Shulamit Aloni, an Israeli legislator and cabinet officer who championed civil rights and was fiercely critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, died Jan. 24 at her home in a suburb of Tel Aviv. She was 85, according to reports in the Israeli media.
Meretz, the party she helped found and led, announced her death in a statement on its Web site. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Ms. Aloni was born in Tel Aviv and fought in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation. First elected to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in 1965 as a member of the Labor party. She served for 28 years and held a number of cabinet posts.
An audacious speaker and one of few women who openly challenged the nation’s rabbis, Ms. Aloni fought for civil liberties, women’s rights and a separation of church and state. But her boisterous crusade for secular rights was perceived as offensive by some ultra-Orthodox Jews.
She irritated religious Israelis by being photographed at an Arab restaurant with a breadbasket during Passover, when observant Jews don’t eat bread.
She created the Citizens’ Rights Movement, or Ratz, in 1973, with the primary goal of ridding Israel of Orthodox rabbis’ monopoly over marriage and divorce.
Her party later took up peace issues and the treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ms. Aloni became a loud dissenting voice in the governments she served in, often criticizing new settlement construction in territories she believed should be reserved for a future Palestinian state.
She helped found Meretz in 1991, winning the party 12 seats in the 1992 elections and leading it into Israel’s governing coalition, which, with the ruling Labor party, made strides toward Mideast peace. She stepped down in 1996.
Since then, the liberal faction of Israeli politics that she represented has been eclipsed by a growing conservative coalition.
Israeli President Shimon Peres called Ms. Aloni “a warrior for peace and civil rights in Israel.”
Her husband of 36 years, Reuven Aloni, died in 1988. Survivors include three children.
Ms. Aloni, who wrote six books, was recognized for her devotion to civil liberties in 2000, when she was awarded the Israel Prize, the country’s highest distinction.