From Search and Rescue to Recovery | Opinion

As the tragic Surfside "search and rescue" morphed into a "recovery" mission, with numbers rising and stories of victims, retrieved objects and loved ones breaking our hearts, Jews worldwide continue to mourn and reflect in the lead-up to Sunday's full fast day, Tisha B'Av.

The destruction recalled and reenacted in this period on the Jewish calendar is not simply a historic account of a religious and spiritual catastrophe of an indigenous people persecuted and exiled. It is intended to serve as both a particular and universal reminder, internalizing lessons of the past in order to identify threats in the present and avert tragedies of the future.

On these somber days of memory and reminder, with the Surfside search and rescue-turned-recovery as a backdrop, it appears we are at the epicenter of a perfect storm. We face an intersection of evolving global and local processes, requiring an operation to be conducted in quick-sand terrain of uncertainty and danger, with careful and creative consideration and evaluation of methods.

Israel, and the Jewish people worldwide, face myriad challenges. Many "celebrated" the 2001 Durban Conference "against racism," a hate-fest of incitement and discrimination that weaponized international law and human rights. Weaponizing institutions mandated to uphold, promote and protect foundational principles, consequences can be dire—not only for the Jewish people in Israel and around the world, but for the shared advancement of the common good.

Gnawing away at the foundations upon which the rules-based international order was constructed in the aftermath of World War II, the all-too-frequent result is a quick-sand of instability and uncertainty. The crumbling of this infrastructure, chiseled away by constant singling out of one country, the Jew among the family of nations, and by consistent double standards, endangers not only Israel, but the entire overarching edifice.

Alongside tremendous challenges, the hope that we are compelled to harbor is, to paraphrase the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z"l, an active and courageous belief that we must make things better. We must identify momentous opportunities, and champion and advance them. The heinous, mainstreamed anti-Semitism that has exploded, on social media platforms and on the streets, exposes the imperative to recognize that anti-Israel rancor is but a form of anti-Semitism—and that anti-Semitism, in turn, is but a form of disinformation. And disinformation, in turn, threatens the very foundations of democracy.

 Members of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF)
Members of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) National Rescue Unit hold the Flag of Israel during a send off by members of the Surfside community on July 10, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Efforts to divide and conquer have been exposed, for those paying attention, highlighting the importance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) consensus definition for anti-Semitism, the result of a 20-year democratic process. Reality has underscored the imperative to advance its full adoption and implementation, including the "Three D's"—demonization, de-legitimization and double standards against Israel. The definition's adoption by countries, cities, sports leagues, corporations and law enforcement agencies is an important first step in addressing issues that are bound together. The opportunity to recognize the conflation of issues, and the resulting imperative to stand united and use relevant methods to identify and combat hatred, increase the likelihood of success.

The pushback against the IHRA definition from some quarters is a clear indication of its potential. It is analogous to the adverse response to the war on the Abraham Accords, which has exposed the axis of radicalism that all moderates must identify and combat. Much in the same way, the frenetic response to the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism exposes the axis of radicalism, requiring a paradigm shift in identification of real and perceived divisions between radicals and moderates.

This mission requires lucidity, moral clarity, courage and resolve of the majority moderates, renewing the covenant to shared values and exposing double standards that enable a culture of impunity and empower grave violators.

Successful recovery requires leadership that will place interests of the moderate majority above those of any subgroup, identifying, empowering and inspiring a shared focus on the common good. It requires unequivocal condemnation and moral outrage from all who cherish foundational democratic principles in the face of the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism—and all who recognize that silence is complicity. It demands working together to understand, identify and address the spread of disinformation, which undermines foundational principles and threatens to continue crumbling the foundations of democracy.

In a digital reality, success of our broader societal recovery mission demands prioritizing the power of knowledge and underscores the responsibility that comes with it in the face of 280-character sound bites. It necessitates that we stand united, reach across echo chambers, come out of siloed comfort zones and confront our fears. It entails internalizing the particular and universal lessons of this period of Jewish mourning, recognizing that from the greatest tragedies in history, human beings have the ability to transcend and rise, bringing about the greatest of triumphs.

Michal Cotler-Wunsh is a former member of Israel's Knesset, where she was a member of the Foreign Relations and Defense Committees and Knesset liaison to the issue of the International Criminal Court.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.