Michal Cotler is the daughter of former Canadian minister of justice and attorney general Irwin Cotler. She is running for the Knesset in the newly formed Blue and White alliance. Igal Hecht spoke with her just outside the Habima theatre in Tel Aviv to discuss her background, Canadian connection and what is the Blue and White party all about.
Why did you decide to make Aliyah?
I grew up in Montreal not thinking that I would move here but we were here every summer as kids. The connection and responsibility for Jewish identity and continuity were a big part of our private lives. Ultimately I moved here thinking I’d stay for a year, but I remained, went to the army, became an officer and then went to law school in Jerusalem. The move to Israel was a reflection of a very deep connection and a sense of responsibility for the Jewish people.
Why did you have the urge to enter Israeli politics?
Originally I met with [former chief of staff of the IDF and Blue and White candidate Moshe] Bogie Ya’alon a little over a year ago. The call that Bogie made at the time, was for the imperative to connect all parties from the responsible right to the Zionist left. And really an imperative to connect. In the 71-year-old miracle that is the State of Israel, there’s a deepening troubling reality of internal sectorial reality. While below the surface, private citizens and civic society transcend differences, whether consciously and actively, or because of the reality of needing to live, work, serve together, the political leadership highlights differences and pits us one against the other. The current political system is served by a divide and conquer approach, served by extreme and divisive rhetoric. My own identities, experience, research and knowledge enable me to transcend above many of the current challenges and recognize the points of intersection and bridges that can be built in order to address them in a holistic, comprehensive way.
When you say leadership, who do you mean?
I’d say across the board, from Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] down. Every single party and the way that Israeli politics is constructed in coalition governments, it enhances differences and forces people to sharpen the differences between them, rather than identify the similarities. It’s come to a reality that is unsustainable. So when Telem [Ya’alon’s party] was founded the call was to focus on everything we have in common.
In fact when you dig just below the surface, even in the current political climate, what you find is that we agree on at least 80 per cent of the issues 80 per cent of the time. What the reality has enabled and empowered is actually the radical elements and the extremist voices, who sway the discussion and use sources of power to their sectorial advantage. That is something that endangers Israeli society.
If you look at what the current political leadership has done, the reactive, putting out the fires, short-term planning has only deepened the rifts and has not done anything to resolve significant issues. If you don’t have long-term plans in health care, education and infrastructure, and you don’t create long-term plans, what you receive is this very ad-hoc leadership style that, rather than running the country, allows it to run.
With in the Kachol-Lavan party (Blue and White) there are many contradicting opinions. You have hawks and doves sitting together. How does this actually work? Or is it, like many contend, simply a facade to replace Netanyahu?
I fully disagree that is the only purpose. The most important thing these elections are about are internal challenges in Israel and the need to address them. We have consensus understanding of the need to improve education, healthcare, transportation infrastructure, bridging the gaps between central Israel and the periphery, and they are spelled out in our platform.
It was very important for Blue and White to present a joint platform, complicated as it was under the circumstances, because it the best vehicle for transparency and accountability which we are committed to introduce to the current reality. We are coming to work for the public, to create a unifying, collaborative representational leadership.
We recognize there are no quick fixes. The only way to address the current challenges is longterm planning and inter-ministerial planning. There is not one ministry in Israel with long-term plans other than the Ministry of Defence. That is unacceptable. And of course the issue of the growing gap between Israel and the Diaspora, which demands we challenge the relationship paradigm and hold a respectful, open and honest dialogue that will pave the path for a renewed, connected partnership.
So in fact, recognizing the dignity of difference, we aim to create change from the very place of diversity within the party, and by the way it’s not a greater diversity that exists within the Likud between various different point of views. Unity does not mean uniformity.
We [in Blue and White] may differ on solutions, but there is a historical moment here. Three parties have come together, unanimously agreeing on the unity of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, agreeing on the Golan Heights remaining as an integral part of the state of Israel, and agreeing on the imperative to expose and address unacceptable violations [of Hamas] of international law on both sides of our southern border.
Israel must emerge from the docket of the accused and begin utilizing the language of rights in order to enhance the international community’s understanding of the reality, including the challenges of asymmetric war against terror organizations. It must impress upon its friends the need to combat the culture of impunity, and expose hypocrisy and double standards applied to Israel. It must work together in a bi-partisan way with all the voices that recognize the difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism, applying the 3-D test: namely double standards, dehumanization and delegitimization.