Obituaries: Shulamith Katznelson

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The Independent Culture
IN 1951, Shulamith Katznelson founded the private language school Ulpan Akiva in the Israeli coastal resort of Netanya, where Jews learn Arabic and Arabs Hebrew. The school was named after a Talmudic sage who learned to read at the age of 40 and preached tolerance of one's neighbours. The polyglot Katznelson remained its indefatigable director until her retirement two years ago. Some 80,000 people from 148 countries have attended its courses. The instructors included Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze.

Her students shared classrooms and dormitories; Jewish immigrants learned Hebrew side by side with Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories. Israelis and foreigners learned Arabic. They included the late President Chaim Herzog and the former Defence Minister Moshe Arens.

Katznelson defied the stereotypes of Middle Eastern politics. Her uncle Zalman Shazar, a Labour leader, was the Jewish state's third President. Her mother, Bat-Sheva, was an MP for the centrist General Zionists. Her brother Shmuel, who adopted the Hebrew surname Tamir, became Justice Minister in Menachem Begin's right-wing administration. "There is no one truth," she once said. "There is no one way to God, no one way to build Israel."

Shulamith Katznelson was born in Geneva in 1919. Her family migrated to British-ruled Palestine two years later. Her father, Reuven, was an early public health official. She graduated from teacher training college in Jerusalem before studying in the United States at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Katznelson was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, and again a year later. Her own country honoured her with the Israel Prize, its highest civilian award, in 1986. Yet she had no illusions that the equality of the classroom at Ulpan Akiva would endure outside, so long as Jews and Arabs remained occupier and occupied. "Don't confuse me with any peace movement," she admonished the Jerusalem Post. "I'm very nationalistic and very Zionistic.

"We have to move in the reality that this was not an empty country when we returned, but where the borders will be is none of my business."Shulamith Katznelson, educationist: born Geneva, Switzerland 17 August 1919; Director, Ulpan Akiva language school 1951-97; died Netanya, Israel 6 August 1999.