|23 October 1918|
|5 June 2003(aged 84)|
|Tel Aviv, Israel|
|Faction represented in Knesset|
Meir Vilner (Hebrew: ? , born Ber Kovner; 23 October 1918 – 5 June 2003) was an Israeli communist politician and Jewish leader of the Communist Party of Israel (Maki), at one time a powerful force in the country. He was the youngest and longest surviving signatory of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.
Born in Vilnius, German-occupied Lithuania, Vilner's political life began as the leader of the Marxist-oriented socialist-Zionist group HaShomer HaTzair (Young Guard). However, he soon grew disenchanted by what he viewed as a tendency in Zionist groups to dream of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, rather than change their current situation. Thus, he started working for the banned Polish Communist Party - now under the pseudonym Meir Vilner - until 1938, when he left Poland to go to the British Mandate of Palestine. Most of his family perished in the Holocaust.
In what would soon become Israel, Vilner was disenchanted with the politics, claiming that the hatred directed at Jews in Vilna was now directed at the Arabs. He joined the Palestine Communist Party (PCP), which accepted Arab and Jewish membership, and initially opposed partition of Palestine; in his testimony to the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry in March 1946, he said that it would strangle economic development, strengthen the dependency of both states on the British and widen the gulf between Arabs and Jews. However he supported the 1947 UN Partition Plan after the Soviet position changed in 1947.
Vilner criticized both the British and Israeli government, but justified signing the Israeli Declaration of Independence on the grounds that this would eliminate another British colony. Besides, the PCP stressed that the Charter contained a promise to help implement the UN resolutions providing for two independent states, Israel and Arab Palestine, and to uphold full equality and civil liberties for all Israeli citizens.
In 1949, he was elected to the Knesset as a member of Maki. He resigned from the Knesset in December 1959, six weeks after the 1959 elections, but was re-elected in 1961. However, he resigned again two months after the 1961 elections.
As the Jewish leader of the Communist party of Israel (CPI), 95% of whose members are Arabs, he rejected Zionism, publicised the Israeli nuclear weapons programme in 1963, and opposed the imposition of martial rule on Israeli Arabs (it was lifted in 1966).
In 1965 Vilner and several other Maki members broke away from the party to form the new party Rakah following disagreements about the Soviet Union's increasingly anti-Israeli stance (Vilner was on the USSR's side), and was elected to the Knesset on the new party's list in the 1965 elections.
On June 5, 1967, Vilner was the sole Jewish deputy (joined only by fellow Communist Party of Israel deputy Tawfik Toubi) to speak out in the Knesset against the Six-Day War. Calling that day the darkest in Israel's history, Vilner demanded an immediate halt to the Israeli invasion of Arab-occupied lands. Vilner stressed that there was no other way to solve the conflict between Israel and its neighbors but mutual recognition of the national rights of Israelis and Arabs, including the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and independent statehood. On October 15, he was badly wounded by a member of the right-wing party Gahal.
Rakah became part of Hadash before the 1977 elections, and Vilner remained an MK until 1990 when he resigned as part of a seat rotation agreement, making him the third longest serving after Tawfik Toubi and Shimon Peres.
Vilner's Soviet loyalist line was highly appreciated by the USSR; in 1978 he was awarded the Order of Friendship of Peoples. He did not accept perestroika and regarded the fall of communism in the USSR as a coup.