I write these words as a tribute to a good friend, Shira Herzog, who died this week after a long battle with cancer. As a frequent writer on Middle East affairs for the Globe and Mail and other publications, and as long-time president of the Kahanoff Foundation, Shira’s integrity shone everywhere she went. She came to Canada as the daughter of Israel’s ambassador to Canada. Her grandfather was the the Chief Rabbi of Ireland and her uncle was the President of Israel. She bridged the world between Canada and Israel like no other person, because she was Shira. Hers was a crystal spirit.
She was a democrat, a believer in human rights, evidence, facts, and in compassion and understanding. She had a big heart, and a brilliant mind. She was no-nonsense, but she was not arrogant or condescending. The Israel she belonged to reflected all these values. She had many Muslim and Palestinian friends, as well as people from a wide range of backgrounds.
Her professional life was devoted to promoting these values and this way of thinking. She once wrote: “It’s a Zionist voice that respects the minorities, that wants all citizens to be treated equally, that does not want to be the occupier… It does not want an Israel at the expense of democratic values.”
At a time when the conflict in the Middle East has become violent, confrontational and absolutist, she would insist on parsing the nuances and variations of Palestinian and Israeli politics. A conversation with Shira was always enlightening; she was teaching and sharing perspectives all the time. She knew all about right and wrong, but also knew there were no easy answers. She never disengaged, or retreated to a mountaintop of denunciation. She worried that there weren’t enough people like her ready to speak out, but never gave in to despair.
There was a quiet dignity to Shira. Her battle with illness was long, and she knew the end was coming. But she was writing and talking right to the end.
She was not afraid of anyone, and she was not about to be marginalized.
The best way to honour Shira Herzog is to continue working in the spirit and manner she did, to listen, to prod, to insist on reason and fairness, to refuse to shut up and conform, to resist stridency and simplistic thinking, to accept that doing so will bring criticism, but that the warmth of humour and compassion can overcome much as well. It would have been so great for her to have lived a long life, but we now have to live it for her.
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