Michal Cotler-Wunsh

Back to the Future

A second officer from Oxford University’s Labour Club, the club’s disabilities officer, resigned this week, explaining that he did so as the club forces members to “subscribe to a radical ideology of division and isolation.” The officer stated “I cannot in good faith carry out my duties in promoting access and engagement with a club that I feel is projecting itself in the complete opposite manner.” The club’s co-chair, who stepped down last month, explained he did so as “his colleagues have some kind of problem with Jews.”

Two prominent US senators, who held opposing views on and around the deal struck with Iran, introduced a bill that will allow “zero tolerance for Iranian terror”. They explained that “if the Security Council turns a blind eye to violations of international law, then the United States must be prepared to respond. We cannot allow the Government of Iran to continue to evade its responsibilities.”

Just outside of the AIPAC Convention taking place in Washington D.C., hundreds of BDS supporters demonstrated against the sessions taking place earlier this week. Conference attendees were reportedly trapped inside due to the rally taking place outside the convention center and guests cited law enforcement orders ‘to remain inside temporarily’. Footage from the demonstrations taking place showed protesters chanting ‘Shut it down’ and holding signs equating Israel with racism and genocide.

Illinois recently became the first US state to list companies banned due to their support of BDS. This represents the first such move by an official US body, as a result of which 11 companies have been banned from business ties with the state for divesting from Israel.

The positive that may emerge from the BDS campaign’s apparent successes resonates in the historical lessons that can be learnt from the story of Purim, also celebrated this week. The ancient tale retold annually on Purim, describes the events that transpired in Persia over two thousand years ago, as the evil Haman conspired to annihilate the Jews. The genocidal plot implicated King Ahasuerus who approved the strategy, without actually gathering facts, considering them or taking a stand at all. Herein lay the opportunity, recognized by Mordechai and Esther, who had hidden their true identities up to that point but reaffirmed their heritage when confronted with imminent danger to the existence of their people. Having no knowledge or opinion of his own, the very same King was in fact open to persuasion to act in precisely the opposite manner, ultimately saving all of the Jews from certain doom and destruction.

If the deceptive, insidious BDS campaign has revealed anything positive, it is the possibility to transcend real and perceived individual and collective differences, and to align with other individuals and collectives based on shared values and beliefs. In the current global, layered, nuanced reality, it seems there is no automatic affinity with past alignments and none should be assumed. This new reality requires each of us to step out of our comfort zones with moral clarity, to know ourselves, to recognize our values, to take a clear stand, and to identify the many others with whom we share a bond that transcends race, gender, sexual preference, ethnic background or religion. On one hand, it is a tall order, demanding responsibility and obliging accountability. On the other, it is an empowering and enabling opportunity, to look, as individuals and collectives, beyond our usual configurations and to create alternate power sources that are genuinely pluralistic, humanistic and just, truly based on shared ethos.

The challenges are without a doubt abundant. Among them, the challenge to truly ‘expand the tent’, giving true representation to the tremendous diversity that can rally around clear and deep morals and values; the challenge to avoid getting distracted by the loud background noise of the BDS campaign which is actually only a symptom of the ills that human rights were meant to protect democratic societies from; the challenge to authentically crystalize shared morals and values and ensure that they are not compromised or hijacked; the challenge to make a concerted effort on multiple fronts to clarify what is truly at stake and that it is by no means Israel’s, or the Jewish peoples war; the challenge to engage the many seemingly apathetic or indifferent good people around the world, permitting them to see that this moment in time, contrary to popular opinion, in fact very much concerns them as well.

At a time that the State of Israel can extract the last remaining Jews from Yemen and bring them to the safety of the Jewish homeland, it seems that rarely if ever have the we had this kind of opportunity – to create partnerships and collaborative initiatives with so many from such diverse backgrounds. Rarely if ever, has it been more feasible and visible that we have more in common today with so many, who only yesterday were indifferent at best, enemies at worst. Rarely if ever, do the lessons of the past seem so relevant, in such concrete ways, with so much that can be done. Rarely if ever before have we been able to emerge from anonymity equipped with our identity and the values held dear for thousands of years. Rarely if ever before have we been in such a position, enabling and beckoning individuals and societies to take their rightful place in healing a fractured, fragmented world. Rarely if ever before have we benefitted from such tremendous freedom, or had the awesome responsibility that comes with it.

A final thought. As a response to being disinvited from a music festival in Spain last summer, Matisyahu launched a US college tour with Nadim Azzam, a musician born to an Egyptian-Palestinian father and American-Jewish mother. Reflecting on the initiative, he wrote that “the purpose is to replace boycott and finger pointing with music as a reminder to find the compassion and humanity we share.” On Purim, a holiday named for the lot cast to determine the fate of the Jews, we are reminded not to leave our fate to chance. Here’s hoping that we will, individually and collectively, have the wisdom to heed the current imperative to act in our respective realms of existence, learning from the past, for the sake of the future.

About the Author
The writer is a lawyer, research fellow, and policy and strategy advisor. She served as an MK in Israel’s 23rd Knesset, co-founding the International Bi-Partisan Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.