Carmel Pelunsky
Working it out in organisations across the world

Dear Colleagues – 140

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As I post this blog, I wonder how many of you will ultimately read it. The war in the Ukraine continues, the US primaries are dominating the news and Navalny was murdered by Russia. There is a lot of news to absorb and if, like me, you feel a sense of sadness and fatigue about the Israel Hamas conflict, then I would understand if you had chosen not to read this. In fact, I almost decided not to write it, after all what more is there to say? But then I thought of the 101 hostages that are still believed to be alive in the tunnels and homes of Gaza, including 14 females. How could I not keep writing?

The reason I started this blog was to give those of you whom I know to be thoughtful, curious and caring, a perspective of what it means to be Jewish after October 7th, a perspective from beneath the headlines. It is getting more challenging to do so. Here in Australia, we have been stunned by the blatant and vulgar antisemitism that has erupted, from the doxxing of 600 Jewish creatives, to age-old antisemitic tropes making their way into political dialogue to our own police force not being able to hear the chant of ‘Gas the Jews’ which was so clearly recorded on the stairs of the Opera House. It is now not just about what happened ‘there’ but also about what is happening ‘here’. The stories of rape and sexual violence that have emerged from October 7th, and which continue to reveal themselves, are so horrendous that it makes thinking of the women and girls still in Gaza almost unbearable. The ongoing silence of women of influence across the world has changed the way I think of many of those I once admired. Add to this the ongoing credibility given to Hamas by journalists the world over (with the odd exception) means that I sometimes cannot bare to watch the news.

But the thing that makes it hardest for me to give you an inside perspective of being Jewish post October the 7th is that as time has moved on, so have the multiplicity of experiences and perspectives within the Jewish community itself. There is a Jewish saying, “Two Jews, three opinions.” Judaism is a religion and culture that values, honors and encourages debate. Today, there may be only 16 million Jews in the world, but that means at least 48 million opinions! These differences of opinions, however, are no joke. They include hostage families fighting with the Israeli government about how best to get the hostages out, and hostage families disagreeing amongst themselves; it includes the Israeli Minister of Defense barely talking to his Prime Minister; and it includes the heated discussions taking place right now at every Friday night dinner table – will Biden or Trump be better for the Jews?

As a community that has been chased out of countries for thousands of years (England in 1290, Spain in1492, Europe in 1939 to mention just a few), it is no wonder that any time there is an election, the question of, ‘Who will be best for the Jews’ is front and centre for the Jewish community. Sometimes the answer is obvious, at other times less so. For me, this US election falls into the former category, but I acknowledge that that is not the case for everyone. This is not the first time I have heard Jews support Trump. With an evangelical base that supports the right of Israel to exist and a steadfast belief in his ability to terrify his enemies into submission, some Jewish people feel safer with Trump. I am not one of them.

Even his supporters agree that Trump is a narcissist which, by its very definition, means that he cannot be good for anyone but himself. Trump is no ‘friend of Israel’; we should not kid ourselves. Even more concerning than Trump, however, is the Republican party itself. Never has there been a party that has been filled with so many good men (and women) keeping silent. Apart from Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney, not one elected official has stood up to Trump. We beg the world to recognize that Hamas, underpinned by the Iranian regime, is a totalitarian ideology. As if Trumpism is not. If Jews’ greatest fear is that, ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,’ how can we even contemplate the Republican party as a viable option? In response, some of my Jewish colleagues tear apart Biden for not standing up to those in his party demanding a ceasefire. They do not think he has been strong enough. They worry that the Democratic party has been overrun by the ‘woke’ and the antisemitic. I see it differently.

I see a leader who despite having an intense dislike for Netanyahu the Prime Minister, could put that aside to come mourn with a country, and in so doing give that very man a hug. I see a leader putting his own power on the line, because he is strong enough to be steadfast rather than capitulating to those in his party screaming for a ceasefire. He has, in fact, not allowed his party to be overrun by the antisemitic and the ‘woke’. And I have enormous respect for a President who, together with his Secretary of State, has shown wisdom, patience and above all empathy and compassion, throughout this period for all innocent parties. I have found hope in Biden’s ability to transcend some of the pettiness of politics to stand with Israel. These days I believe there is a God simply because Biden and Blinken were in their roles on October 7th.

And so it is. We have different perspectives on who will be good for Israel and it is more challenging for me to talk on behalf of my Jewish colleagues. But do not let that confuse you. On one thing we all stand resolute – that the hostages need to be freed now, that the deafening silence about the sadistic and violent rape has been terrifying and that Hamas, both as an ideology and as a terrorist group, needs to be destroyed. I am a white, privileged woman living in a world when I have enormous personal freedom and choice. And yet, I feel a deep sense of insecurity, worry and threat that I never imagined I would have to deal with. I thought those feelings would be contained to the Holocaust education I had as a child, not to the present and future reality of my life.

So what can you do? As you engage with Jewish colleagues, perhaps the best thing you can do, is simply ask them how they are. And if they are brave enough to share how they are really feeling, just listen or perhaps ask another question so that you can learn more. Of course, I encourage you to do the same with your Palestinian colleagues. My only ask is that if anyone says to you that, ‘There should be a ceasefire now’, you say,  ‘Absolutely, as soon as/on the condition that Israel gets all its hostages out of Gaza immediately.’

About the Author
Carmel Pelunsky is a strategic advisor in talent, leadership and succession. Currently living in Sydney, Australia, she has lived and worked in Johannesburg, London, Europe and Asia.
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