Yelena Bonner – Courageous Jewish Leftist

A guest Post by AKUS

I have read several obits for Yelena Bonner, who died in Boston on June 18th at age 88. You can find them on-line easily by Googling her name.

The major papers have overlooked her attachment to her Jewish roots and her love and passionate defense of Israel. Her Jewish background is mentioned only in passing. Her love of Israel – not at all.  

Yelena Bonner suffered from anti-Semitic attacks in the Soviet Union as part of the oppression she and her husband Andrei Sakharov faced. Perhaps, like so many have, she found it strange that with all the horrors in the world, the worst opprobrium and most vicious attacks were directed at one small group of people and their tiny state and as time went by she became more aware of her Jewish roots.

In her memoir, she wrote:

“I hope to live out my life until the end worthy of the Russian culture in which I’ve spent my life, of the Jewish and Armenian nationalities, and I am proud that mine has been the difficult lot and happy fate to be the wife and friend of academic Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov.”

Bonner’s fight against anti-Semitism and defense of Israel are not mentioned at all in the widely available obituaries in paper such as the Washington Post or NYT (nor in the Guardian, for that matter).

It is worth listening to the speech Bonner gave at the Oslo Freedom Forum two years ago expressing her astonishment at the depths to which the politically correct Nobel Committee has sunk with its awards of the Peace Prize, chiding the Norwegians for their views about Israel, vigorously making Israel’s case,  dismissing the Arab demand for the “right of return”, demanding the release of Gilad Shalit and warning of the growing European anti-Semitism:

“So it is about Israel and the Jews that I will speak. And not only because I am Jewish, but above all because the Middle Eastern conflict since the end of World War II has been a platform for political games and gambling by the great powers, the Arab countries and individual politicians, striving, through the so-called “peace process,” to make a name for themselves, and perhaps win a Nobel Peace Prize. At one time, the Nobel Peace Prize was the highest moral award of our civilization. But after December 1994, when Yasir Arafat became one of the three new laureates, its ethical value was undermined. I haven’t always greeted each selection of the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting with joy, but that one shocked me. And to this day, I cannot understand and accept the fact that Andrei Sakharov and Yasir Arafat, now posthumously, share membership in the club of Nobel laureates.

In many of Sakharov’s publications… Andrei Dmitrievich wrote and spoke about Israel. I have a collection of citations of his writing on this topic. If it were published in Norway, then many Norwegians would be surprised at how sharply their contemporary view of Israel differs from the view of Sakharov.

Here are several citations from Sakharov:

“Israel has an indisputable right to exist.” “Israel has a right to existence within safe borders.” “All the wars that Israel has waged have been just, forced upon it by the irresponsibility of Arab leaders.” “With all the money that has been invested in the problem of Palestinians, it would have been possible long ago to resettle them and provide them with good lives in Arab countries….”

…Now, there is a new (actually, quite old) motif currently in fashion (in fact it’s an old one):  “Two states for two peoples.”  …  I will speak only of one demand: that Israel take back the Palestinian refugees. And here a little history and demography are needed. According to the official UN definition, those who have fled from violence and wars are considered refugees — but not their descendants who are born in another country.

Imagine Israel then, if another five million Arabs flood into it; Arabs would substantially outnumber the Jewish population. Thus created next to Israel will be a Palestinian state cleansed of Jews, because in addition to the demand that Palestinian refugees return to Israel, there is also the demand that Judea and Samaria be cleansed of Jews and turned over to Palestinians – while in Gaza today there is not a single Jew remaining.

The result is both strange and frightening, and not because Israel will be actually destroyed – it’s a different time and different Jews.  It is terrifying to see the short memory of the august peace-making Quartet, their leaders and their citizens if they let this happen. Because the plan “two states for two peoples” is the creation of one state, ethnically cleansed of Jews, and a second one with the potential to do the same thing. A Judenfrei Holy Land – the dream of Adolph Hitler come true at last. So think again, those who are still able, who has a fascist inside him today?

And another question that has been a thorn for me for a long time. It’s a question for my human rights colleagues. Why doesn’t the fate of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit trouble you in the same way as the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners?  … during the years Shalit has been held by terrorists, the world human rights community has done nothing for his release.  The real step toward peace must become the release of Shalit.  Release — not exchange for 1,000 or 1,500 prisoners who are in Israeli prisons serving court sentences for real crimes.

And yet I still think (and some will find this naïve) that the first tiny, but real step toward peace must become the release of Shalit. Release —  not  exchange for 1000 or 1,500 prisoners who are in Israeli prisons serving court sentences for real crimes.

Returning to my question of why human rights activists are silent, I can find no answer except that Shalit is an Israeli soldier, Shalit is a Jew. So again, it is conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Again, it is fascism.

Thirty-four years have passed since the day when I came to this city to represent my husband, Andrei Sakharov, at the 1975 Nobel Prize ceremony. I was in love with Norway then. The reception I received filled me with joy. Today, I feel Alarm and Hope (the title Sakharov used for his 1977 essay written at the request of the Nobel Committee). 

Alarm because of the anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment growing throughout Europe and even further afield. And yet, I hope that countries, their leaders, and people everywhere will recall and adopt Sakharov’s ethical credo: “In the end, the moral choice turns out to be also the most pragmatic choice.”

(The full text can be found here)

Bonner came from an age when to be an “activist”, to support “human rights”, to be on and of the “Left” meant to do the right and courageous thing, not to use Israel and Jews as the politically correct way of ingratiating oneself to a group of “right-thinking” people who have totally lost their moral compass and formed the bizarre so-called “Left Wing” alliance with theocratic misogynistic thugs dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and, in the case of some like Hamas and Hezbollah, the final elimination of the Jewish people.


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