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June 20, 2011
Overlooking Bonner's other legacy
Yelena Bonner, who died at age 88, and her late husband, Nobel Peace laureate Andrei Sakharov, were the leaders of a small band of heroic Russian dissidents who risked life, limb and social status in their unrelenting fight against the Soviet regime in the 1970s and 1980s. They were exiled to Gorky, 250 miles from Moscow, but even then continued their campaign against Soviet repression. In the eyes of sympathizers around the world, Bonner was the real face of the dissident movement.
Bonner and Sakharov were equally outspoken in their denunciation of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. And they made no bones about the fact that anti-Semitism and attacks to defame and delegitimize Israel were closely linked.
In its June 20 edition, the Washington Post runs an extensive obit of Bonner by Kevin Klose and Emma Brown that woefully shortchanges her biography ("Yelena G. Bonner, 88 -- Activist, Sakharov's widow was lifelong critic of Russia" page B-5).
While Klose and Brown rightly credit Bonner and Sakharov for their courageous battle against Soviet totalitarianism, they totally ignore their equally outspoken opposition to rampant anti-Semitism and to growing attempts in the West to undercut Israel's security with spurious "peace" plans and pressures to make suicidal concessions to the Palestinians.
As a result, Post readers wouldn't know Sakharvov's insistence on "safe borders" for the Jewish state and his declaration that "all the wars that Israel has waged have been just, forced upon it by the irresponsibility of Arab leaders." Nor would they be able to read about his indictment of the Arab world for refusing to absorb hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees -- "With all the money that has been invested in the problems of Palestinians, it would have been possible long ago to resettle them and provide them with good lives in Arab countries."
As for Bonner, the Post article at a minimum should have noted her address to the Oslo Freedom Forum two years ago, which demonstrated that, even at her advanced age, she had lost none of her feistiness in defending Israel and exposing anti-Semitism.
Oslo was the perfect venue for Bonner's speech, which she intended for worldwide consumption. As she noted, it was a return engagement of her earlier visit in 1975 when she accepted her husband's Nobel Prize because Soviet leaders wouldn't permit him to be there in person.
Taking full advantage of the platform afforded her, she sounded a ringing alarm about "anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment growing throughtout Europe and even further afield."
She lashed out at fellow human-rights activists, demanding to know "Why doesn't the fate of the Israeli soldier Gild 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 towrd peace must become the release of Shalit. Relese -- not exchange for 1,000 or 1,5000 prisoners who are in Israeli prisons serving court sentences for real crimes.''
And then she really unloaded: "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."
Speaking directly to an Oslo audience closely connected with Nobel Peace Prize awards, she didn't spare them either -- "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."
She ended her speech by reflecting that 34 years earlier, when she accepted Sakharov's prize, she was filled with joy, adding: Today, I feel Alarm and Hope" -- the former because of spreading anti-Semitism and anti-Israel campaigns; the latter because "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 Washington Post and the two by-liners on the Bonner obit -- Kevin Klose and Emma Brown -- should be ashamed for excising this sterling human-right chapter in the life of Yelena Bonner.
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