Building Bridges over Troubled Waters

Much has been written and said about the challenges that we face, as individuals, communities and even countries, in a fast changing, global reality. Social media is but a manifestation of an alternate reality in which there are few, if any, rules and very little recourse when they are broken.

In this context, the campaign to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS), aggressively hurled and virally spread against Israel, has become an illustration of the possibilities for de-legitimization of individuals, communities or even an entire country. Launched in an organized, collaborative manner and based on long term planning and execution, BDS has been the focus for what many perceive as an attack on the State of Israel and others view as a modern day form of anti-Semitism.

There are many organizations and individuals valiantly combatting this war of words, working tirelessly in an attempt to build bridges. One person, pamphlet, video or conversation at a time, they are doing all they possibly can, utilizing every available resource, to expose the lies of the BDS campaign and to shed light on historical truths. They are on the frontlines of this global phenomenon, gathering facts and experience that can help in addressing not only the challenges Israel faces, but possibly future challenges that will utilize similar methods. In a cynical twist of reality, de-legitimization is being masked and laundered, exploiting the language of human rights, exposing and exploiting the weaknesses of the very values that they were meant to protect.

Historical analysis suggests that as in so many other cases, the attack of Jews or the Jewish State can actually serve as a sign of things to come for many others. While those on the front lines hope to respond to the challenges of BDS, viewed in a wider context, their actions may actually serve as a case study in addressing challenges that may ultimately be launched at the rest of the free and democratic world. Judging from daily headlines, we have ALL entered unchartered and distinctly troubled, waters.

Complicated as it is, comprehension of these challenges and their possible relevance to so many others is but a first step. Just as the challenges must be isolated and named, they must be communicated and explained in ways that can be understood and internalized by those not currently the subjects of the attack. This is not just a linguistic or cultural communications challenge. Rather, it underscores the depth and breadth of partnerships necessary in order to address current and future challenges.

As in so many other contexts, with challenge comes tremendous opportunity. If Israel and her supporters throughout the world succeed in creating a true partnership, they will not only set the record straight in the fight against de-legitimization, but be able to share the experience and empower others to build such bridges. The real question that beckons with urgency is how to best build those bridges. Collaborations and partnerships of every kind are critical in order to address the current trials and future, possibly shared, tribulations. While Israel, as a fledgling country, had positive relationships with its supporters around the globe, these may no longer be relevant. Times have changed. In order to reflect those many changes, the nature of those relationships must evolve into partnerships that will hopefully be able to overcome common challenges.

Partnership is defined as “the state or condition of being a partner; participation; association; joint interest”. According to this definition, there are many potential partners for Israel throughout the world, Jews and non-Jews alike. What is critical is the understanding of all partners, Israel included, that each has a uniquely important, varying set of tools to bring to the partnership and that synthesized, these exponentially increase the chance of success. It is a humbling, yet necessary, part of the process to define (or re-define) the nature of the relationship as the parties evolve and change. Properly communicated, the re-alignment process can serve to increase participation, deepen association and best advance the joint interests of the partnership.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, with all that entails. Its’ people know a thing or two about living in a constantly challenging geographic region and have indeed become experts at countering terrorism, or living with it. There is much that can be learned from the Israeli experience. However, as in every good partnership, there is much understanding and knowledge in the world that Israel can benefit from. As Israel engages with her partners, it is critical to accept that there is much to be learned from the various individuals, communities and countries with who we must collaborate in order to build those bridges. In many established, Western democracies, there is a deep understanding of profound, bi-partisan collaborations. There is a genuine acceptance of the win-win notion that can maximize benefit to all. There is established tradition and significant time that allowed for the development of real comprehension of the meaning and importance of intersectionality and its contribution to advancing common goals and values.

These are the traditions not yet formed in a young democracy, fighting for survival; A country of immigrants that returned to their ancestral land of 3,000 years which has never had the luxury of experiencing long term planning; The product of a reality of putting out fires and living on its’ sword. While some of those may be the very ingredients of the ‘Start-Up-Nation’ phenomenon that Israel has become, they are also the qualities that do not foster long-term, comprehensive, collaborative planning. In a reality of sectorial representation, where diversity de facto means having members of the different sectors each representing their own constituents, there is much to learn. It is pertinent to understand the possibility of diverse representatives who themselves balance intersectional, mediated identities, enabling them to transcend above the sectorial representation and hone in on shared common goals. That kind of understanding allows for true, bi-partisan, ego-less (or less ego-full) collaboration, guided not by altruism but rather a deep understanding that it is the best way to ensure success.

Those are some of the pertinent lessons for Israeli democracy to internalize if we are to succeed in the task of building bridges, whether with fellow Jews, minority groups around the globe and any others with shared values and morals. It is the type of nuanced understanding that, in a layered, complex reality, creates opportunities for public discussion of difficult topics, unthreatened by the possibility that they will lead to disagreement. It is the type of sophisticated synthesis that transcends politics and applies important legal standards across the board, without fearing that they may serve to benefit one side of the political spectrum over another. It is the comfort and privilege of those with formed, mediated identities, having the confidence to truly engage with the ‘other’.

The opportunity has presented itself, whether we like it or not and there are many willing and potential partners, in Israel and abroad. What they are looking for is a genuine, eye-level, non-patronizing, equal partnership, encouraging full participation in the ensuing discussion and synthesizing joint interests, together. This requires a good dose of humility and the respect for an equal partner who does not need Israel to feed them the ‘party line’. It is rather the product of deep level discussions between equal partners who each bring their views, experience and set of tools to the planned, joint task of building bridges over troubled waters, meeting somewhere in the middle.

Success in recognizing the opportunity at these stormy times may ultimately have the capacity to serve as an important case study. Critical efforts to address the challenges of the BDS campaign offer the paramount opportunity to re-evaluate the partnership and assess how to best continue. Assuming the age old maxim is correct and ‘opportunity does not knock twice’, we had best ALL be paying attention and approach the task with trepidation and modesty, creating genuine partnerships that together have the ability to build bridges over very troubled waters.

About the Author
Former Member of Knesset Adv. Michal Cotler-Wunsh is head of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Institute for Aliyah Policy and Strategy.