Carmel Pelunsky
Working it out in organisations across the world

Dear Colleagues – 268

Cristen Drummond on X l American Jews gathered around a wall tagged with 'Death 2 Jews Free Gaza' on Ft. Apache. November 2, 2023

I grew up in a household of books. And so it was that one day, as a 9-year-old child, I took myself off to sit cross-legged at the bookshelf and picked out a random book. It was white, a little smaller than A4 size and had a soft cover. Its title, written in simple red type, was ‘Six Million Did Die.’ It was a photographic account of the antisemitism that lead up to, and the horror of, World War ll.

The photo that had the biggest impact on me may surprise you. It was that of a 40-something-year-old German Jewish woman. Her hair was immaculately coiffed in a fashionable 1930s style. She was smartly dressed, wearing a beautiful fur cape around her shoulders. She was walking on the pavement, laughing with a friend. To the right of that photo was the image of a skeleton lying on the ground in Auschwitz. I cannot remember if the pictures were of the same woman, or if they were placed next to each other simply to make the point. But the point was made. Regardless of how old you are, how wealthy you are, how German [replace with American/ British/ Australian/ French….] you are or how carefree you feel, when antisemitism strikes it will strike you too. I learnt it as a 9-year old girl; I am witnessing it as a 52-year-old woman.

Intergenerational fear means that somewhere deep in my bones, I now wonder if I will have lived the first 50 years of my life in relative ease and comfort only to live the next decades hiding or fleeing or relying on the goodwill of others to keep me alive. To you that may sound melodramatic; to me it is a fear that has lain dormant since I bore witness through that photo over 40 years ago. It has been awakened not only by the October 7th Hamas massacre, but by the world’s response to it, and by the subsequent wildfire of antisemitism that has gone largely unchecked: the violent calls for Zionists to identify themselves and get off the subway in New York; the arson on a Jewish MP’s office in Melbourne;  the bloody violence against Jews in Los Angeles; the gangs calling Jews to get out of their houses in a Toronto suburb;  the chants of ‘Gas the Jews’ on the steps of the Sydney Opera House.

Most your Jewish colleagues feel more vulnerable today than we ever have. The fact that Jews are perceived (incorrectly) as mostly white, wealthy and powerful makes no difference. Indeed, in some cases it even makes it worse.

A few days ago, I was speaking with a Jewish colleague who lives in America. I asked him how he has been impacted by events since October 7th.  We were born in different countries (he in the UK, I in South Africa); we live in different places (he in the US, I in Australia); and we identify differently (he as a gay married man, I as a single, heterosexual woman). But as I listened to his response, it was clear that our fear and horror were identical, and that we both understand there is little question that anti-Zionism is a blatant display of antisemitism. We differed in one aspect. His red line was the way in which the term ‘genocide’ has being carelessly tossed around and used to headline multiple public events; for me it has been the media’s response to the rescue of four hostages from central Gaza.

The media’s focus was on the loss of Palestinian lives during the rescue operation. Little mention was made of the fact that Israeli fire had been in response to the shooting at the hostages as they were being rescued. The reporting moved from the frustrating to the ridiculous. As evidence, note a reputable journalist asking the IDF spokesperson why the Israeli Defence Force had not given a warning that it was about to launch a surprise operation to rescue the hostages in Gaza.

As I heard the news of the rescue, I hoped that we would learn that at least one piece of intelligence had come from a phone call, an SMS, or a handwritten note that had been smuggled from Gaza to Israel.  As I learnt the details of the rescue, I waited for just one news outlet to ask the question of what innocence and being a bystander mean, in a world where hostages are moved in daylight between apartment buildings owned by middle class professionals.

The conflation of the war in Gaza, the UN and Red Cross’s dismal record of care for Israeli hostages, global antisemitism and Hezbollah’s relentless firing of rockets into Northern Israel since October 8th (barely if at all reported in the news despite displacing tens of thousands of Israelis) paint a depressing picture of the world for Jews today. The death of all those who are truly innocent only compounds the heaviness we feel.

It is important during times like these to look for those bright spots, those stories that can bring a sense of perspective, perhaps even a smile. Below is one such story. It is the tale of Yunis, a Bedouin man from the south of Israel, who saved the lives of eight Jewish men fleeing terrorists on Oct 7th. A new family has been created.

I am also sharing a link to an episode of Unholy: Two Jews on the News, one of my go-to podcasts. In this episode, Yonit Levi of Israel’s Channel 12 News, and Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian, speak with Van Jones, a regular CCN political commentator (the conversation with Jones starts at minute 24 of the podcast).

As a political commentator, a Black man, and a politically left leaning American,  Jones brings a thoughtfulness, sensitivity and care to the issue of what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be Black in America today.  Listening to him speak restored my faith that the best of us can come together during this time and find our way through.  I hope you find it as stimulating and thought provoking as I did.


This blog is dedicated to Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora, commander and tactical operator in the Yamam, Israel’s national counterterrorism branch of the military, who died in the mission to rescue Noa Argamani, Almog Meir Jan, Andrey Kozlov, and Shlomi Ziv who spent eight months in captivity in central Gaza.

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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