A Q&A With Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism and a Former Member of the Knesset

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Courtesy of Michal Cotler-Wunsh

There are still currently 136 hostages being held by Hamas. There’s no question that the families of the hostages desperately want their loved ones to return home. How do you assess the current situation and how can Israel ensure that the hostages are returned safely to their families?

In the language of international law, it’s a standing violation of international law, meaning every second of every minute of every hour of every week of every month that has passed by is an additional affront to international law and an additional violation of international law … The very institutions, whether it be the Red Cross, whether it be the UN, that are mandated to condemn, to ensure, to act for the immediate and unconditional return of those who were stolen literally from their homes by a genocidal terror organization … in an affront to international law, have failed to do so … This is an international issue. There should be Western countries and all those organizations and all those institutions and all those mechanisms created to ensure that international law is upheld equally and consistently, including when there are Jews that have been the ones that have been abducted or Jewish women who are the ones that have been raped.

We know that Hamas, just like it uses its own people as human shields, sacrifices and weapons … abducted 240, and now 136 civilians, holding them in the underground terror dungeon city that they have built with international humanitarian aid. So here we have this continued theme of a violation of international law, even while receiving support from the international, legal infrastructure in the form of, for example, humanitarian aid.

When you ask me, how will Israel secure the return of these hostages, you have to know that in [the pocket of] every one of the IDF soldiers that are defending Israel and Israelis, there is a picture of one of the hostages. That is the commitment to … do what we must, which is ensure that Hamas, that actually declared the intent to commit 10/7, not once and not three times, but a million times again and again [is held responsible for its actions]. And simultaneously, that commitment that drives those soldiers is finding and returning the hostages stolen from their homes, from their families, from their communities.

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South Africa, brought a case in the International Court of Justice against Israel, accusing it of genocide. Israel has vigorously defended itself against those charges. How do you see that ICJ situation playing out?

In many ways, it is the ICJ that is currently on trial. And in many ways the ICJ will decide … if it is in fact a court of justice, as in the case of the Eichmann trial, or a court of injustice, as in the case of the Dreyfus affair. And what I mean by that, is that the very Orwellian inversion, in fact and in law, that has enabled South Africa, not only with a corrupt and inept government, but South Africa, that housed the Hamas genocidal terrorists, welcomed them just days after 10/7, and who meets regularly with leaders that perpetrate genocide as we speak … of all countries would co-opt and weaponize the international law mechanisms created … the Convention for the Prevention and the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was written in the blood and the ash of six million Jews … The preposterous, usurping, co-opting and weaponization of that convention to accuse the state of Israel, even as war crimes and crimes against humanity and the intent to commit genocide were perpetrated against Israelis on 10/7, is … an Orwellian inversion, in fact and in law, that we could not have imagined … And here we are, we’ve come full circle, and what we will see at the ICJ devastatingly may very well be the final nail in the coffin of that infrastructure that was created in order to ensure that ‘never again’ is to anybody, and so it is part of this never again is right now moment that I believe that we’re living in.

We just talked about the International Court of Justice. I want to turn a little bit to the court of public opinion. As you’ve alluded to, Israel is taking a beating, so to speak, on the global stage and in the court of public opinion from people who say that Israel’s response to the atrocities that took place on Oct. 7, is excessive, and they’re calling for a cease-fire. Israel has attempted to justify its efforts as a way of eliminating Hamas, which it considers to be an existential threat. What do you think Israel can do to address this issue and to try and improve it standing in the court of public opinion and on the global stage?

After a series of conventional wars actually failed to annihilate the state of Israel between 1948 and 1973, after the return of Jews, a prototypical indigenous people, to our ancestral homeland after millennia of exile and of persecution, we understand that there is another kind of war that could be waged, and it is precisely what you’ve just noted, the unconventional war for public opinion and it has been raging for decades … We would have to understand that what has happened actually, over time, is not only the co-opting and the weaponization of that infrastructure that I described before, to demonize to delegitimize and apply double standards, but in the aftermath of 10/7, when the worst atrocities perpetrated against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, when entire families were burned, and women were raped so badly that their legs couldn’t be straightened for burial, and people who were dancing at a peace festival were hunted down and mutilated and murdered and massacred, and when hundreds of others were abducted, as we discussed before, if that cannot be unequivocally condemned, having been perpetrated by a genocidal terror organization that declares its intent for ‘the final solution.’

We would be remiss if we did not understand that at this moment in time, if we fail to condemn 10/7 and what it showed us in that barbaric, savage perpetration of those atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity, if that can become flipped onto Israel in its self-defense ‘perpetrating genocide,’ then this is a wake-up call or a rude awakening for all democracies, in this moment, as we prosecute the wars of this genocidal intent not just to annihilate the state of Israel, but to actually destroy civilization as we have built it and build on the rubble of our civilization and alternative reality in which none of us wants to live.

It is not just about Israel … I often think about what we understand about all other forms of hatred. We would never tell anybody who is experiencing any form of bigotry or racism that they have to fight that racism or bigotry alone. They can’t … We know that what is required is that everybody fights against that form of hate. Only when it comes to antisemitism, including in its modern mutated strain that is anti-Zionism or the targeting or the barring of the very existence of a state of Israel, or of its right to exist … do we ask ourselves, how is Israel going to be able to combat antisemitism? And my answer is, there is no way Jews or Israel or Zionists … will be able to combat this scourge, this hate, alone, just like in the case of any other form of bigotry and racism.

This will require a concerted, united commitment to identify and combat all strains of an ever-mutating virus. Jew hatred is ever-mutating – it has come in all kinds of shapes and forms over the thousands of years of its mutation. And this strain of antisemitism that presented itself not only in the atrocities of 10/7, but in the responses to the atrocities of 10/7 that have been silent, that have denied, that have justified, that have supported and that have attacked Jews, for the perpetuation of these atrocities against Israel and Jews on 10/7 … If we do not acknowledge that this is not just about the nation-state of the Jewish people, or about Jews around the world that are being attacked in its wake, but in fact is an attack on our shared humanity and on our shared civilization, that Israel will not be able to tackle it alone.

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