It is difficult to write an obituary for a friend who was so dedicated to his work on behalf of Israel that it looked as if nothing could ever stop him. While for many their retirement is a time of leisure, for Salomon it was just another opportunity to fill his life with more writing, travelling, lecturing and explaining the legal rights of the State of Israel. The last days of his life were not an exception. His friend Ted Belman reported today that last week Salomon Benzimra travelled to Israel with friends to meet with Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Education, to discuss the government’s document on the legality of Israeli settlements.
Yesterday, on his way back to Toronto, he suffered a fatal heart attack on the airplane. It is hard to imagine that someone so active and energetic is gone.
I became aware of his work in September, 2010, when I attended his presentation about Israel’s legal rights at the Toronto Zionist Centre (organized by JDL-Canada). It was a subject about which I had vague knowledge, so I wanted to know more. His way of explanation was impressive – he covered the issue with consistent and unwavering logic, citing documents and historical facts. There was simply no way to argue with him. I covered the lecture in this blog and a few days later Goldi Steiner, who co-founded with Salomon CILR (Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights), contacted me with a request to meet.
We met at her place and Salomon arrived within an hour. I had with me my copy of Sir Martin Gilbert’s “Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” a book that traces the Middle East history in nearly 100 maps. I had a few questions because to a person with insufficient knowledge the atlas looks like a hard-to-solve maze. We spent the next few hours (over coffee and cakes) discussing the forces and peoples that brought the drastic changes to the land shown on the maps.
Again, he was calm and rational, presenting the points of the critics of Israel and explaining in a logical manner why they are indefensible. He mentioned that he was working on a publication that was going to show his ideas in a clear and concise way. After that I followed regularly his work and presentations. On one occasion I called him in an article “Dr. Salomon Benzimra” (I really thought he was a historian or legal scholar). He wrote to me that though he was flattered by the title, he was actually an engineer and he started exploring those issues after the 9/11 attacks. He was a modest person and didn’t like to talk about his life, but he mentioned that he was born in Tangiers (now in Morocco) and lived in France before coming to Canada.
The next year the publication came out – it was a book titled “The Jewish People’s Rights to the Land of Israel”. It was truly concise and clear, covering the historical issues in about 100 pages. I read it within a few hours and wrote a review.
What was special about that book? There are other books on the topic but they are not that accessible. For example, Howard Grief’s “The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel under International Law: A Treatise on Jewish Sovereignty over the Land of Israel” provides excellent coverage of the topic, however, it is a huge 730-page volume which remains obscure (by the way, Benzimra consulted Grief while writing his book).
The purpose of the new book was to provide an easy-to-understand exposure of the facts that would benefit everybody. The final goal was to adopt it as a teaching aid at the Israeli schools. Initially, the idea was accepted enthusiastically by the Israeli government and specifically by Moshe Yaalon. The enthusiasm fizzled out when the usual forces cautioned that promoting the legal rights over Israel may jeopardize the “two-state solution”. That despite the fact that the chimeric “solution,” which has brought only misery to Israel and caused suffering to the Arabs under the “Palestinian Authority” that doesn’t want any solution, has no chance of ever succeeding.
The remaining years of Salomon’s life were dedicated to fighting the naysayers. Sometimes he admitted that it was difficult to fight indifference and political correctness, but he still persevered. More and more people opened to his message and he was invited to speak at events attended by large crowds, like Robert Walker’s annual Israel Advocacy Training Workshop and Mark Vandermaas’s Israel Truth Week.
He was also actively involved in many public events organized to confront anti-Semitism and the BDS movement. There was nothing ambiguous about his position – whether on the street or in speaking and writing, he did what he believed in.
Salomon lived his life to the fullest defending and promoting something that was bigger than him. He never slowed down, never took rest and worked to the very end. It is sad when noble people like him leave us early while others that we can’t say anything good about are still around, but probably that’s God’s will. His deeds and work will continue to inspire even after he is gone.
Rest in peace, Salomon, we will never forget you.
Funeral details for Israel land rights author/scholar Salomon Benzimra
DATE: Thursday, March 17/16
LOCATION: Steeles Memorial Chapel (http://steelesmemorialchapel.com/condolence/salomon-benzimra/)
350 Steeles Avenue West (midway between Bathurst & Yonge)