Natan Zach
Natan ZachTomer Neuberg/FLASH90

Prominent Israeli poet Natan Zach passed away Friday afternoon. He was 89 years old.

Born in Berlin as Harry Seitelbach, Zach immigrated to Israel – then the British Mandate of Palestine – in 1936 at the age of five, living in Haifa before his family moved to Tel Aviv.

Zach served as an officer in Israel’s War of Independence, before studying Hebrew literature and political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

In the 1950s, Zach began publishing poems, becoming part of the shift away from the Hebrew poetry of the first half of the 20th century.

Zach moved to Britain in 1968, returning to Israel in 1978, teaching in Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University.

In 1982, he won the Bialik Prize for literature. Thirteen years later, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Hebrew poetry.

Along with his fame as a poet, Zach was also a controversial figure, both for his radical far-left views and for his comments against Mizrachi and Sefardic Jews.

Zach endorsed boycotts against Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, and compared Israel to Apartheid-ridden South Africa.

“If I had known what Israel would become today, I wouldn’t have come back from England in 1978,” Zach said. “You can write in Hebrew without actually living here. I don’t need to hear every day about Palestinians being tortured or accidentally killed. I don’t want to live out the end of my life in an apartheid state.”

During a 2010 interview with Galei Zahal, Zach made deprecating remarks about Sefardic and Mizrachi Jews, comparing them unfavorably to Ashkenazi Jew.

“The one lot comes from the highest culture there is, Western European culture, and the other lot comes from the caves.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin paid tribute to Zach Friday with a poem.

“’And I have not yet said everything,’ and you have already passed away, dear Natan Zach.

Wild, rebellious, a burning fire.

But also the alchemist of the slenderest connections in the universe, between man and tree, between man and man.

Who knows the secrets of wise lovers

and the most known of all human secrets,

that we all, all of us, need grace.

Thank you, Natan Zach, for the fire and the water.

We know you had not said everything,

but what you said and wrote will remain with us and be ours forever.”