Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) is the only rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, defending human rights of marginalized communities within Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The organisation was founded in 1988, and today has over 100 members – all Israelis and all ordained Orthodox, Reform/Liberal, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal rabbis as well as some rabbinical students. Given it is also supported by Non-denominational and Humanist Jews, it covers the full spectrum of Jewish practice and belief. It is not aligned with any political party.
The work of RHR expresses the view that as Jews, we are obligated to protest against every injustice enacted against any other person, a view based on the belief that humankind was created in God’s image. RHR members believe that it is our obligation to inform the Israeli public about human rights violations, and that it is our role to pressure the State institutions to fix these injustices.
RHR members derive their authority from two main sources – from the moral weight of the biblical, Jewish tradition and from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In parallel to their efforts to prevent violations of human rights, RHR brings a prophetic understanding of Jewish tradition to the Israeli public discourse. In a time in which a nationalist and isolationist understanding of Jewish tradition is heard frequently and loudly, RHR gives expression to the traditional Jewish responsibility for the safety and welfare of the stranger, the different and the weak, the convert, the widow and the orphan.
The uniqueness of RHR lies in its comprehensive approach to human rights. RHR works diligently to get Israel to enforce social and economic rights for ALL Israelis who must deal with the scourges of poverty and food insecurity.
The COVID 19 crisis has brought economic and social rights to the forefront. As the horrible virus continues in its strange ebbs and flows, whilst the full lockdown has ended, the most vulnerable and marginalised remain left out of the recovery. Services remain online, people with heightened medical risks continue to fear returning to work, single mothers cannot rely on older family members who helped in the past, hourly workers are being brought back for fewer hours if at all, and many people are now and soon will be in debt. In addition far too many children from some distressed communities were unable to learn on-line which left them behind their classmates. It is clear to RHR that direct assistance is not enough. Israel needs national policies geared to meet the needs of these vulnerable populations.
The ongoing work of RHR’s Rights Centre in Hadera operating in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian, will directly address these needs as RHR studies the emerging issues, writes briefings on policy and law, exerts public pressure, whilst simultaneously assisting individuals in realising their rights in their particular cases. At the same time RHR protests the proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank and the civil rights violations of Palestinians inherent in the Occupation.
RHR has developed a welcomed, albeit unfortunate, tradition over the better part of 2 decades. There are numerous infractions of human rights that occur in the context of the Occupation which particularly involve Palestinian olive farmers and their land. These farmers face no simple life. There is increasingly creeping encroachment on their dwindling agricultural land by settlement expansion, violence – to body, land and trees – by settlers, coupled with indifference to this violence by the authorities mixed with limitations and restrictions by the army on agricultural activity. RHR has stood in solidarity with them for decades, organising hundreds of volunteers and volunteer days during the harvest season (October/November) and the planting season, when it works with the Palestinian farmers as partners in solidarity and equality in the fight for their rights.
Throughout the year RHR is a moral Jewish voice/a shofar, working in tandem with local Israeli organisations and with international human rights organisations.
Visit the RHR website here.