Yossi Sarid once was young and then was old, yet his wit, his wisdom and his lucidity never left him. For for most of his life he served the public, as an elected official for over 30 years and as a journalist and columnist. He was a Knesset member, a cabinet minster and one of the leaders of Meretz. At the same time he taught high-school civics in Kabri, Kiryat Shmona and Sderot, fulfilling his mission as an educator. Sarid did not claim to be a saint, but his fundamental claims regarding peace and security, society and economics were right. He fought for human rights and against corruption and the trappings of power. Both supporters and detractors agreed that he was a man of ethics.
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Sarid grew up in Mapai, the ruling party, serving as party spokesman and as adviser to Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir and Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. He was elected to the Knesset in 1974, and became one of the most outstanding parliamentarians in Israel’s history. His clear voice and his rhetorical eloquence mesmerized even his opponents.
Sarid was a principled and courageous man, determined and humble, yet one who recognized his own worth. He wanted a just society that for its own good must free itself of the burden of ruling another people.
His disappointment with Labor’s decision, after the 1984 election, to form a unity government with Likud — the party that had led Israel into the swamp of Lebanon — he declined an opportunity to become one of its leaders and joined Ratz, a precursor of Meretz. Sarid went knowingly into the wilderness, in hopes of helping to turn his new political home into an oasis that could make the arid peace process bloom.
Sarid played an important role in the relative success of the 1992–95 Rabin government in putting Israel on the path toward peace with Jordan, Syria and the Palestinians without conceding security assets. It was a time of economic growth, of improvement in Israel’s international status and in the attitude to Israel’s Arab citizens. As environment minister he introduced a range of laws and worked to promote awareness. As education minister under Ehud Barak, he instilled the principles of pluralism and coexistence by including the works of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in the curriculum. A prolific writer, his regular Friday opinion pieces in Haaretz were notable for their stinging content and for their rich language.
Sarid was a devoted Zionist patriot of Israel. He never recoiled from his enemies’ frustration and loathing: “I made a name for myself in my different positions as someone who is determined to go against the wind when it’s bad, to swim against the stream if it’s dirty, and is prepared to pay the price for his determination.” His unique voice, now stilled, will be missed.