Former journalist and Justice Minister Yosef (Tommy Lapid) died Sunday morning at the age of 77.
Lapid, who suffered from cancer, was hospitalized several days ago in serious condition at the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv. On Saturday evening he was still full conscious.
Lapid served in the past as the chairman of the Shinui party and as a minister in Ariel Sharon's government. In recent years he serves as the Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council.
Lapid, who is a Holocaust survivor, lit the memorial torch this year at the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Recently he went back to writing opinion pieces.
Lapid, who initially became known as a senior journalist, joined Shinui ahead of the elections for the 15th Knesset. Under his leadership, the party won six Knesset seats. In the subsequent elections in 2003, the party boasted a stunning showing and won 15 seats.
The successful showing prompted Shinui to join the Sharon-led government. Lapid was appointed as deputy prime minister and justice minister.
In January 2006, following a split in the Shinui party (ahead of the 2006 elections,) Lapid announced his resignation from the movement and from political life.
Lapid was born in 1931 in the city of Novi Sad in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (today Serbia) to a Hungarian Jewish family. When he was 12 years old, his father, a lawyer and journalist, was taken to a concentration camp and never returned. Lapid and his mother fled to Budapest, and immigrated to Israel
at the end of 1948.
He served as a technician in the Israel Defense Forces, studied law at Tel Aviv University, and began his journalistic work in a Hungarian daily. He then moved to the Maariv daily, first as editor Azriel Carlebach's personal secretary, and later as a writer and columnist.
He established the At women's monthly magazine and served as director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority between 1979-1984.
Until the elections for the 15th Knesset in 1999, Lapid served as a senior editor and op-ed writer in Maariv, was a member of the panel of Channel 1's "Popolitica" program, and had a weekly radio show on current affairs on Israel Radio.
Alongside his journalistic work, Lapid also wrote many plays and books, including guide books for tourists.
He was survived by his wife, author Shulamit Lapid, and his two children, Merav Lapid and columnist and television host Yair Lapid. His eldest daughter, Michal, was killed in a road accident in 1984.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
eulogized his good friend Lapid at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, saying that "Tommy was a Jew in his body and soul, even though he disregarded etiquette at times."
Olmert told the ministers, "My good friend Tommy Lapid, my best and closest friend for decades, whom I had a daily connection with, has passed away. Tommy was a Holocaust refugee, who lived and breathed the Jewish fate and the Jewish history and future his entire life. I am sending a big hug from here to Shula, Yair and Merav. May his memory be blessed."
Ehud and Aliza Olmert were close friends of Lapid and his wife Shulamit, and the two couples used to vacation together in northern Israel.
On Thursday evening, the prime minister received a phone call from Lapid who asked to speak to him from his hospital bed. It was their last conversation before Lapid's death.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak
said Sunday Morning, "We have lost Tommy Lapid, a man who left a great impression on the Israeli society. Tommy was a young boy during the Holocaust and left behind hundreds of thousands of people who were fascinated by his heritage and internal conviction."
Former Interior Minister Avraham Poraz also bid farewell to his political partner Sunday morning. "Lapid was a great man in every sense of the world, a man of letters, a walking encyclopedia, a kindhearted person, a personal friend," he said.
According to Poraz, "Lapid proved that in order to be a good Jew and a Zionist, one does not have to be religious. He had no problem with religion; he had a problem with the damage the haredim caused with the draft dodging, the pensions, etc., and that is what he fought for."
"The main thing I will remember from him is his great wisdom and ability to fight for the things he believed in," Poraz added.
Speaking about his and Lapid's work at the Shinui party, the former minister said that "in the last elections we had in Shinui, when I was ousted, he refused to continue the race without me. We split and he tried to help me as much as he could when I ran as head of the Hetz party."
Poraz said that he last saw Lapid about two weeks ago.
Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann sent his condolences to the Lapid family. "He was a man of letter, a broad-minded person, who enriched our lives with original thought. He contributed greatly to the legal system, the culture of Israeli government and public life. He excelled in public courage, integrity, honesty and the readiness to fight for his views."
Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik said, "I received the bitter news on Lapid's death with deep grief. Lapid was one of the leading media personas in Israel, a person who influenced the public opinion for years. It’s hard to conceive of the Israeli media without Tommy Lapid.”
According to Itzik, “Lapid was an authoritative minister with a strong and uncompromising character, who possessed great personal charm. He stuck to his opinions with a youthful fervency until the end.
National Religious Party chairman, Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev, expressed his grief over Lapid's death, saying that "despite the deep differences of opinion between us, his battles to strengthen the democratic regime in Israel should be appreciated."
Former Shinui MK Chemi Doron said that Lapid was "a very charismatic, educated and broad-minded person. He was not a conventional figure in the Israeli political world."
According to Doron, "Lapid did what he wanted to, even when people didn’t approve. It was a pleasure listening to him as a journalist as well, even when he made you angry. The Israeli public will miss him."
Noah Flug, chairman of the Center of Survivor Organizations, said that "Lapid was an example of a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Israel from hell, built an exemplary family, and was one of the pioneers of Hebrew-language journalism in Israel.
"In his role as chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and a series of other roles he filled, he proudly represented the Holocaust survivors… He had a brilliant mind, was wit and was a journalist in his body and soul."
Roni Sofer, Meital Yasur-Beit Or, Amnon Meranda, Neta Sela, Aviram Zino and Yael Branovsky contributed to this report