Olive tree planted in memory of Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov

Emotional ceremony at London embassy on 20th anniversary of death of envoy critically wounded in Dorchester Hotel terrorist attack


An olive tree, symbolising his dearest wish for peace, was dedicated in the garden of Israel’s embassy in London to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Shlomo Argov, Israel’s ambassador to the UK between 1979 and 1982.

Members of the Argov family were present for an emotional ceremony, addressed by Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, and Middle East minister Lord Ahmad.

Argov, who thought of London as his second home — he and his wife Hava were married at Finchley Synagogue — was one of Israel’s most admired diplomats. On June 3 1982, he was shot and critically wounded by terrorists outside the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane, where he had been attending a dinner.

After three months in a coma, he was transferred to Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital, where he spent the next 20 years as a permanent patient, finally dying of his injuries in February 2003. The three terrorists, members of the Abu Nidal cell, were caught and sentenced to 30 and 35 years in British prisons. Tributes were paid at the memorial ceremony to the ambassador’s police bodyguards and his driver, all of whom were involved in helping him after the shooting.

His two daughters, Edna and Yehudit, noted that today they and their brother were older than their father had been when he was shot. But they told the JC how much their father’s legacy meant to them.

“He was a real Israeli,” Edna said. “He was such a man of the world, brilliant, with a huge interest in books, music, ballet — and in London he made the most of what the city had to offer. But his life mirrored the arc of Israel. He came from a really old Jerusalem family, the Salomon family, a ninth generation Jerusalemite. He volunteered for the Palmach and then fought in the [1948] War of Independence.”

Laughing, the sisters recalled how their father had tried to pass on his love of the arts to them — ‘though we didn’t always want to go to the ballet or the theatre!”

Foreign Minister Cohen described the ambassador as “one of Israel’s greatest diplomats, a role model for everyone who serves in our 108 missions around the world”. Israel, he said, would continue Argov’s legacy by “never giving in to terror or fear”.

Lord Ahmad, describing his participation as “an honour”, declared: “For Britain, the ambassador was one of us,” a man who had fought on the diplomatic frontline. The anniversary of his death, and the recollection of his shooting 20 years previously, brought to mind the continuing reminder of the security challenge facing those in public life.

Rabbi Yossi Fachler of New West End Synagogue recited the El Ma’ale Rachamim memorial prayer, while two of the nine Argov grandchildren — Ori Josell and Maya Orbach — paid their own tributes to the grandfather they never knew, but who remained such a profound influence in their lives. Ori played Naomi Shemer’s Jerusalem of Gold on the trumpet, while Maya said his example had inspired her to move to London.

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