Meir (Bear) Vilner (Kovner)

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Meir (Bear) Vilner (Kovner)

Hebrew:  מאיר )דב) וילנר
Birthdate: (84)
Birthplace: Vilnius, Lithuania
Death: June 4, 2003 (84)
Tel Aviv, Israel
Place of Burial: Tel Aviv, Israel
Immediate Family:

Son of Israel Kovner and Genia Kovner
Husband of Ita Vilner
Ex-husband of Ester Vilanska
Father of <private> Vilner and <private> Vilner

Occupation: Leader of the Communist Party in Israel
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Meir (Bear) Vilner (Kovner)

Meir Vilner

Meir Vilner (Hebrew: מאיר וילנר‎, born Ber Kovner on 23 October 1918, died 5 June 2003) was an Israeli communist politician and Jewish leader of the Communist Party of Israel (Maki), which consisted primarily of Israeli Arabs. He was the youngest and longest surviving signatory of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.

Born in Vilnius, Poland (now Lithuania), Vilner's political life began as the leader of the 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.

Vilner then studied history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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, which accepted Arab and Jewish membership, but supported partition. 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.

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.

In 1965 Vilner and several other Maki members broke away from the party to form 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.

Shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967 (which Rakah had opposed), a member of the right-wing party Gahal stabbed Vilner. He recovered.

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 Toubi and Shimon Peres.

He was married to Esther Vilenska, another Israeli communist politician but divorced later, after having two sons together. His cousin Abba Kovner was a well-known Israeli poet.

Education: Hebraic High School in Vilna and Hebrew University

Knesset Terms:

  • Knesset 1, 14.2.1949 - 20.8.1951
  • Knesset 2, 20.8.1951 - 15.8.1955
  • Knesset 3, 15.8.1955 - 30.11.1959
  • Knesset 4, 30.11.1959 - 16.12.1959 (Partial tenure)
  • Knesset 5, 4.9.1961 - 9.10.1961 (Partial tenure)
  • Knesset 6, 22.11.1965 - 17.11.1969
  • Knesset 7, 17.11.1969 - 21.1.1974
  • Knesset 8, 21.1.1974 - 13.6.1977
  • Knesset 9, 13.6.1977 - 20.7.1981
  • Knesset 10, 20.7.1981 - 13.8.1984
  • Knesset 11, 13.8.1984 - 21.11.1988
  • Knesset 12, 21.11.1988 - 10.1.1990 (Partial tenure)

Public Activities:

  • In his youth a member of “Ha’Shomer Hatzair in Vilna
  • Organized Communist groups of Hebrew University students
  • In 1940 joined the Palestine Communist Party
  • Secretary of Jerusalem Branch of Party in 1943
  • Member of Provisional State Council and Constituent Assembly
  • One of signers of Declaration of Independence
  • Member of Central Committee of the Israeli Communist Party from 1948
  • Served as Deputy Secretary; member of Political Bureau and Secretary of Party
  • In 1965 was part of group that created “Rakah” (The New Communist List)
  • Resigned from the 12th Knesset in 1990 as part of Rotation Agreement of “Hadash”

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Meir (Bear) Vilner (Kovner)'s Timeline

October 23, 1918
Vilnius, Lithuania
June 4, 2003
Age 84
Tel Aviv, Israel
June 2003
Age 84
Tel Aviv, Israel