Ora Namir Has Passed Away, as Has the Israeli Labor Party That She Knew

Ora Namir and Yitzhak Rabin at the Rabin's 73rd birthday party, Jerusalem, March 1995.
Yaacov Saar / GPO

The stone path to the cemetery at Moshav Hogla near Hadera passes by greenhouses where colorful flowers are being raised. When Ora Toib was growing up there, Thailand was still called Siam and the moshav had not yet thought about foreign workers.

On Tuesday, the only people working in the greenhouses were Thai workers, the new Israeli pioneers, as a larger than expected procession of cars made its way to Ora Toib Namir’s funeral. It was an respectable funeral, even if yet another burial ceremony for the Labor Party, and Namir was one of its finest daughters.

I liked her as much as I could. We became surreptitious friends, but it was a forbidden friendship. In line at the supermarket, which still belonged then to the Histadrut labor federation, we spoke in whispers. She was from Yitzhak Rabin’s political camp, while and I was working for Shimon Peres.

But at the famous Shabbat dinners she had at her home, we rarely spoke about politics. It was a cultural club of a kind that no longer exists – with a precision and style that only she could pull off. There were always more artists, poets, writers, actors and journalists in attendance than politicians. Two former Shin Bet heads would attend as well, one of whom was there because of his wife. Such encounters no longer take place.

Amir Peretz, who delivered a charming eulogy for Ora Namir, recalled how he always knew which sofa in her home you could sit on and which one not. Cabinet minister Haim Katz claimed to be a rebel who actually grabbed her napkins that were not to be used.

Ora Namir.
Yaacov Saar / GPO

The pictures in the living room of her small apartment were always lined up with the air conditioner, and woe be anyone who dared touch them. Everyone feared her and most of all they were afraid of knocking over any of the elephant figures on top of the breakfront from the collection of her husband, Mordechai Namir.

There is no need to embellish the past to miss it. Or our Friday afternoon gefilte fish at Batya’s Café. We would talk about Rabin and Peres, but also about the most recent concert that she had attended. Batya passed away and her café no longer exists. And now Namir is gone, too, as is nearly everyone who would come to those gatherings at her home.

A luxury apartment building with a lobby and a view of the sea now sits at 110 Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv, where the Labor Party’s headquarters once stood. It’s so tempting to reminisce about the past. It was less lovely than the way it’s described, but sometimes nicer than the present.

The Labor Party’s election this month as its leader of Amir Peretz, a follower of Namir in several respects, does restore some of the party’s spirit, but the past is dead and the party that once was has gone with it.

We lived in a bubble back then, which was very pleasant. We were the younger generation of the country’s founding party. All the great names were still with us in the corridors. We hadn’t yet heard about the Nakba, and we thought it was sufficient to mutter a few sentences when it came to the occupation, which at the time was less cruel and more temporary.

There were doves and hawks, who argued about issues nobody cares about anymore. There was an atmosphere of modesty and fairness, even if Rabin had much greater disdain for Peres than Stav Shaffir of today’s Labor Party feels toward Itzik Shmuli. There were rival camps and forged letters to the editor, but everyone knew that these people had established a country, and an exemplary one at that.

Ora Namir worried about the weak. Her heart would go out to them. Just like many of her generation, she did not understand that ethnic discrimination was ingrained, institutionalized and deeply rooted. Nobody in the party at the time paid any regard for the Arabs, other than when there were guests from the Socialist International and Peres wanted a few men in kaffiyehs in the front row. We believed we were right and that Israel was always right. We were so young, so naïve and so foolish.

At the funeral, I thought about where I had been just a day earlier, at the Palestine Expo in London, an event attended by thousands hosted by the Friends of Al-Aqsa organization. I thought about how far I had also come since the gefilte fish with Ora. But that’s a subject for another column.