Editor’s note: Michal Cotler-Wunsh was featured in CFHU’s Alumni Splotlight series 100 Alumni We Love. Click here to visit her spotlight.
Michal Cotler-Wunsh in her Tel Aviv office, January 20, 2020. Describes the home she grew up in as “very pluralistic, universalist, humanistic, Zionist and based on Jewish values.”
Her father was Canada’s justice minister. Her mother was Likud’s parliamentary secretary. As things look today, with just over a month to Election Day, Michal Cotler-Wunsh has a decent shot at becoming the first bona fide Canadian to serve in the Israeli Knesset.
Kahol Lavan recently announced that Cotler-Wunsh had been moved up its slate for the March 2 election, from 46th to 36th place. That was after Gadi Yevarkan – like her, a member of the Telem faction headed by former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon – defected to Likud, clearing the way for others to advance.
Recent polls have given Kahol Lavan 34 to 35 seats in the next Knesset – more than any other party. But in both elections held last year (on April 9 and September 17), the centrist party headed by Benny Gantz ended up winning more seats than had been projected. That could explain why Cotler-Wunsh, speaking to Haaretz in her Tel Aviv office, says she is “cautiously optimistic” about her prospects.
For the record, she would not be the first Israeli with Canadian roots to serve as a lawmaker in Jerusalem. Montreal-born Dov Yosef moved to British Mandatory Palestine in 1918 and served as a minister in various roles between 1948 and 1966. Likud lawmaker Sharren Haskel, meanwhile, was born in Toronto. But whereas Cotler-Wunsh grew up in Montreal and spent a good part of her adult life there too – evidenced by her very Canadian-sounding English – Haskel moved to Israel with her parents when she was barely a year old.
A lawyer by training, Cotler-Wunsh, 49, has served as a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and as a board member at Tzav Piyus – an organization set up after the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, with the aim of mending the rift between religious and secular Israelis.
Michal Cotler-Wunsh’s father, Irwin Cotler, photographed at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, in 2010. He served as Canada’s justice minister from 2003 to 2006.
In recent years, she has been part of the legal team advising the family of Lt. Hadar Goldin, the Israeli soldier killed in the 2014 Gaza War whose remains are being held by Hamas. She is currently completing her doctorate in law at the Hebrew University.
She is married to Rafi Wunsh, a former kibbutznik whose parents immigrated to Israel from South Africa. He is vice president of overseas real estate for the Azrieli Group, a company founded by a prominent Canadian Jew, the late David Azrieli. The couple live with their four children in Ra’anana, a city north of Tel Aviv that is home to many English-speaking and French-speaking immigrants.