Dear Yoni,

Once again, I feel a responsibility to answer a heartfelt comment from a young person who loves Israel but questions the need for so much violence. As you will see if you read on, he has a very special reason to care so much about peace:

“Dr. Konner,

“This is indeed my first time commenting on your blog, but I have found it insightful and thoughtfully written in the past.  As a current junior and history major at Emory, I am enrolled in a plethora of classes with a focus on Judaism.  Unfortunately, I find myself in a bit of a quandary concerning how I am to act within these classes when I find myself confronted by a slew of Jewish students, who I would normally assume to be my closest allies, calling for further violence and unilateral action against the embattled Palestinians in Gaza.  Indeed, it would appear that for many of these students, further bloodshed is the optimal answer for the occasional bottle rocket being launched out of Gaza.  While I fully respect Israel's right to defend itself, and furthermore can vouch that my family has given more to the state than most others, I firmly believe that we, as American Jews, are immensely out of touch with the situation in the Middle East.  It is my sad duty to now question: ‘have we, as American Jews, become the militants and the terrorists in this bloody and utterly wasteful conflict?’”

-Yoni Argov

Emory 2010

Posted Thursday, January 29, 2009, 11:37 AM

Dear Yoni,

Thank you for your thoughtful and searching comment. As you say, your family has given more to Israel than most others, yet you feel outnumbered on Emory's campus–very comfortable and very distant from Israel–by fellow students who think they know what Israel should do and state their views not tentatively but belligerently from their safe haven in Atlanta.

I hope you won't mind if I let readers know just what your family sacrificed. Your grandfather, Shlomo Argov, who was a wounded and decorated hero of Israel's War of Independence, became the victim of an Arab assassin’s bullet on a London street when he was serving as Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1982.

The gunmen were apprehended and sentenced to 30 years in British prisons, but your grandfather faced a more severe sentence. Gravely wounded in the head, he survived as a once-energetic and active man permanently paralyzed and confined to a hospital bed in Jerusalem, where his family had lived for seven generations.  He eventually died after more than two decades of imprisonment in his own body.

Thus you grew up with a grandfather who, instead of playing ball with you or bouncing you on his knee, could only be a sad presence you visited in the hospital, able to talk with you but serving as a constant reminder of the dangers faced by Israelis and all Jews even in the supposedly safest places in the world. So it is very ironic that you are the one who speaks about Palestinian suffering, while your classmates who know so much less about Middle East realities try to shame and silence you.

But you are a true grandson of your grandfather. Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel at the time he was shot, used his tragedy as the pretext for invading Lebanon a few days later.  This war is now widely recognized in Israel as having gone much too far and lasted much too long. From the confines of his hospital bed, your grandfather spoke against that war and stated his anger at the use made by Begin of his shooting as a casus belli, a reason to go to war.

Your grandfather had risen to prominence as a man of the Israeli left, but was so gifted a diplomat that he attained one of the country’s most important posts under a right-wing government. No one questioned your his right to challenge Israel when he thought it was wrong, and no one should question yours. I have strongly criticized American Jews who think they can tell Israel what to do in situations where they as Americans will never have to face the consequences. This in my view applies to Americans who attack Israel from the left as well as those who enthusiastically urge her on to war.

But in your case, because of the terrible price paid by your family, I believe you have the right to speak up—certainly in the midst of war-mongering fellow students who will never have to pay the price of Israel’s actions, whether mistaken or not, in war or in peace.  At least eighty percent of Israelis supported the action in Gaza, and for that reason I supported it as well. But that doesn’t mean a loss of compassion for the people of that suffering piece of land, nor does it mean a reflexive enthusiasm for war.

So hold your course, speak your mind, and, if necessary, tell the story of your grandfather Shlomo Argov, who paid the price for Israel’s boldness both in war and in peace, and who lived up to his given name, advocating shalom even from the bed to which his grievous wounds confined him. Where another man might have been consumed by vengeance, he thought constantly and wisely about what was best for his country, and he died a hero of war and of peace.

Of course, Yoni, I hope you will never be called upon to make the kinds of sacrifices your grandfather made, but you can try to live up to the ideals he set for you, defending Israel from all enemies even while vigorously pursuing the path of peace.

Sincerely,

Mel Konner