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Zevulun Hammer, Nrp Head, Dies of Cancer at the Age of 61

January 21, 1998
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Zevulun Hammer, described as an embodiment of the religious Zionist movement, died Tuesday morning of cancer.

He was 61.

Hammer, the leader of the National Religious Party and Israel’s deputy prime minister and education minister, was remembered across Israel’s political spectrum as a dedicated public servant.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Washington for talks with President Bill Clinton, said in a statement that Hammer’s life’s was shaped by his love for Israel and Jewish values, which he worked to instill in younger generations.

President Ezer Weizman recalled Hammer as someone who in his life and work understood the connection between Jewish tradition and the new Israel. He described him as someone who integrated his religious Zionist heritage to serve the state with faith and passion.

A founder of the Gush Emunim settler movement, Hammer later welcomed indications of Palestinian willingness for coexistence.

Hammer was born in Haifa. As a child, he was a member of the Hapoel Mizrachi and Bnai Akiva religious youth movements.

During his army service, he was a member of the Nahal brigades. After his service, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Judaism and the Bible from Bar-Ilan University.

He served in Israel’s armored corps during the Six-Day War. Following the war, Hammer was a founder of Gush Emunim and a leader in the NRP’s Young Guard.

Hammer was a key figure in turning the NRP from a party primarily concerned with religious matters to one active in foreign affairs, security and settlement issues.

Hammer was elected to the Knesset on the NRP list in 1969. He received his first government portfolio six years later, as minister of welfare in Yitzhak Rabin’s first government.

In 1977, following the Labor Party’s defeat in general elections, Hammer shifted the NRP to the right, forming an alliance with the Likud government of Menachem Begin. As education minister in that government, Hammer introduced free, compulsory secondary school education.

In 1986, Hammer replaced Yosef Burg as religious affairs minister in the government of Yitzhak Shamir. The next year, he became leader of the NRP. Following Rabin’s assassination in 1995, he issued a call for national soul- searching.

As condolence calls came in, allies and rivals alike lauded Hammer for his sincerity and integrity.

Labor Party leader Ehud Barak said during a special Knesset memorial session that although he and Hammer had their ideological differences, he greatly respected him.

Labor Party caucus leader Eli Goldschmidt described Hammer as a model legislator.

“He was considered by everyone to be one of the best parliamentarians and the most sincere politicians,” he told Israel Radio.

Though Hammer’s death, which came at the end of a long illness, was no surprise, members of his own party were still shocked by the loss.

“He tried to convince all that compromise is the best way to work,” said NRP Knesset member Avner Shaki. “He was a leader and a friend at the same time.”

In the Knesset courtyard, thousands of Israelis filed by Hammer’s body as it lay in state before the funeral procession left for the Mount of Olives, where the minister was buried.

Hammer was married and a father of four.

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