emotional statement, Health Minister and Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz called Gilon "a man of principles, a warrior… a gentleman. Beloved Ilan, you have been my partner and friend for many years. I can't believe you're gone."

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also commended the work of Gilon, saying that "the humanity that radiated from him transcended political divisions."

Far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party, tweeted that Gilon was "one of the most worthy and beloved people in Israeli politics: a man of principle, a good and worthy man."

Meretz lawmaker Mossi Raz wrote Sunday: “We lost Ilan Gilon. Ilan, who represented us in the Knesset for 15 years, worked for ‘the people first.’"

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