As I write this on Monday 8th January, many of us are returning to our offices, virtual or otherwise. Top of mind for me and many of my Jewish colleagues and friends, is the fact that today is 92 days since the October 7th massacre against Israel by the terrorist organisation Hamas. To date, 110 hostages have been released and 132 are still being held in the tunnels and homes of Gaza.
My Jewish colleagues and I are living in a parallel universe. We continue with our daily routines while spending hours at the start and end of each day (and multiple times in-between) reading articles, looking for the latest headlines, flicking to updates on social media and connecting with family and friends who live in Israel. We speak to each other countless times a day, trying to make sense of it all. Not only why it happened, but what it means for us as Jews, and the world we now live in.
You will all know from the headlines that the Israel Defence Force has continued to wage its war against Hamas, that insufficient aid is getting through to Palestinian civilians and that there is a significant loss of Palestinian lives and homes. While there is data indicating that Hamas is stealing the aid that Israel is allowing into Gaza, and that the number of Palestinians killed includes those Hamas uses as human shields, and is highly inflated, it is a nonetheless a tragedy for all those impacted.
If you are a more discerning consumer of news, however, you will also be aware that Israeli homes were burnt to the ground by Hamas on October 7th, which means that thousands of Israelis too are now displaced and homeless. You will know that rockets continue to be fired into Israel’s civilian areas by Hamas, and now also by Hezbollah in the north. And you will have witnessed the comic tragedy that was the congressional hearing of the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT as each was asked whether students chanting for the genocide of Jews on their campuses went against their universities’ codes of conduct. For those of you who missed it, each president stuttered a response and stammered about “context” until UPenn’s president, Liz McGill, finally managed to explain that if students’ chants for the genocide of Jews actually turned into conduct, then yes, they would contravene the university’s code of conduct. Presidents McGill and Gay have subsequently resigned.
If you continued to be alert to the issue during the festive period, you will have read the almost unreadable article in the New York Times. Screams without Words. How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence, December 28th 2023, finally gives legitimacy to the eyewitness accounts of Hamas’s sexual savagery against women and men on October 7th. The description of sadistic sexual violence especially towards women was not too little. But it was extraordinarily late.
In April 2014, the world was understandably outraged by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram’s abduction of 270 girls from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. There was a swift and severe condemnation from the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council. Michelle Obama also chose to deliver her husband’s weekly address as a way to put pressure on Nigeria to release the girls. In stark contrast, global institutions have barely spoken out about what took place in Israel on October 7th – the rape, the cutting off of breasts, the decapitation of bodies, the shooting at genitalia, the burning alive of whole families and the abduction of men, women and children. Almost all those who had established and supported the #MeToo movement have remained silent (a shout out to Hilary Clinton, who was an exception and spoke out). Most noticeably, it took Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, over two months to condemn the attack, at which point he said nothing about the sexual violence. This silence has been shocking, but even more so, it has been terrifying.
Ignoring hard facts is not new. The seminal case often taught is that of the Challenger space shuttle. Ahead of its launch in January 1986, engineers had put in writing that at certain temperatures, the rocket would explode when launched. The data was ignored with devastating consequences. The human mechanism of “turning a blind eye” is not new, and it is not innately antisemitic. What emerged from investigations into the Challenger disaster was that NASA’s focus on its primary task and its organizational culture had become distorted. So too, it is clear that something is deeply wrong with the UN. Some may say that it is simple, that it is institutionalized antisemitism, but I think that that would be letting the UN off the hook too easily. As much as Israel needs to look at its own intelligence failures and ultimately elect a government considered by all Israelis to be fit to govern, the UN needs an independent audit of its areas of focus and governance.
As we return to work, we, your Jewish colleagues will get back to our jobs with focus and care, whatever it is that we do. Please be patient if you see us reading an article or notice that we are on the phone a little more than usual. Please understand if we do not have much discretionary effort to spare for work right now. Please extend your compassion, care and concern to Israelis and Jews, including those working right beside you. And as you continue to build diverse and inclusive cultures, please recognise that we are unlikely to express how we are feeling right now. It just feels too dangerous to do so.
My new year’s wish is simply that all the hostages are returned home. Please add your wish to mine.