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What a Surprise – Even a Proud Liberal Zionist Scion Can Be a Racist

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Lawmaker Michal Cotler-Wunsh during a Knesset committee session, August 26, 2020.
Lawmaker Michal Cotler-Wunsh during a Knesset committee session, August 26, 2020.Credit: Yehonatan Samya / Knesset
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Unlike most Israelis or perhaps all Israelis, I, to my great shame, had never heard of lawmaker Michal Cotler-Wunsh. I learned that she is an expert on international law and was a research fellow at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism, a board member of national reconciliation organization Tzav Pius, active in the Manhigut Acheret NGO, ran for Knesset on the Kahol Lavan ticket, switched from Telem to the Israel Resilience Party – which is apparently the southern branch of Kahol Lavan or the political arm of Derech Eretz, it’s hard to tell.

Haaretz Podcast: Why is Israel arming Azerbaijan against Armenia? Listen to Yossi MelmanCredit: Haaretz

Her stepfather is Prof. Irwin Cotler, the renowned former justice minister of Canada and liberal jurist, who is considered a great advocate of human rights despite his strong support for Zionism. Professor Cotler is an activist against racism and against war crimes but never saw any connection between this and his support for Israel. Neither father nor daughter apparently see any contradiction between human rights and occupation, or between racism and Zionism, between apartheid and Israel.

There is a subset of liberal Jews, mainly in the United States and Canada, intellectuals who see themselves as enlightened and progressive, who fight injustices all over the world, until it comes to Israel, which in their eyes is above all suspicion. This is where they close their eyes and their consciences fall silent. They see nothing.

Last week the promising new Knesset member happened upon an opportunity to make herself known – Saeb Erekat became critically ill with COVID-19. Cotler-Wunsh seized the moment. The member of the legal team aiding the Goldin family in its efforts to have their son’s remains returned hastened to post a tweet about Erekat possibly being transferred to Hadassah Hospital for life-saving treatment: “The foundational principle of reciprocity demands: humanitarian [gesture] for humanitarian [gesture]! Medical aid must be reciprocated with return of 4 Israelis held in Gaza for 6+ years, in violation of international law.”

Where to begin? With the stupidity? The ignorance? The evil? The lack of humanity? Her parliamentary colleague from the Joint List Ahmad Tibi aptly responded on Twitter: “I strongly object to making Knesset members take an IQ test, but this view carries severe implications and collateral effects.”

A parliamentarian representing the Israeli center, the epitome of the Israeli center, who lives in the central Israeli city of Ra’anana and is a member of Tzav Piyus, who was a research fellow in a Hebrew University doctoral program entitled Human Rights Under Pressure (!), proposes conditioning saving one person’s life on lowly blackmail. Cotler-Wunsh (wunsh in German is wish) essentially made a death wish for Erekat. If her counsel would have been heeded, it would have been an immediate death sentence for him.

The expert on human rights and terrorism surely knows a thing or two about the sanctity of human life, but Erekat is not human in her eyes. Perhaps no Palestinian is human in her eyes, for the Palestinians surely haven’t had many leaders more moderate than Erekat. But that’s beside the point. One hopes that she knows demanding that Hamas release the soldiers’ remains and the Israeli civilians in return for medical treatment for Erekat, who is detested by Hamas, is quite ludicrous. Even Cotler-Wunsh has more influence in Gaza than Erekat does.

Cotler-Wunsh is not an important figure, as yet, but her voice is important because it reflects the view of many. She is not the racist right, she represents a supposedly moderate, centrist party convinced that it supports universal values, maybe even believes in the two-state solution, and certainly in the existence of a Jewish and democratic state. But what do you know – even this liberal breeding ground can produce racist Zionism and cruelty towards a dying man just because he’s a Palestinian, or maybe just because he’s not a Jew. Turns out that one can be an expert on human rights, an enlightened intellectual raised in an environment of Jewish liberalism, but at the moment of truth, their face is revealed, and it is nationalist, racist, cruel and incredibly ugly.



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