Michal Cotler-Wunsh

The Imperative of Memory

As we approach Pesach, the imperative of memory becomes more pronounced. Beyond the cleaning and cooking frenzy, the Seder serves as the ultimate annual reminder of the imperative of memory that forms part of our individual, familial and national identity. We ponder and discuss, fulfilling the uncompromising obligation of the evening — to tell our children — so that they too remember, ensuring that the passage of time does not permit the human tendency to forget.

Remembering that ‘we were slaves in Egypt’ every year is not just a literal imperative. As individuals, we remind ourselves, and teach our children, that enslavement comes in all shapes and sizes, fashions and trends. The onus is on each of us to be aware of our own enslavement to whatever external factors have a hold on us, in order to advance our human quest, to be truly free. No less important, we are required to look out of ourselves, to see the suffering of others, remembering the enslavement of our ancestors in Egypt as if we ourselves experienced it, and committing to treat others with basic human dignity and respect. It is a deep and essential imperative, intended to remind us of our individual and collective identity and commitment to human rights.

This inextricable link between responsibility and right is a fundamental tenet of Judaism. Our faith grants the individual with the agency to reflect, decide, alter, and act. Renouncing deterministic approaches to human existence, the individual, we tell our children, has choice. Even in the darkest hour, the individual can choose how to live. It is the journey to freedom, the source of hope. With that choice, we tell them, comes responsibility. That is the clear and unequivocal underlying foundation of existence that we pass on with the imperative of memory, thus affirming that the individual that has innate rights that we are committed to protecting.

When the UN Human Rights Council, an organization founded to uphold and protect human rights; to ensure that ‘Never Again’, invites Muhammad Aliyan, the father of murderous terrorist, Baha Aliyan to speak about alleged ‘human rights violations’ by Israel, the Orwellian inversion reality surpasses all possible imagination. When the world stands idly by the invitation and speech, following its’ acceptance of the ‘martyr-hero status’ granted to a murderer thanks to his father’s tireless efforts to glorify and inculcate his hateful memory, it is taking an active stand in encouraging terrorist acts, like those we witnessed with horror in London just last week.

Clear messages are imperative when we teach our children to remember. The murderer, Baha Aliyan, boarded a Jerusalem bus on October 13, 2015, opening fire in all directions and then stabbing passengers. Two elderly victims, 78-year-old Haviv Haim and 51-year-old Alon Govberg were killed instantly. Richard Lakin, a 76-year-old American-Israeli teacher and peace activist, died of his wounds two weeks later.

Rather than taking responsibility; rather than committing to teaching love; rather than ensuring that the next generation is given the tools to make the right choices; Aliyan’s father has dedicated his life to the commemoration of his murderous son by naming educational initiatives and institutions for him and elevating him to the status of a hero and a role model. Rather than condemning his murderous son’s heinous acts, and his rewriting of history to turn his son into a hero, inculcating more hate and anger into the hearts and minds of Palestinian children, the UNHRC invites Aliyan, an Israeli citizen, to besmirch and malign Israel on its’ stage. Rather than understanding the detriment caused to their own people, Palestinian leadership participates, indeed encourages, the elevation of a cold blooded murderer of innocents to martyr status, turning him into a role model for thousands of children. Rather than upholding their obligation to future generations, empowering them with the notion of choice and granting them with hope, an entire society abdicates responsibility. Rather than taking a stand, condemning terrorism and demanding accountability of the system that breeds such hatred, the UN generally and UNHRC specifically, encourages the spread of libel, hatred and animosity. Rather than speaking out, representatives of member States remain silent, choosing not to speak out against the inversion of justice; rendering them all compliant in the failure to uphold the very mission of the organization which they are a part of; undermining its’ very mandate and raison d’etre.

Allowing this charade to continue renders all states who do not speak up accomplices, ultimately abrogating the responsibility which they committed to upon the founding of the UN. Sitting around the table of the UN Human Rights Council, debating and fashioning human rights norms and expectations, are the worlds’ worst human rights violators.

This is not about Israel. The systemic and systematic failure of moral clarity continues to fuel the hateful attacks of liberal and democratic values everywhere. They empower those that abhor the very human rights which we hold so dear, to carry out their hateful attacks, whether in Jerusalem, Nice, London or Ottawa. They amount to compliance in and collaboration with the ongoing libel, slander and incitement to violence. They undermine the efforts of inculcating values of freedom that comes with responsibility. They disempower individuals, depriving them of agency, rendering them unaccountable for their actions. They minimize the individual to a pawn, whose fate is pre-determined. They ultimately deny the individual of possibly the most important human endeavor and aspiration – of hope.

Such a reality negates the very purpose of the imperative of memory. It is a surrender to luck at best, to dictates of evil forces at worst. At a time of moral ambiguity in which we live, the responsibility for moral clarity is that much greater. The memory of Richard Lakin, Haviv Haim and Alon Govberg z:”l, along with that of all victims of terror around the world, is our imperative.

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.