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By: Tia Goldenberg - Jan. 24, 2014 6:02AM EST
JERUSALEM (AP) - Shulamit Aloni, an Israeli legislator who championed civil rights and was fiercely critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, died on Friday. She was 85.
Meretz, the party she helped found and led, announced her death in a statement on its website. The party did not reveal the cause of death.
Aloni was born in Tel Aviv and fought in the 1948 war that led to Israel's creation. First elected to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, in 1965, she served for 28 years and held a number of Cabinet posts.
An audacious speaker and one of few women to openly challenge the nation's rabbis, Aloni fought for civil liberties, women's rights and a separation of church and state. But her boisterous crusade for secular rights was perceived as offensive by some ultra-Orthodox.
She irritated religious Israelis by being photographed at an Arab restaurant with a breadbasket during Passover, when observant Jews don't eat bread.
She created the Citizens' Rights Movement, or Ratz, in 1973, with the primary goal of ridding Israel of Orthodox rabbis' monopoly over marriage and divorce.
But the party later took up peace issues and the treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Aloni became a loud dissenting voice in the governments she served in, often criticizing new settlement construction in territories she believed should be reserved for a future Palestinian state. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005.
She helped found Meretz in 1991, winning the party 12 seats in the 1992 elections and leading it into Israel's governing coalition, which, with the ruling Labor party, made strides toward Mideast peace. She stepped down in 1996.
Israeli lawmakers from across the political spectrum praised Aloni.
"Despite the deep disagreements we had over the years, I appreciated her contribution to the Israeli public and Aloni's determination to stand firmly for the things she believed in," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
Israeli President Shimon Peres called Aloni "a warrior for peace and civil rights in Israel."
Aloni was recognized for her devotion to civil liberties in 2000, when she was awarded the Israel Prize, the country's highest distinction.
Her funeral is to be held on Sunday.