OPINION: Where have all our leaders gone?

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OPINION: Where have all our leaders gone?

'I am pretty sure that this article is not going to make me any friends but since I recently wrote a piece about taking risks, I am not sure I can hold myself back anymore', writes Edward Misrahi

Columbia University student protesters camped on campus to call for divestment from Israel, April 28, 2024. (Philissa Cramer)
Columbia University student protesters camped on campus to call for divestment from Israel, April 28, 2024. (Philissa Cramer)

The Jewish diaspora is an amazing collection of people. People from different backgrounds growing up across the entire world, hoping to make a positive contribution to their countries and their communities. Importantly many of them also have a strong connection to Israel and support the country economically, politically and emotionally. Until three years ago, the diaspora was my world and although now I live in Israel it is something that is fully on my mind.

We all know and largely discuss the failures of Israeli leadership in the last couple of years. This is not what this piece is about.

This is a cry to ask our diaspora leadership to step up. Every day and every week we see another example of how Jewish lives across the diaspora are getting impacted by a variety of forces ranging from the concerning to the openly anti-semitic. We hear the impact and the outrage, but the truth is that we are not seeing enough of the fight back at our leadership level.

When I speak about leadership, I am speaking about any of us who has a position that can have some influence. You don’t have to be the president of your community or of an organisation. You could be a leading businessman, artist, lawyer, sportsman or whatever your profession is.

Times of crisis are times for leadership to be shown. Recently I listened to a podcast where Dan Senor interviews Prof. Scott Galloway who had just visited Israel. I have been a big fan of his work and books on technology and have taken some of his courses.

I had not realised he has a Jewish background but by his own admission he is an atheist and had not been in Israel for thirty years. Well, he has been more outspoken about Israel since then that many people in our community for the last 6 months and is fully aware to the hate it has triggered and that it has cost him business and audience because of it. He himself has been shocked about the silence of many leaders in the community.

Of course, there have been some public statements and actions by certain courageous individuals over the last six months at different stages and indeed some people have shown leadership.

Edward MIsrahi

But my point is that there have been too few across the world. We all know that this is a battle where we are outnumbered and if we don’t even play to our strength, how can we be surprised that we are losing.

The last week has been a shameful week for liberal universities in the US under the category of student protest, groups have taken over universities areas creating at best intimidating environments in the name of peace. Who are we kidding? How can people argue for peace and have Hamas and Hezbollah as leading focus points. Have we heard enough about alumni or leaders regarding this issue? Nowhere close.

And to be clear, this is nothing against freedom of speech. If people want to protest for the people of Gaza and for peace, of course that should happen but peacefully and within the rules. I would join any demonstration for peace if it was balanced – but… why do so many of these protesters cover their face? That’s what is meant by peaceful protesters? Why do they need to disrupt everything? How can you be in favour of the people of Gaza and not against Hamas? How is it exactly that asking for the liberation of hostages is against the principles of peace-loving people?

When will people really start speaking out? When it happens to them directly? Why wait.

Jewish diaspora has been a treasure for Israel and for every country where they live. They contribute and feel a connection to their country of birth. Right now, that is not enough. The silent majority will not act if we don’t lead.

For the good of all of us, please be ready to be more active, be more vocal and visible. It is true that it might lead to losing some business, being less popular and having some uncomfortable situations and social media. No one is asking people to defend everything Israel does but we need to defend ourselves against the onslaught of lies and made-up accusations. This is not going to stop here once the operation of Gaza is completed. We need to be strategic and long term about it.

Being able to be Jewish safely and with no intimidation should not be a nice to have that we have to be thankful too. It is our right in any of the democratic countries that we live in.

I am sorry to say that globally I don’t see enough of our leaders being public about it. Let’s hope they start being more vocal before things get worst.

  • Edward Misrahi is former chair of BICOM 
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