Being united means healing the public discourse - Opinion

Michael Mirilashvili, President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, analyses the events post 7 October and how should the Jews people react.

 Michael Mirilashvili at the Jerusalem Post Conference (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Michael Mirilashvili at the Jerusalem Post Conference
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

"We cannot return to the rhetoric of October 6," said Israeli President Isaac Herzog in his address to the nation. Everyone seems to agree on this. But how do we do this in practice?

The President put into words what we all feel to one degree or another. The further we are from the events of October 7, the more we recover from the tragic events, the greater the fatigue from war and uncertainty – and the more we return to reality and risk returning to the deep split that arose in our society throughout this year.

But let's try to grasp what happened to us after October 7, besides a terrible national trauma. While we all tried to comprehend what had happened and find ways to cope, everyone still mobilized all their energy and used it to help the nation and those in need. Let's remember how those who would not have spoken to each other just a few weeks before the tragic events suddenly found themselves in the same unit, in the same tank, on the same uncultivated field, in the same volunteer center. There was so much warmth, love, and acceptance in those days. And even greater unity and support from the Jewish communities of the Diaspora.

We realized that everything said about the loss of unity and hatred for each other again turned out to be untrue. We continue to be one people. But all this was said for a reason. By then, we had somewhat forgotten the feeling of togetherness and unity. For a very long time, we just hadn't experienced it. After October 7, we once more regained true faith in our people, which we had almost lost.

It is for a reason that we glorify that same unity in moments of peace. As a nation, we have experienced this feeling of mobilization and unity in times of trouble too many times, unfortunately. And yet, every time the clear, peaceful sky returns, we stubbornly forget this feeling. Today, we have another chance to perceive the words about unity not just as a cliche but as a call to action, because we have again experienced it ourselves and once again have learned that, in fact, those are not empty words or fictitious ideals.

This unity should not be caused only by a tragedy. It should once and for all become our ideal and benchmark.

But what does it actually mean to be united today?

It does not mean we should not talk politics at all, avoid any criticism, keep our opinions to ourselves, and stay silent. Political discussion is a natural state of a healthy democratic society. But the way we do it must change. One of our biggest challenges nowadays is to learn a culture of discussion so that the lack of views of unanimity will cease to be a destructive force and rather contribute to the search for the right path. We need to heal our public discourse. We are different, we have very opposite views and opinions, and we must admit this. Therefore, we must strive to counter opinions without crossing the 'red line.' Political dialogue and criticism should not be based on suspicion, mutual accusations, and speculations but rather on deep respect and understanding that those with different views are not enemies, even though they see the future of the country differently, but those who are ready to sacrifice their lives for you.

Does unity mean that all the tense topics we discussed on the eve of the war must be forgotten? Definitely not. We will have to return to this conversation and deal with those issues. Indeed, we have a very tough conversation ahead of us, but it should take place in a completely different tone.

We do not compete about who loves this country more or less or who is not patriotic enough. Right now, people from absolutely all walks of Israeli society are sacrificing themselves on the battlefields for our present and future. Therefore, this discussion is irrelevant. Only the deep conviction that opposite you is your true partner, who, just like you, wants good and prosperity for our country and people, will allow us to conduct a conversation calmly and respectfully, even when our views are entirely opposed.

It applies to all of us, both in our social positions and everyday life. But first of all, this concerns public leaders. It's time to base actions on two principles – responsibility and transparency –  responsibility for every word and deed, and a willingness to speak openly, transparently, and honestly with the people. The dialogue should not be conducted in raised tones of slogans but in the respectful form of constructive ideas, calls for answers, and accountability. At the core of it, there must be an awareness that there are no superfluous people in this country and that everyone plays an important role, just as no one doubted this in the first weeks after the start of the war.

The Jewish people have lived through terrible pages of history. We have lived through many tipping points when our very existence was at stake. And yet, we always bounced back and only grew stronger. I am deeply convinced that no matter how heated our discussions are, we will overcome this crisis as any other crisis in our past. But we must learn our lessons at last. We should listen to the words of the President, who has become a rare kind of deeply responsible government leader, representing a voice of reason. And then, I'm sure, we will be able to emerge from any crisis as a stronger and healthier society.

 Michael Mirilashvili is the President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.