Yossi Sarid Shaped the Model of the New Zionist Left

Even in an age of giants he had a respectable place and not only because of his rhetorical skills, which no one disputed, but because of his integrity and courage.

Yossi Sarid at the Havat Gilad outpost in the West Bank in 2003.
Nir Kafri

With these words Yossi Sarid ended his Friday opinion piece in Haaretz, which became his last column ever: “and no proof through death is necessary.” Death in the last sentence, on the day of your death, is a chilling coincidence. But its author took leave of life often, even as a young man, that hypochondriac emeritus. And so, when I heard on Friday night that he had been rushed to the hospital, I wrote to the bearer of the news, saying that Yossi had been rushed to the hospital dozens of times already. But this time, tragically, was the last.

Life, not death, provided endless evidence of Yossi’s greatness. Yossi is what everyone called him, and that is what I shall call him now, for the last time, after 40 years. On the only note from him that I kept, from August 1980, he wrote: “My problem is that once I have declared someone as my friend, and I have schlepped him around a good many years, he is my friend, whatever happens." Whatever happened, he kept his word and I kept the note.

On the reverse side (the Labor Party saved on paper back then): “Dear member, the party is in a new situation. Our failure in the Knesset election and our success in the Histadrut labor federation dictate the party’s reorganization.”

Yossi was my guide, at least for the first stretch of the road. In the late 1970s, he was a near-guru to a group of young, ambitious people in the Labor Party. The “gang of eight,” the “group of nine,” the Zionist Socialist Circle in the Labor Party, his children every one, members of a generation that promised much and disappointed greatly. Yossi shaped the model of the New Zionist Left. Both his leftist beliefs and his Zionism were authentic, he was always certain that we could have both. Only the ignorant right wing tagged him as an extreme leftist and a hater of Israel — he was never that.

In those days they would run to the session hall in the Knesset whenever certain Knesset members got up to speak: Sarid was one of them. He knew very well how to love and how to hate: Once we were walking in the Knesset parking lot and MK Rafael Eitan showed up right in front of us. Eitan quickly put out his hand to shake Sarid’s in greeting, but the hand of the former army chief of staff remained hanging in the air. That was after the first Lebanon war and Sarid would not shake the hand of a war criminal, even if he did not use that term. I was amazed at the gesture, I will never forget it. I will also never forget his table in the Knesset: His early parliamentary years were also perhaps his more prolific in the Hebrew press; many reporters and commentators were his mouthpiece, without anyone knowing about it.

Modest in his lifestyle, with an impressive record of years of volunteering in Kiryat Shmona, Moshav Margaliot and Sderot; a backgammon partner to lifeguards at Tel Aviv’s Hilton Beach and a frequent traveler by bus or as a passenger in the tiny Subaru driven by Dorit, his wife. He dictated all his writings to her, to the end; he barely knew how to use a computer. But he recognized his own worth. There is no need to compare Sarid to today’s political dwarfs to realize his great stature. Even in an age of giants he had a respectable place and not only because of his rhetorical skills, which no one disputed, but because of his integrity and courage. He was one of the few that left his mark.

When they said he died at 75, I cringed: former Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and former Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir, his “old-man” heroes, were younger than he at the time of their deaths.

Sarid and age 75 sounds like a contradiction. Sarid and death sounds like an even greater contradiction. On Friday night, after his death was announced, I drove to his home. It was almost midnight. An ambulance was parked outside, the last reporter was trying to collect a few more responses and I went up to the seventh floor. I put my ear to the door, and a terrible quiet rose from the other side. The quiet of death. Yossi is gone. I stopped in my tracks, turned around and reversed my steps.