Yael Dayan, Israeli Writer, Politician and Daughter of War Hero, Dies at 85

Yael Dayan, a celebrated Israeli writer who, after the death of her father, the war hero and statesman Moshe Dayan, entered politics and became a proponent of women’s rights, L.G.B.T.Q. issues and a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict, died on May 18 at her home in Tel Aviv. She was 85.

Her daughter, Racheli Sion-Sarid, said the cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Ms. Dayan was the last surviving child of Mr. Dayan, who served as Israel’s defense minister during the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. With his distinctive black eyepatch — he had lost his left eye in combat fighting with the British in World War II — he was the unmistakable patriarch of a family dynasty that many in Israel have compared to the Kennedys.

Mr. Dayan’s wife, Ruth, was the founder of the fashion house Maskit. Their son Assi was an actor and filmmaker. Another son, Ehud, was a sculptor.

Ms. Dayan shot to literary stardom at age 20 with “New Face in the Mirror” (1959), an autobiographical novel written in English about a young female soldier whose father is a military commander.

“One day my father came to the camp,” she wrote. “He said he was passing and had decided to drop in. He would never have admitted that he had come to see me. His arrival was, of course, an event — an occasion for smart and often unnecessary salutes, for alert and curious eyes. Will he kiss her when he leaves?”

The novelist Anzia Yezierska, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called “New Face in the Mirror” “an extraordinary record of the inner life of a rebellious adolescent in search of self-realization.” She added, “There is an honesty and a compulsive intensity in the telling of her story that haunts us, long after finishing the book.”

Other books followed. In 1967, Ms. Dayan published two books: “Death Has Two Sons,” a father-and-son novel set during the Holocaust, and “Israel Journal,” a diary of her experiences during the Six-Day War under the command of Ariel Sharon, who later became prime minister.

In prose that Charles Poore, a book reviewer at The Times for nearly 40 years, compared to Ernest Hemingway’s, Ms. Dayan wrote in “Israel Journal” of how the war had changed her: “Nothing will be the same now. I have looked at cessation of life, destruction of matter, sorrow of destroyers, agony of the victorious, and it had to leave a mark.”

Ms. Dayan decided to try politics after her father died in 1981.

“It never seemed right as long as he was still alive,” she told the Jewish American magazine Lilith.

As a member of the Labor Party, she served three terms in the Knesset. She was instrumental in passing legislation that outlawed sexual harassment. She also founded the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality and backed measures protecting L.G.B.T.Q. individuals from discrimination.

Ms. Dayan was at times a divisive figure in Israeli politics.

In 1992, she outraged her party and its leader, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, when she was photographed by a tabloid newspaper in a bikini on a Tel Aviv beach during Yom Kippur, the holiest holiday in the Jewish calendar.

Ms. Dayan, in turn, was outraged that her sunbathing had become a national scandal.

“Isn’t a picture of a woman in a bathing suit off-limits for religious people?” she said in an interview with the Hebrew-language newspaper Hadashot. “Why are they even looking at this picture?”

Her most contentious political act came the next year, when she became the first member of the Knesset to meet with the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. She gave him a copy of “My Father, His Daughter” (1985), a book about her father in which she wrote about his numerous extramarital affairs.

Mr. Arafat “has a public appearance that is not very appealing,” she told The Toronto Star after their meeting. “But that quickly disappears. He is a good listener. Very quick. Humorous and gentle. He was a very worried man when I saw him.”

She believed that the only solution to the Palestinian conflict was separate states — and she never wavered from that opinion. She opposed Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“It is inconceivable that we should still have to discuss the Palestinian right to self-determination,” she told The Star. “We are still doubting that they are people. This is so stupid, it is like an ostrich burying its head.”

Yael Dayan was born on Feb. 12, 1939, in Nahalal, a farming community in what is now northern Israel.

Considered a prodigy at an early age, she was reading by age 3. She skipped several grades in elementary school. She began writing “New Face in the Mirror” when she was 17.

After serving as a captain in the public relations unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, she studied international relations at Hebrew University.

Ms. Dayan married Dov Sion, a colonel under Mr. Sharon’s command during the Six-Day War, in 1967. He died in 2003. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, Dan Sion, and four grandchildren.

Ms. Dayan persevered in her advocacy for peace even when it put her in danger.

In 1996, while she was touring Hebron, the West Bank city that is home to hundreds of settlers, a Jewish extremist approached her with an offer of a cup of tea. Ms. Dayan accepted. According to The Jerusalem Post, the man flung the tea at her face. Her neck and chest were scalded.

Ms. Dayan continued on with her tour.

A few days later, someone mailed her a newspaper photo of the incident and wrote, “It’s a pity there was no acid.”

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