When Soviet dissident Yelena Bonner passed away last week, the world took note. Countless obituaries were published in the press lauding her courageous struggle for human rights in the autocratic Soviet Union. But Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Natan Sharansky felt that for all the words written and praises poured upon his friend Bonner, one important aspect of her personality and activism was neglected: her love for Israel.
“In the past decade, she found herself in the difficult position of having to fight for Israel not against the dictatorial world, but against hypocrisy in the free world,” Sharansky wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday. “She always opposed those who used double standards on Israel.”
Sharansky’s friendship with Bonner dates back to the 1970s, when he was fighting for the right of Jews to make aliya from the Soviet Union.
Bonner would show up for his trials, as would another famous Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov.
“They came to the trials to express solidarity, met outside the courtroom and eventually married,” Sharansky said. “So the event that brought them together was the first political trial of Jews. I always felt that throughout their years of marriage, Israel and Jews played a special role in their lives.
For decades they continued to show support for the right of Jews to emigrate from the Soviet Union (Bonner’s mother was Jewish) as well as for other human rights, enduring many exiles, imprisonments and hunger strikes.
“They went to the trial of every prisoner of Zion,” Sharansky recalled. “Of course, during my trial also Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner were in front of the trial the entire time. They were not permitted in, so they stood outside.
“My brother was the only person allowed in. When he would step out of the courtroom, it was Yelena and Andrei who would pick him up and head to their apartment to debrief him.”
Eventually the regime which the celebrated couple fought against collapsed, but Sakaharov was not to see its demise.
He passed away in 1989, two years before the Soviet Union fell apart.
His widow, Bonner, later moved to the US, where she lived until her
“Last year, I visited her [in her] apartment in Boston,” Sharansky
recalled. “She was very ill. She spoke almost exclusively about Israel,
angry about how the free world abandoned Israel during the Gaza war,
about the double standard that was being applied to Israel.”
“‘I can’t stop fearing that Israel will be betrayed in its confrontation
with Iran and its battle with terror,’” she was quoted by Sharanksy as
That was their last conversation.