With great sadness I submit this short post on the recent death of one of my heroes: Shulamit Aloni. As an Israeli politician and winner of the Israel Prize for her life’s work, she is perhaps best known as a fighter for human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, the rights of minorities, the promotion of pluralism and anti-religious coercion, and of course her goal of obtaining a just and lasting peace with her Palestinian and Arab neighbors.
Unique to Aloni was her ability to fight for so many goals simultaneously, without ever losing sight of her other commitments and aims. She was remarkable in the energy she brought to Meretz, the political party that she founded (and that I consistently voted for) and actually won ~10% of the popular vote in 1992.
Aloni stood up to the religious parties and fought hard for a more democratic Israel, an Israel that would give women and minorities equal rights under the law. She never backed away from threats and was a beacon of humanitarianism. She fought for the weak, the oppressed and the underdog. She was attacked, threatened and cursed, and nothing deterred her.
When Aloni took over as Minister of Education in 1992, I was a Masters student in Immunology and Biochemistry. There was an immediate change, like a breath of fresh air that permeated the universities at the time. It smelled like hope, and Aloni did not wait long to begin promoting education (and its funding) from preschool on through graduate school. Unfortunately, within a year the religious parties banded together and forced her resignation for…being Shulamit Aloni and standing up against religious coercion in Israel.
Despite its reputation as a country with strong science–especially for its size–Israeli governments have typically underfunded basic science in Israel. In a 1999 article in Science, Richard Stone examined then Prime Minister Netanyahu’s outlook on basic science:
“Israel’s strength is applied research,” Netanyahu [then and now Prime Minister] told Science. “The country is too small [to devote more resources to basic research].”
Aloni disagreed, and her vision of enhancing support for basic research–perhaps at the expense of supporting Yeshiva students (orthodox religious students who are to this day heavily subsidized in their studies as long as they remain students and stay out of the workforce)–is still very much in the public debate.
Aloni was a giant; a product of another generation that held education–broad and general education–above all else. She fought for the country first as a soldier, and later as a politician. She was a scholar and a woman of many talents. Above all, she represented ME, and I regret to say that the world will not be the same without her.