Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
"If you stay silent now, you and your father's house will disappear." What Mordechai said to Esther is just as true today....
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"If you stay silent now, you and your father's house will disappear." What Mordechai said to Esther is just as true today....

Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s special envoy for combating antisemitism, has taken on a daunting task. Can we succeed? When we hear her passion, it's hard not to believe it's worth the try.
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Transcript

No transcript...

We’ll get to our conversation with Michal Cotler-Wunsh just below. First, though, the “green wedding dress” we mentioned last week, and then a quick summary of this week’s posts for those who might have missed some. Then on to Israel’s Special Envoy for Combatting Antisemitism.

What’s with the green wedding dress?

Last week, we posted this photo of the bride and groom. Here’s the Facebook post that explains:

Jordan and Gal had planned to get married on 12.14, but like many other couples, on the seventh of October everything changed; Jordan was called up to the reserves and Gal, a civilian working for the IDF (originally from Sha’ar HaNegev in the Gaza Envelope), also enlisted in war.

As time passed, Jordan and Gal realized that the wedding would not be able to take place as they’d planned, but were determined not to delay it. So they got married at the Zikim army base. With the entire country mobilized, Yarden said, it felt to her that her wedding dress ought to somehow represent their being part of the war effort. (The groom even mustered up a clean undershirt for the wedding ….)

As Gal put it, “here, near the place where life ended... here Yarden and I are building a new beginning. Despite all the challenges of the moment, I think doing it this way was significant …”

Photos from the Facebook posting linked above

SUNDAY (2/18):  We began the week with a podcast with Danny Brom, the head of Meitiv and one of Israel’s leading trauma and PTSD experts on how deeply Israel will—and will not—be facing trauma as a society. This podcast is accessible to everyone.

MONDAY (2/19):  A new video is making its way around Israel, with a new look at the Nova music festival at which hundreds of young Israeli people were murdered. It’s a powerful video, with much footage that hasn’t been seen before. We added subtitles for our readers.

TUESDAY (2/20):  The last of the reserve units that first went into Gaza are now being pulled out, and Israeli news carried out a fascinating interview with some members of one of the very first to go in—and the last to come out. The soldiers had some powerful messages for Israeli society, which we thought it important to share.

WEDNESDAY (2/21):  We ran the second half of our interview with Ari Harow, author of the new book, My Brother’s Keeper, and once a close political advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu. Harow has great respect for Bibi as a leader and statesman, but some very surprising things to day about what he thinks Bibi SHOULD do now on the political front versus what he thinks Bibi WILL do. We posted an excerpt for everyone, and the full conversation with a transcript for paid subscribers.

THURSDAY (2/22): We covered the issue of drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the army. Even among the religious non-Haredi population, patience has run out. We showed a mix of articles, some politics ads and memes making their way across Israeli social media showing how attitudes have shifted and are continuing to move … even among the religious right.

FRIDAY (2/23):  Finally, today, we close out the week with a podcast, available to everyone, with Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s Special Envoy for Combatting Anti-Semitism. She has taken on an enormous and daunting task, so Cotler-Wunsh outlines her strategy.


Photo: Courtesy

Michal Cotler-Wunsh is Israel’s special envoy for combating anti-Semitism. She is a lawyer and conflict-resolution expert by trade. Prior to her role as special envoy, Michal was a member of Knesset serving in Moshe Ya’alon’s party Telem and later Benny Gantz’s party Blue and White, where she co-founded the Interparliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.

She received her LL.B. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and her LL.M. from McGill University in Canada.

We’ve had the honor and privilege of having Michal on Israel from the Inside twice before. You can list to those previous conversations here and here.

You can access the recording of today’s conversation through the link at the very top of this page; a machine-generated transcript follows below …


If you’d like more background about Michal Cotler-Wunsh and her work in combatting anti-Semitism, take a look at this column in Jewish Insider.


Israelis are facing an unfolding crisis, but also an important opportunity to rebuild. If you would like to share our conversation about what they are feeling and what is happening that the English press can’t cover, please subscribe today.


Michal, first of all, thank you very much once again for coming back to the podcast of Israel from the Inside. You probably recall, and some of our listeners will perhaps recall that the last time you and I spoke it was about judicial reform. And you and I didn't completely agree. I don't think we were at opposite sides, but we were certainly not exactly aligned, which I thought was great. I mean, what we really try to do here is bring people from all walks of life, whether I happen to agree with them or not, is basically incidental to our purpose of trying to give people a sense of the wide array of opinions that make up Israeli society.

But since then, since you and I spoke about judicial reform, of blessed memory, I think, but I don't know. Your life has changed dramatically, and you now have a very, very important role which the prime minister appointed you to. And basically, you are now Israel's special envoy for fighting anti-Semitism. So, what I'd love for you to tell our listeners, first of all, is how did this come to be? You're not a Likud person. You were a Blue and White person for a while, but Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed you. So that's, of course, very interesting. And then you have a little bit of a challenge fighting anti-Semitism post October 7th.

So, I'd love to hear about what the strategy is. I mean, how do Jews fight anti-Semitism? How does Israel fight anti-Semitism? But first of all, let's start by having you tell us how this whole thing came to unfold.

So first of all, thank you very much, Daniel, for having me on again. And I'll say, I'm not sure if our disagreement was on content, but it was on timing. So the existential nature of the conversation that we should have been having from my perspective, both as legislator, as academician, as a professional, in the sort of sense of the tsunami that was heading our way, was what actually, in many ways, I would say informed my, including in our podcast, but my opinions on many things throughout the last several years and my activities and actually leads directly into, well, the appointment in the role of Israel's special envoy for combating anti-Semitism. And I'll say it's a foreign ministry appointment, actually. It's important to note, and I'll share why it's important to note in a moment. And not only was my appointment just literally three weeks before 10-7, or before war was waged, but in many ways it was a continuum of what I have done for a long time in multiple fronts that I believe intersected on 10-7 and exposed the existential nature of the moment that we are in, historically speaking, not just for the Jewish people, not just for the state of Israel, but I would argue, for the foundations of democracies, which I think actually continues our conversation at the time.

Absolutely. This is a moment in which the West is being tested, not just Israel.

That's right. That's right. And in fact, for those of us that have been monitoring and in the space of anti-Semitism, whether it is from the perspective of the weaponization and co-opting of international law and institutions, international institutions. Now we all see UNRWA, the UN itself, the High court of Justice, and the Hague, excuse me, the International Court of Justice in the Hague. We see that weaponization of international law, principles, mechanisms for the demonization, the delegitimization, and the application of double standards to the proverbial Jew among the nations. That is visible up front for everybody. We see not only in the atrocities, the war crimes, the crimes against humanity perpetrated on 10-7, but in the responses to those atrocities, including in university campuses, the challenge to academic institutions, certainly of higher learning, but I would argue academic institutions and education in general. And we see what happens on social media because it is the first time, and we would be remiss if we did not pay attention to the fact that this is happening in an all-new reality for humanity. And that is the reality of social media platforms and the intersection of those three, I'm going to call them battlefronts that have been raging for decades and in many ways intersected on 10-7, and in the responses to 10-7 that are silent, that deny, that justify, that support Hamas, a genocidal terror organization, and that attack Jews around the world in the wake of the atrocities perpetrated on 10-7.

In many ways, that is the urgency with which we meet this existential moment vis-à-vis this specific role Israel's special envoy for combating anti-Semitism. It's important to note I am the second special envoy that Israel has appointed, but I am a member of a coalition of about 30 special envoys from around the world for combating anti-Semitism, many of them appointed in a Foreign Ministry sort of capacity or State Department capacity in relation to the United States. And the understanding that in those roles that have existed in the many countries that appointed this role before Israel did, there is an infrastructure of an advisory and consulting role, whether it is to senior leadership, decision makers, government, and so on.


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So, would your parallel in the United States be Deborah Lipstadt?

Precisely.

So, she is a State Department employee, technically, right?

That's right. It's important to note for all of our listeners and certainly our American listeners, that the mandate of the special envoy for combating anti-Semitism, monitoring and combating anti-Semitism in the United States, actually her mandate is everywhere outside of the United States because it is a State Department appointment…

And you're presumably working on anti-Semitism outside of Israel. So, in that regard it is parallel, I mean there is some anti-Semitism in Israel, I guess, depending on how you define it. But you're also working on an international canvas, just like she is in theory.

But let's come to you. And I want to actually cut to the chase with an edgy question. Anti-Semitism has been around for a very long time. You and I both know that what we're witnessing in the world now is not happening because of the war with Hamas. The explosion on October 7th and thereafter gave people an excuse to come out and do whatever. But these are hatreds and animosities that have existed for a very long time. And in the modern world because of the diversity and inclusion stuff in the United States and elsewhere, this has been brewing for a very long time. My question to you is, you are obviously inordinately talented, very articulate, deeply committed, and even if you had a full team of unlimited people, what can the Jewish state, or what can the Jewish people do to effectively combat anti-Semitism when we've been unable to snuff it out, even in supposedly enlightened societies like the United States?

So, I want to say very clearly, just like any group or minority that is the subject of hatred, bigotry, or racism, Jews and their nation state, Israel will not be able to combat this alone. Let it be very, very clear. No group is able, or the subject of hatred is able to combat it on its own. In fact, that's counterintuitive to the understanding of what bigotry, racism, and that kind of hatred, precisely what it looks like.

So, the NAACP in the United States needed allies, right? The NAACP could not have fought racism in the United States by itself. It needed lots of people in the white part of the United States to see them as allies and to do their work. Now, by the way, people in the NAACP would tell you that racism still thrives in parts of the United States, tragically. So, one can ask about how we can overcome any of these bigotries. Okay, so you need allies. It's not just the Jewish state. It's not just the Jewish people. Go ahead.

Well, I'll make very clear, and we've been throwing around the word anti-Semitism a lot, so I think we should actually be very clear. There is a definition for anti-Semitism, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, that is the result of a very long democratic process that's been adopted by more than 40 countries, by more than 1200 entities. And it is critical that we utilize this working definition. It is a resource that enables to identify and combat anti-Semitism, if that is our goal. It is my goal. And it is the single most important benchmark, not only in the anti-Semitism, that it was on the increase, on the rise. That's why there are special envoys for combating anti-Semitism around the world. It was on the rise before 10-7, but in the tsunami of anti-Semitism in hundreds of percentages around the world. Post 10-7, or in response, unfathomably to some who haven't been in this field for long enough, in response to 10-7, the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism has become only that much more critical if we are to be able to identify and combat all strains of an ever-mutating virus, which anti-Semitism is. It has survived for thousands of years by mutating.

And our current strain of anti-Semitism, as clearly sort of exposed in the responses to 10-7, is anti-Zionism, or the negation of Israel's very right to exist. 10-7 was not about land. It was not about peace. It was about Israel's very existence, if you will, 1948 and not 1967. And just to say in order to be able to uphold the commitment to combat the continued strains of anti-Semitism, we have to be able to define them. And in order to be able to define them, we have to be able to use the most comprehensive definition that was created actually, and I'll share a little bit after, why it was created, but was created precisely with a recognition that we were facing this new strain that weaponized international law, its institutions, its mechanisms and its values.

Okay, so that's what I wanted to ask you. Tell us about this particular definition. What is the IHRA definition of anti- Semitism? It was controversial. It was not obvious that all the states that signed on would sign on. Some have signed on that were hemming and hawing for a while. But tell us what the definition is and more about why this particular definition matters so much.

So maybe I'll start a little bit, just with a bit of a sort of analysis in terms of how we got here or how I think we got here when I analyze it. Look, Jews, a prototypical indigenous people, returned to our nation state, the state of Israel, after thousands of years of exile, persecution actually enabled by our statelessness. We returned to that nation state 75 years ago. And from the moment of that return, or the modern Israel, there were a series of conventional wars, as we know, actually intended to annihilate the state of Israel, failing to do so. I would say that after the failure of the Yom Kippur War, and that's how far back we go, there was an unconventional war that was waged actually with the same purpose, to annihilate, to destroy the state of Israel, to remove it completely. And that is, the 1975 Zionism as the Zionism is racism resolution passed in the UN is sort of a manifestation of that. Right. If Zionism is racism, that enabled the return of that indigenous people to our ancestral homeland after millennia of exile and persecution. Well, if Zionism is racism, we know very well that in today's world, saying that you are a racist does not afford you any protection. Zionism is racism, 1975 Soviet propaganda passed in the UN in 1975 is alive and well in the name of so-called progress on every 2024 university campus.

When I come to speak about anti-Semitism, I am met with responses of anti-Zionism from, or a sort of reminder of that moment of Zionism libelously being attributed the synonymous sort of comparison with racism. The next sort of milestone that I'll sort of maybe note in this unconventional war for public opinion that has been raging for decades is the 2001 Durban Conference against racism in Durban, South Africa, none other, which turned into an anti-Semitic hate fest and actually ever since, has sort of resulted in the next blood libel, Israel's an apartheid state, peddled on every university campus with Israel, apartheid weeks, as we know, across North America every single year.

So, we now have 23 years of university graduates that know, as far as they're concerned, that Zionism is racism and Israel is an apartheid state. And I'll say in that context, the 2001 Durban Conference Against Racism that enabled those human rights organizations to see that their life's mission and commitment was utilized, weaponized, co-opted, in order to demonize, delegitimize, and apply double standards to the state of Israel is actually what created the process for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. As I said, a democratic process. It took a long time, and it was adopted finally, years later, not so many years but years later. And in that sense, that is what enabled the understanding of a comprehensive, or the necessity of a comprehensive definition that I'll dig into in a moment. But I want to say the last milestone, as far as I'm concerned, that is the most dangerous, and we're living through it right now. The inverted, or, if you will, the Orwellian inversion of fact and of law in accusing the state of Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, of genocide, weaponizing genocide itself in the 75th Anniversary of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide. Genocide, a term coined by Raphael Lemkin in order to describe the atrocities of the Holocaust. Too terrible to imagine, but not too terrible to have happened, even as we are defending ourselves from a genocidal terror organization that perpetrated the worst atrocities that the Jewish people have experienced since the Holocaust. Therefore, self-defense of Jews, regarded as genocide is a whole new Orwellian inversion which we are living through right now, as we know in the International Court of Justice. That obviously, that allegation made by none other than South Africa. And rather than immediately responding to South Africa by making it very clear that this was not only an Orwellian inversion of fact and of law, but actually an abuse of their privilege as a member state, including in this convention, we know that we are now under what we understand to be some sort of supervising eye that will assess whether the state of Israel is perpetrating genocide, even as it protects itself from genocidal terror organizations committed in their charter, to the annihilation of the state of Israel, to the murder of Jews like Mein Kampf, and so on and so on.

So, we have three milestones. ‘75 is the United Nations vote on Zionism as racism. 2001 is the anti-racism conference of the UN. By the way, subsequent UN conferences on women's rights also turned into anti-Jewish fests also. But 2001, Durban, we have that conference which turns into an anti-Israel, Israel is an apartheid state. So, first Israel is racist, then Israel's apartheid, and now Israel's genocidal. Just because I want to make sure that we get everything in while we have time. Tell us what the definition is first, and then why this particular, I was going to say nusach, but I don't know how to say that in English. But why this particular phrasing of the definition is so particularly important?

So, I'll say, first of all, it's a working definition, and it's important to me to note that because even the countries that adopted it and entities that adopted it adopted it as a working definition. What that means, and I often say to people, it's not legally binding. There is no reason to be afraid of adopting and utilizing the definition in order to identify and combat anti-Semitism. It's an educational resource. That's what it was intended to be. And part of the reason, or at least the way I explain it to myself, that it's a working definition, is what I said before. Anti-Semitism is the oldest hatred in the world. It has survived by mutating, actually by latching onto the guiding social construct of the time, if you will, religion, science, the secular religion of our times, human rights or social justice. In that sense, I anticipate, and I say this devastatingly, that anti-Semitism or Jew hatred will mutate once again. And if we will have this conversation in 50 years, then I will say to you, the working definition, the IHRA has to add another example of the way that anti-Semitism manifests now, 50 years from now.

And that is a very important piece to understand, because what the IHRA provides is the ability to comprehensively identify all strains, till now, till 2024, that exist, of anti-Semitism as a virus. We understand, post Covid, that when we have viruses, the fact that we inoculate an entire society against the initial strain, if you will, of the virus will not protect our societies, our spaces, our communities from new strains of the virus. By the way, it also means that the older strains of the virus don't disappear. We all understand that post Covid. So it is with a virus that is Jew hatred that we term anti-Semitism. It's important for me to use the word anti-Semitism because that's how the IHRA defines.

So, what's the definition?

First of all, it's an entire page definition. And I really, really would ask if you can even share, following or attached to our podcast, the link to the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism. Not just what's in the neat little box, a certain perception of Jews, but the examples. And the reason that it is critical is that the examples enable us, for example, to identify that Holocaust denial is one strain of anti-Semitism that attributes a certain perception to the individual Jew. So is the blaming of an individual Jew for what the state of Israel does. That's another example. And critically, not only leading up to 10-7, but in the responses to 10-7, and everything that I've said up to now is the importance of the three Ds. Natan Sharansky's three Ds, the demonization, the delegitimization, and the double standards against the state of Israel. And those are unique to the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism. 10-7 and the responses to 10-7 make clear that those are the only way that we will be able to identify this strain of an ever-mutating virus, the modern mainstream strain, if you will, that I called anti-Zionism before, or the negation of Israel's very right to exist. And the only way to be able to do that is with the three Ds, the demonization, the delegitimization, the double standards. What I'll say about that is that those three Ds explain not just how hate mutates with regards to Jews. We have to understand if traditional anti-Semitism, if you will, demonized, delegitimized, and applied double standards to the individual Jew, barring him or her from an equal place in society. What has happened is the morphing, using the same mechanism, those three Ds of the demonization and the delegitimization, and the double standards of the proverbial Jew among the nations and the state of Israel, of course.

And the importance of understanding that, and the importance of being able to identify and combat that, is critical precisely because of something you mentioned before. For example, with regards to university spaces, I won't talk about the international institutions, though they are very important, and this is relevant there too. The university spaces you mentioned, the DEI infrastructure, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Almost every university today in the world posts this sort of process of regulating speech on campus and creating speech codes, has a DEI infrastructure. So do many corporations. By the way, so do social media platforms. The understanding that any infrastructure created to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion, and we can have a discussion about whether that's a good infrastructure or not a good infrastructure. So long as it exists, we have to be clear that selective application of whatever principle it is, diversity, equity, and inclusion, or any other principles that are meant to ensure the equal opportunity for all in our campus or in our whatever space workspace that we're in. The inconsistent application of any principle or double standards in the application of principles undermine the entire infrastructure. You cannot have a rule and apply it selectively and hope it holds up for another individual, another minority, another collective, or another country. If you are consistently applying it with double standard, it collapses the entire infrastructure. That's true for the international mechanisms. I spoke before about the ICJ. It is a horrible moment. It is the ICJ that's on trial. It is democratic countries that are on trial. As we sit through this trial, because if we lose the infrastructure that was created to uphold, promote and protect equal and consistent application of the international rules-based order post World War II, it won't be relevant for anybody.

That's the thing with double standards. That's true in the international institutions. That's true in the university spaces. If Zionists, and that's why it's important that I go back to something that you said before. Zionism is racism is not just Israel is racist. It is that I, as an individual, if I self-define as a Zionist, by the way, whether I'm a Jew or a Jew, am a racist. If a Zionist is a racist, then he or she does not deserve protection under the DEI infrastructure. You see where I'm going with that? And so that it became an illegitimate identity.

By the way, I just want to point out, you've used this phrase, which I think is a fabulous phrase. You said something about the Jewish state was sort of becoming something about the way the Jew had been before or something like that. This goes back, by the way. I think it was actually to 75. It was either ‘75 or 2001 when a Hebrew university professor, J. L. Talmon, he wrote that the state of the Jews had become the Jew of the states, which was actually a fabulous phrase, which you're alluding to here. But just I think we should tell, give our listeners a chance to sort of let that sink in. The state of the Jews had become the Jew of the states. So, if in pre-Israel history, the Jew was the outsider, always held to a different standard, always abused in Europe, abused in the Levant, and we want to be very careful not to be only Ashkenazi centric, but to be worldwide. Israel has now just got that role that the Jew used to have. I mean, you're making this point, but I just want to kind of take the J.L. Talmon point. The state of the Jews have become the Jew of the states, and so we're being held to account for genocide. But North Korea was not, China is not. Russia was sort of held account a little bit about Ukraine but ignored it entirely.

So, your point is incredibly well taken, that something pernicious is happening here across the world. And what's at stake is not just Israel and the Jews, but what's at stake is the freedoms that the West has stood for. And if the West cannot stand for the right thing, which it doesn't look, frankly like it can, but okay, then what's at risk is not you and me and not the country that you and I call home. What's at risk is the West as the place where we grew up, the world as we knew it.

So, here's what I want to ask you as the special envoy of the Jewish state fighting anti-Semitism, what can we really do? I mean, really, what kind of impact can we have? This hatred, as you say, it's a virus. It morphs, it changes. It's been around forever. And you use the Covid analogy, let's just say Covid is going to be here forever. We can vaccinate perhaps a little better and there'll be worse times when we go back to masks, I guess, but Covid's never going away, probably.

What can we do to really change the travesty of what happened at the Hague? Or what can we do to change the travesty that the United Nations, which is so believing of women victims of sexual violence as it should be, took so long to take the reports of sexual violence on Israeli women…it was an abomination what they did. Or the instinct of the spokesperson for the White House. I mean, we all, let's just say regardless of what our politics are, Democrat, Republican, independent, makes no difference. I think everybody would agree that Joe Biden, in terms of his soul, showed himself to be a deep, true friend of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. He just gets credit for that, no matter what else one might want to pick at. But when Karine Jean Pierre says, a few days after, and I know you were meeting with the second gentleman as she made that comment, you know, we're not aware of any increase in anti- Semitism, but we're very aware of the problem of Islamophobia. Like, really? So, you have a world which is so twisted. So, what are we going to do to fight it? What can you and your colleagues actually, as we say in Israel, b’tachles, bottom line, what are we going to change?

So, I want to say something really important about this because I think that we are at a profound historic moment in the history of the Jewish people. So, I'm going to say something which is going to sound crazy after or not even after we're in the midst of and as some of your listeners probably know, it's been an ongoing day since 10-7, many of us have buried more of our friends kids and more of our kids friends than we've even begun to process. And it's just never ending. So, I preface that because what I'm about to say maybe won't make sense to some of you. But I will say that as a people, we have never had it so good when we have it so bad. And I'll say what I mean by that.

2024 is not 1944. 2024 is a year in which we have a country, we have sovereignty, we have a defense force in which half of us as a people live, and we have another half of us that live in relative safety and security in the rest of the world. And as a people, we are more capable than we perhaps have ever been, and I would say more responsible than perhaps we have ever been to ensure that we transcend and reach across differences of politics, of religion, of denomination, of geography, in order to be able to make accessible what we said before. And that is that identifying and combating anti-Semitism is not just in the interest of the state of Israel or the Jewish people. The ability of anti-Semitism to infect societies, places, and spaces in the way that it does and in the way that it's proven that it has, including in the United States, actually is a warning signal for the societies, places and spaces in which anti-Semitism is thriving. We know that, and history teaches us plenty that where we may be the bloody canary in the mineshaft, the mineshaft will collapse. In that sense that proverbial, what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews, is true at this moment, and not but, and we have the ability and the responsibility to sound that voice to be, if you will, the boots on the ground in the multi-fronts or the multidimensional war that is raging, some of it raging right here on Israel's borders, and other of it, that unconventional war for public opinion that we described, that's been raging for decades. We started in 1975, we're in 2024, raging for decades. Well, we have boots on the ground, not just Jews, but all who identify with, or even just accept the right of the state of Israel to exist as an equal member in the family of nations, as the Jew among the nations that deserves precisely not more and not less the same application of principles that we give to all other countries.

But huge swaths of faculties on American universities and huge swaths of American university students who are not stupid, I mean, they have high IQs and some of them are very educated. They don't agree with you. They don't agree that the mind is going to collapse if they are fundamentally anti-Semitic, because what they're going to say is what they are doing by protesting pro-Hamas, is they are protecting a downtrodden people. This is the powerful versus the powerless. This is the white versus the dark. This is all sorts of different things. So, I agree with you, but they don't think the mine is going to collapse. And my question is, forget the three presidents who went to Congress. They've been spoken about enough. There's a whole swath of thousands and thousands and thousands of faculty people out there who think of themselves as good people and don't think of themselves as racists or anti-Semites, but really do believe that Israel was born in sin and lives in sin and is sinful. These are people with PhDs, these are people with long CVs of publications, et cetera. You're going to be able to convince them that if they don't stop this, that the mind is going to collapse?

So that's where, when we spoke about allyship before, it's so important. I don't think that I will be able to convince them alone. This is actually a symptom of what threatens the foundations of American democracy. What you've just described, the sort of division of the world between oppressed and oppressor, and Jews, by the way, we are not white, right? We are a prototypical indigenous people. The fact that our indigeneity has been stripped from us is part of the co-opting and weaponization of concepts, of words, of mechanisms that disenable me from self-identifying in an age where everybody gets to self-identify as who they are, but I don't get to self-identify as a Zionist. And you are right that that threatens university campuses and what happened post 10-7 and it's not about the university presidents at all, actually. It's about the systemic and systematic inculcation of, I'll say, ideologies that question whether universities are actually fulfilling their mission to teach people how to think. Assuming that's what you go to university for, to learn how to think, how to think critically. And I think, and I have said this to university presidents and provosts and chancellors, that the post 10-7 responses on whatever campus, forget anti- Semitism, forget the Jews that are afraid in their campuses and hiding away at the background, or myself that has to be snuck out from a lecture at Stanford University while the chants actually make clear that the intention is to annihilate the state of Israel from the river to the sea, from the north to the south and we don't want no two states, we want all of ’48, which makes clear precisely what the goal is, actually completely the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism right there, alive and well. But that is not the issue, the only issue that universities should be concerning themselves with. I in many ways think that this is a moment of reckoning for the university spaces themselves to acknowledge and recognize that there is a problem in university spaces, that there are students that are unwilling to entertain exactly what you just said. They are unwilling to entertain facts. They are unwilling to entertain ideas with which they disagree. So if I come to speak about anti-Semitism and the protests against me are anti-Zionism, alleging all kinds of things about me as an ethnic cleansing, genocidal baby killer on the entire map of Israel, and I invite a third year law student into my talk and say you know you're in third year law next year you may have a client with whom you disagree, you should actually come into my talk. I'm going to address some of these points. And you have students that are unwilling to enter that conversation. That is a much larger problem than Israel, than Jews, than anti- Semitism. It is a problem for higher education and I'm going to say for lower education as well in terms of what it is that we're preparing students as individuals to be able to continue in the pursuit of knowledge for the advance of humanity frankly….

Do you think that you and all your allies, I mean when I keep saying you, I mean, I don't want it to sound like I mean you Michal Cotler-Wunsh, or even you as the Israeli you know force aligned against this, or even you and Deborah Lipstadt and all the special envoys across the world. I want to take your definition. You and all of the allies that we have, and we do have allies. We have lots of allies. How optimistic are you… you said that you and I should have this conversation in 50 years. You're very optimistic about me. It's not happening. I guess maybe you. There's a shot.

But seriously, let's not take 50 years. Let's take 25 years from now. How optimistic are you that if my grandchild, I have a granddaughter who's about one year old, lives in the states. So, let's say, let's take less, which means she's 18 or 19, 17 or 18 years from now and she goes to a hopefully good college in America. How optimistic are you that she's not going to confront, forgive my French, all the bullshit that she'd have to confront right now, which frankly makes me not want to go onto university campuses. I now turn down every single invitation to speak on a university campus. It's just not worth it. It's just not worth the heartache and the high blood pressure and it doesn't do any good, to me, at least. How optimistic are you that my granddaughter is not going to confront this same stuff 17-18 years from now?

So, forgive me if I quote the late Rabbi Sachs here, and I differentiate like him or learn from him and his differentiation between optimism and hope. If you've heard this before, then forgive me.

No, he's amazing. So go ahead and quote him. He's always worth learning from.

So, his differentiation between optimism and hope is as follows. Optimism is the belief that everything will be okay, whereas hope is the belief that together we can make it okay. In that sense, optimism is a very passive virtue and hope is a very active one. And it takes not very much courage to be an optimist, but a great deal of courage to have hope. And I remind us all that our national anthem is Hatikva. It is hope that has kept the Jewish people alive for thousands of years, when we have faced atrocities, when we have faced the devastation of what the Jewish people faced, including in the Holocaust. And I remind us in this context that the state of Israel does not exist because the Holocaust occurred. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. The Holocaust could not have occurred had the state of Israel existed. And if we needed a poignant reminder of that, it is 10-7 in which those that perpetrated it made sure we understand that their intention is to perpetrate a million 10-7s, actually especially eliciting that intergenerational trauma, they used precisely what they knew was our memory, because that is what kept us alive for so many years, is memory. And the understanding that the connection between the past and our future is only enabled if we continue to hope.

So, who am I sitting here in this incredible time of everything that we have to not do everything that I can to ensure that your granddaughter doesn't have to even contemplate not going onto campuses, not going to great universities. And that is what keeps me up every morning. And, you know, we're about to enter into the next chag that we will mark. It's hard to say celebrate these days is Purim. And I can't not reflect on the Purim story exactly at moments like this, in that first time that ancient Persia tried to actually perpetrate a genocide against our people, the Jews. And we know that Mordechai said what he said to Esther and she called for the Jewish people, the first thing that she asked is “knosset kol hayehudim”, unite the Jews. So that is definitely the first step. And we spoke a little bit about this, about the importance, the imperative for unity and for claiming our identity, our indigeneity, and our Zionist identity in that sense, because I can't just shed the Zionist bound of flesh.

But then he says, Mordechai says something very important to Esther that actually gets me on a plane every time I do go and onto campuses every time I'm invited. He says to her, im haharesh taharisi baet hazot revah veatzalah yamod le’yehudim mimakom acher veat v’beit avich tobedu”. If you will be silent at this moment, then salvation will come to the Jewish people from somewhere else, and you and your father's home will disappear. And that is what guides me through this very trying time. And I don't want to sound like I'm minimizing it, not even a little bit. I just think in that sense, that hope is that action and courage that demands we expose those that are using false moral ambiguity as the mechanism and double standards as the vehicle and the demonization and the delegitimization that allows people to rip down posters of a ten-month-old, now one year old baby still in Hamas captivity in the dungeons of hell, enabled by none other than human rights organizations like UNRWA, and we have this critical moment of responsibility that is a call to action and to your listeners in which we are each boots on the ground at this critical moment with capability of affecting change in our circles, whether it's in workplaces, in university spaces, in Congress, in the hallways of decision makers. This is our call to action. This is the call or the moment of our generation to lean in. And as I said, we've never had it so good when we have it so bad. So how can we desist from doing so in thinking about our great grandparents and about our great grandchildren?

That's beautifully said. Since you quoted the book of Esther, I'll just sort of litfos tremp, as we say in Hebrew, I'll catch a ride on the book of Esther also, because Mordecai says to her more than that. And then he says, “umi yodea im laet kazot higat l’malchut.” Right? Who knows? Maybe you became part of the royalty for this precise moment. And I think that your distinction between, or you're echoing Rabbi Sachs of blessed memory, his distinction between optimism and hope, and how optimism is kind of easy, and hope really requires bravery and courage. You're the embodiment of that. You really are. No, I mean that 1000% seriously. And not just to blow hot air your way. I mean, I think it takes on a day-to-day basis to go into battle as you are, against this massive worldwide, hypocritical, anti- Semitic, but much more. It's much worse than that. As you said, we see it at the Hague and we see it at the United Nations, and we see it in UNRWA and we see it everywhere we turn, that there are people like you who are actually devoting their lives to fighting this and to trying to find the right allies and to try to point out that this is not just about Israel and it's not even just about the Jews, it's about the West. It is about the whole coal mine, is critically important. And that may be why you're here at this moment.

And that may be why we're here as a Jewish people at this moment. To say to the world, every time you have ignored us, something bad or dumped on us, something bad has happened to the societies which actually created that hate. This is the moment for you, Western society, to stop. Ask yourself, what's going wrong? Why have you allowed this poison to begin coursing through your arteries and veins? And what are you going to do to change it? And with somebody as articulate as you and as passionate as you representing the Jewish state and the Jewish people in this, we have a shot. And I think you're right. This is the best of times and the worst of times.

I'll just finish by saying that I heard a really lovely story. A friend of mine told me that all these units are now getting demobilized. They may get remobilized, but tens of thousands of guys are coming out of Gaza now. And there's a whole issue, which I deal with because I work at a college, of what's it like for them to come back to the world. You get out of Gaza on Friday and on Sunday you're studying the Iliad. Or by the way, more profoundly, you get out of Gaza. And for two or three months, your wife has been managing. It's been hard, but she has a life and she's created a way of making it work with kids and with everything. And now you come in and you're exhausted and there's a lot of marital stuff going on, which is very complicated. So, the army is trying very hard to figure out how do we help these guys make this transition? And different commanders are doing different kinds of things. And one thing that a person on our podcast mentioned, but I'll mention it again, he said that one commander took his soldiers to meet a Holocaust survivor. That was how he chose to make the transition. And he sat them down and he said to the Holocaust survivor, is what we're witnessing now, another Shoah and I don’t want to condense it. But he said, no, it's not because we have you, because you could go back this time and fight. And that's what you're saying in a very different kind of a way. But it's the same message.

It's a horrible time, but it is also in the sense that we can defend ourselves both in Israel and in the world at large, really the best of times in ways that we could not begin to do in the 30s and the 40s. You're part of that defense. So I just want to thank you on behalf of all of us, for taking the time from a schedule that I know is ridiculously packed to share with us a bit of the vision of what you're trying to accomplish, the role that the government of the state of Israel sees itself having for Jews around the world, on behalf of all of us, to wish you tremendous success and to hope that the next time that we have this conversation, long before 50 years goes by, we'll be able to talk about not judicial reform and not the spread of anti-Semitism, but something much more positive in Israeli society, about which we'll have a lot to learn from you about as well. So, Michal, thank you very much once again.

So just because you said that I'm going to end with one final thought, and I hope that our next engagement or conversation will be about this incredible opportunity to renegotiate the conversation and the relationship between Israel and global Jewry. I think that's the moment that we're at. I think that part of the masks that were exposed on and post or in response to 10-7 is the critical conversation that we should be having as a people. I mentioned some of it, the reclamation of our identity and so on, and I hope that'll be our next conversation.

I share that hope. I think this is a huge opportunity for the Jewish people to rebuild some of those bridges. It's also a fraught moment because there are certain Jews who are finding the particularism that this moment calls for very difficult to embrace. But yes, there are many Jews who are reembracing particularism, which enables us to build bridges. So, let's have that conversation. Let's talk about the successes that we've had. Thank you so much once again, and I wish you and all of us b’sorot tovot a much better news in the days and weeks to come.

Thank you. B’sorot tovot.


Impossible Takes Longer is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at other booksellers.


Music credits: Medieval poem by Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gvirol. Melody and performance by Shaked Jehuda and Eyal Gesundheit. Production by Eyal Gesundheit. To view a video of their performance, see this YouTube:


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Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside is for people who want to understand Israel with nuance, who believe that Israel is neither hopelessly flawed and illegitimate, nor beyond critique. If thoughtful analysis of Israel and its people interests you, welcome!