The Sound of Silence

In the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris, social media in general and Facebook in particular were abuzz. Facebook became a focal point for tributes to those that were killed, as well as a place to show solidarity with France. One of the most visual forms of this was the filter showing the French flag that was added by thousands of Facebook members, including founder Mark Zuckerberg. Criticism of these visual responses ensued without delay. In a nutshell, the underlying message was that the current state of the world requires much more than the change of profile pictures.

As a pragmatist, the first question that beckons is what the world does need from its’ citizens. The global threat of terror has viciously manipulated all of the strengths of democracy into inadequacies; all of the powers of freedom into weaknesses. The second question that beckons is what the citizens of the world are willing to do, as individuals and as a collective, in the face of these inconceivable, yet all too real, challenges.

I have written in the past that Israel is only the canary in the coal shaft. I have expressed the view that Israel can in fact offer significant insights in addressing the shared challenges for those willing to listen. The underhanded differentiation of Israel from her democratic sisters has been so successful that there are many quoting irrelevant or false statements in perpetuating the sense that Israel is not a part of ‘us’, whoever that may be. The UN has become a Machiavellian stage, in which the worlds’ largest human rights offenders regularly hold one, and only one, country to account, systemically and systematically placing it in the docket of the accused. The charade goes on, day after day.

Incitement of school-aged children in schools and camps has become the norm. Those inciting are not held to account and the power of their words dismissed as unimportant. Reputable academic institutions boycott Israeli academics and stand helpless in the face of disruptive student groups that do not even permit conversations to begin, in the name of academic freedom. Large corporations surrender to pressures to boycott Israel economically, severing ties and removing products off their shelves. Even if they return them and issue apologies, the damage is done. Words and actions DO have meaning and their damage is cumulative.

The power of our words and deeds and their reverberation in our global reality is exponentially multiplied. The touching and emotional moment of silence honoring Ezra Schwartz z”l was poignant and moving. Others still were pained by the fact that even in this context, the word ‘Israel’ was not iterated in the citing of ‘terrorist attacks in far off lands’.

In this reality, it seems that whatever word or gesture each one of us can offer holds the power to shift the balance, at the very least to level the playing field. It cannot be that all of this silence, this comfortably numb state that we seem to be in, is meant to corroborate the accusation that Israel is the source of all evil.

It does not matter if you are Jewish or not; young or old; fair or dark-skinned; left or right; religious or secular; male or female; gay or straight. If citizens of the free and democratic world are to address the common challenges ahead, we simply cannot allow the narrative to be overtaken for any reason, be it apathy, fear or perceived differences. We cannot allow the post-modern era to blur age-old, clear demarcations of morality. Though there are 64 shades of gray that we will, and should, cherish and fight to uphold no matter which one we ourselves see, at the extremities there is black and there is white. No matter your politics and beliefs, Israel, like every other democracy, is neither.

In order to address the challenge of terrorism, there must be a clear definition and the understanding of what it is. Prof. Boaz Ganor defines terrorism as “the deliberate use of violence against civilian targets for political purposes.” In the black-white analysis, you need not be a homeland security specialist in order to understand that what happened in Paris qualifies as terrorism under such definition. So too, have the heinous acts of stabbing, car ramming and shooting that have taken place in Israel in the last weeks and months. Note that the definition does not excuse such behavior if the perpetrator is ‘frustrated’, for any reason at all.

Apply that definition to the State of Israel, if you will. If you are not certain of your opinion, please read credible sources, inform yourself in discussion, come and visit and form your OWN opinion. You can also try to visit Syria, Iran or any of the other countries accusing Israel daily at the UN. At the very least, the black and white at the extremities of the spectrum will likely become clear. That does not take away from the validity of all of the 64 shades of gray in between, in fact, much of life is all about the movement along that spectrum, but this is about the clear extremities, the black and the white.

Not naming Israel as a democratic state being threatened and targeted by terrorism ultimately does a disservice to all other free and democratic states. As in so many other situations before, it is merely the beginning of the decay of legitimacy of the shared values of all countries that cherish freedom and democracy. Once again, Israel is only the canary in the coal shaft.

Whether you choose to speak up or act by adding a Facebook filter showing the Israeli flag or flying one in your yard; whether you begin to engage in discussion of Israel with colleagues or on social media; the effect is critical. Add your voice, your willingness to utter the word Israel, to the discourse of returning it to its’ rightful, legitimate place, amongst the world’s democracies. Every single word or gesture can make a difference.

One final, daunting thought and hopefully, a call to action, best expressed by Simon and Garfunkel:

Hello darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again; Because a vision softly creeping; Left its seeds while I was sleeping; And the vision that was planted in my brain; Still remains; Within the sound of silence.

In restless dreams I walked alone; Narrow streets of cobblestone; ‘Neath the halo of a street lamp; I turned my collar to the cold and damp; When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light; That split the night; And touched the sound of silence.

And in the naked light I saw; Ten thousand people, maybe more; People talking without speaking; People hearing without listening; People writing songs that voices never share; And no one dared; Disturb the sound of silence.

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know; Silence like a cancer grows; Hear my words that I might teach you; Take my arms that I might reach you”; But my words, like silent raindrops fell; And echoed In the wells of silence.

And the people bowed and prayed; To the neon god they made; And the sign flashed out its warning; In the words that it was forming; And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls; And tenement halls”; And whispered in the sounds of silence.

About the Author
Adv. Michal Cotler-Wunsh is a PhD candidate in Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, researching the topic of free speech. She is a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at IDC Herzliya and a board member of Tzav Pius.