Controversial linguistics researcher and far-left activist Prof Tania Reinhardt died suddenly in her sleep in New York early on Sunday at age 63.
Reinhardt was globally prominent in the field of theoretical linguistics and was known for her work in areas such as syntax, semantics, discourse analysis and psycholinguistics. Prof Noam Chomsky, her doctoral advisor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had a profound impact not only on her intellectual development but also on her politics. After returning to Israel in the 1970s, she began teaching at Tel Aviv University's Department of Comparative Literature, her main academic home until she took early retirement in 2006 and accepted a professorial position in New York.
In Israel, Reinhardt was best known for her radical political opinions.
Immediately after the signing of the Oslo Accords, she condemned the treaty as a Palestinian surrender. Later, she opposed the roadmap, charged that the security barrier was turning the West Bank into a giant prison and accused the Israeli media of being untrustworthy in its coverage of Arab-Israeli relations. In order to know what's really going on, she said, you need to read the British daily the Guardian and watch Al-Jazeera television.
In 2002 Reinhardt committed perhaps the most controversial act of her long career when she signed a British petition calling for a European boycott of Israeli universities. For many of her colleagues, this was a step too far and appears to have led, eventually, to her decision to leave Israel. "Gradually, quietly, the university began to embitter my life," she told the weekly newspaper Tel Aviv. "Lecturers whom I recommended … did not get appointments."
Reinhardt was informed by the university administration that she would no longer be permitted to teach half-a-year in Tel Aviv and half-a-year in Utrecht in the Netherlands, a decision she saw as prompted by her support for the academic boycott. "This harassment continued for three years, until I decided I'd had enough and that I'm leaving." Summing up her feelings a few days before flying to New York, she said, "the only thing that still connects me to Israel is the struggle."
Reinhardt was considered extreme in her political views even by many left-wing activists. "Her approach was very radical," said the veteran journalist and left-wing personality Uri Avneri. "Compared to her I was a distinguished Zionist. She rejected the existence of the State of Israel. I define myself as a post-Zionist - I recognize Zionism and its importance but believe that that chapter in our history is over and we need to move forward. She, on the other hand, was never a Zionist. She was a clear anti-Zionist. Both of us fierecly opposed the occupation - but in my opinion she went too far. She wanted to throw out the baby with the bathwater."
Former Meretz party head and veteran peace activist Shulamit Aloni remembers Reinhard as being "combative, intelligent, thinking, talented, stubborn - and not very friendly… I appeared with her several times and I had a hard time with her. I am tolerant of all opinions, I am even willing to appear with (settler leader) Hanan Porat. But I have a hard time with someone who is so stubborn that they demand that you think precisely like they do."
Over the years, Reinhardt published countless political articles in Yediot Aharonot and various journals, accusing successive Israeli governments of deceiving the public and placing sole responsibility for the lack of peace with the Palestinians on Israel.
Reinhardt is survived by her husband, the poet Dr Aharon Shabtai, and a son.
Moshe Ronen and Merav Yudilovitch contributed to the story