The Legacy of Shulamit Aloni, Our Fearless Teacher

Shula made us aware of civil and human rights, the inequality of women, the plight of the gay community and the darkness of the occupation. Her legacy was great, but she didn't leave behind enough heirs.

Yossi Sarid
Yossi Sarid
Yossi Sarid
Yossi Sarid

I have had no teacher in my public life except for Shulamit Aloni - she was my only teacher, our great teacher. Nothing is more painful to me than having my name tied to the story of her resignation from politics, but I won’t set history straight today. Perhaps some other time, perhaps not.

I heard a radio presenter today speaking about “the woman people loved to hate." It’s true, many people hated her, many loved her, and nobody remained indifferent. What can be worse and more insulting to a person − especially a political person − than indifference? "Oh, just another of that ilk - how boring is this place around us, really, one big yawn." But Shula, on the other hand, always provoked, stirred and challenged.

After a death everyone asks about legacy: What mark or message does the deceased leave behind? And then everyone immediately tries to pull that legacy toward them, as if it is a blanket that is too small to cover them all.

Not in Shula’s death. Though we part from her, we cannot part from what she bestowed upon us all, those ideas and duties that are as pertinent now as they have ever been. Who can snatch away that legacy? Who would try to usurp it? Who would dare?

Shula made us aware of civil rights for the first time, and it's her creed that we passed onto the generations that followed. Not only the state has rights, as we were taught, and the state is not a deity, demanding sacrifice and worship. I seriously doubt today's Education Ministry would allow tender souls to be corrupted by her civics books, which have not lost their worth.

Shula also made us aware of human rights. There are some who live among us who aren't citizens, but are human beings nevertheless, with a full claim to inalienable rights. In a time when asylum seekers are high-handedly deported, Shula would surely have had something to ask the deporters: Aren’t you ashamed?

And Shula made us aware of inequality of women. Who but her had even thought of it as a problem? Golda Meir certainly didn’t. She held the highest office in Israel and was content at that. But Shulamit Aloni knew well that there are other women besides her, and that they still suffer egregious deprivation and discrimination.

Shula made us see that gay men and women and transgenders are people, same as everyone. Over 25 years ago she already fought to get them out of the closet of shame, fear and persecution.

Shula made us face the inherent tension between religion and state, between politics and faith. Who didn’t gape askance, or wring hands in a sigh, when hearing her demand to separate them? Yes, protecting the eminence of the state and the honor of religion, it is essential to detach the devout, to sever apart the forces that infect the country with ultra-nationalism and poison religion with zealotry. Leaving the two glued together is a recipe for disaster.

She was one of the first to make us aware of the occupation. That untold region beyond the hills of darkness, in which only a few ever bother to take an interest. The day will come when the state of occupied territories and occupying settlers will consume the state of Israel, which will then cast off the form of democracy and take the shape of apartheid.

Who but Shula could single-handedly start a movement that for decades onward would have an actual impact on the quality of living in Israel? One can picture our political landscape without other, superfluous parties, but not without Meretz, for all its ups and downs. Never letting her convictions be scattered to the wind, Shula has sown them with her spirit in every virgin soil.

And above all, "you've got nothing to fear." And indeed she feared not. What she had to say she said, even when you didn’t want to listen. You may have lost out on her, but Shula won herself integrity and an inimitable image.

In recent years, when we were upset or afraid, we would talk. I would call, she would call – never to gush out personal matters but to talk and feel no better for doing so. So she always urged action − we must do something, we must protest and resist, we must at least get our voice heard; if not we, then who? And if not now, when? Many of my columns in Haaretz were written at her urging and under her inspiration.

Shulamit Aloni left behind a legacy - that much is certain. What's uncertain is whether she left behind enough heirs. And I never forgot the big shoes I filled.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Education Minister Shulamit Aloni, May 11, 1993.Credit: AP

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