Tag Archives: RHR

Supporting Rabbis for Human Rights and the Bedouin is an expression of Zionism

Yesterday’s event entitled “The Bedouin Community in Israel” made me reflect anew why my support of Rabbis for Human Rights is an expression of Zionism. The event was organised by the Israeli embassy in response to the public protest of Jews and non-Jews against the so-called Praver-Begin bill (for background click here). In the opening remarks, the embassy representative, a Bedouin from the Gallil-region in the north of Israel, explained that the negative headlines concerning the Praver-Begin bill were based on propaganda from, what he called, anti-Zionist groups.

We weren’t off to a good start! I seriously considered leaving the event, but then thought to myself that these views shouldn’t be allowed to remain unquestioned and decided to stick around until the Q&A.

The presentation itself focused on how Israel’s plan to resettle the Bedouin was only in their interest and a plan that focused on not leaving any Israeli citizen behind. Explaining that girls in the Bedouin community generally were not allowed to graduate from High School, Lirit Serphos (Head of Policy and Planning on the Development and Growth of the Bedouin Community) said that resettlement of the community was vital to ensure that these children would have full access to education.

In my response to her, I pointed out that the Israeli government currently fully finances a school system, namely the orthodox religious one, which results in all boys finishing school without a High School Diploma because they stop learning maths, English and science at age 10!

Of course, I believe that every child should have access to a good education but I stressed that in light of the treatment of the ultra-orthodox community it seems as if Israel is applying double standards when it comes to the Bedouin. In their case, the government seems to adopt a quasi-colonialist approach of knowing what is best for the indigenous people. Even Lirat had to acknowledge I might be onto something but then quickly added that one cannot compare the Bedouin and the ultra-orthodox community.

I explained that I was opposed to the bill not because I am an anti-Zionist or a self-hating Jew but because I am a passionate Zionist. Because I am a religious Zionist, I believe that Israel should exercise leadership in accordance with Proverbs 14:34: “Righteousness exalts a nation;” placing justice and compassion at the heart of all policy making. I believe that Israel must show each time anew that it legislates according to the precepts of “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel,” as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Because I am a religious progressive Zionist and a supporter of Rabbis for Human Rights, I believe that our Jewish values must be in constant dialogue with the values of contemporary society and as such, we must ensure that the rights granted, just as the responsibilities demanded, apply to all citizens of the State of Israel equally – be they Jewish or not.

That’s why we need to fight for the rights of the Bedouin as Zionists for Israel’s sake!

65 UK Rabbis Protest against the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev

65 Rabbis from the Orthodox, Liberal, Reform and Masorti movements of Great Britain this week have joined together to sign a letter of protest to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ministers Yair Lapid (Finance), Tzipi Livni (Justice) and Meir Cohen (Welfare and Social Services), demanding that they stop the legislative process of the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev through the Israeli Parliament.

Meeting with BedouinA copy of the letter, written under the auspices of the British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights (BFRHR) was delivered to His Excellency, the Israeli Ambassador by Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner (Chair of BFRHR) and a delegation from BFRHR on Thursday 6th June.

If the Bill is passed, it would result in the forcible eviction of 30,000-40,000 Bedouin residents from their villages in the Negev into existing townships. Moving the Bedouin, they argue, ‘disregards traditional family and kinship ties and the communal and social fabric of their villages and has already been shown to result in disastrous levels of unemployment, destitution and disillusion.’

The BFRHR letter appeals for a proper consultative process with Bedouin men and women to settle land claims and recognise the Bedouin’s historic rights to their lands, leading to the provision of proper services for their villages and attention to the long-term needs of the Bedouin. The Rabbis warn that the Bill is likely to do serious damage to the international reputation of the State of Israel.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Chair of BFRHR said, ‘The Ambassador listened carefully to our questions and concerns. Now what matters is that this Bill that could drastically alter so many people’s lives is challenged in the Knesset as it is being challenged throughout the world.’
Spokesperson for the BFRHR, Rabbi Alexandra Wright added that the Bill is unjust and unfair in its discrimination against an impoverished and marginalised minority in Israel and that she earnestly hoped that the Ministers would, instead, provide a fair and compassionate process that would enhance Israel’s international standing.

View/download the full text of the letter click here.

The Tractate of Independence – Massekhet Atzma’ut

A great deal of effort is made by RHR in Israel to offer teaching on Jewish ethics to young men and women about to start their military service. One important source for their studies is the Israeli Declaration of Independence with detailed references to the traditional Jewish teachings on which it is based. We reproduce below one page from their specially created “Tractate of Independence – Massekhet Atzma’ut” – anyone who would be interested to see more and possibly run some teaching sessions in their own communities should contact Rabbi Nava Hefetz at RHR Israel for more information.

masekhet Atzmaut

RHR helps to stop demolition of West Bank village

The Palestinian village of Susya located on south of Jerusalem in the West bank has been saved from immediate demolition by Rabbis for Human Rights. The 350 villagers who have five times been forcibly evicted from the land which they legally own have been granted a stay of execution in the Israeli Supreme Court where they were represented by RHR advocates.

The court decided that within 90 days a plan must be prepared for the village which will make clear where houses can be built and the Israeli authorities must also ensure that Palestinian farmers are not prevented from getting to work on their fields. Until now the Palestinians have not been given permission to build houses on their land which has been declared a site of archaeological interest. As the villagers were not offered any alternative place to live, they set up homes in caves adjoining their fields, and when these were destroyed they put up the  tents in which they now live. However Israeli settlers have been allowed to build a village with good houses in the area and Regavim a right wing organisation supporting the settlers presented a petition to the High Court calling for the demolition of the tents and other property belonging to the Palestinians.

RHR campaigns for better housing for disadvantaged Israelis

RHR have organised a cross party lobby group in the Knesset to ensure that public housing is built to higher standards and allocated fairly. RHR want to ensure that affordable housing is included in the plans for each neighbourhood. It is vital that legislation includes planning for housing units of various sizes, e.g., for single people, multi-generational families, as well as ensuring that provision is made in each neighbourhood for long term rentals and affordable housing so that low income families and other vulnerable people are not excluded from certain neighbourhoods. Lack of affordable housing was one of the main reasons underlying massive social protests in Israel in the last two years. As RHR point out, the people, who are excluded from living in a neighbourhood because housing is too expensive, are also deprived of the opportunity to take up local jobs, send their children to good local schools or benefit from transport services.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman in Manchester

Rabbi Warren Elf reports on Rabbi Arik Ascherman’s visit of Manchester in December 2012.

In Manchester, the Forum for Discussion on Israel and Palestine organised two meetings with  Rabbi Arik Ascherman, one of the founders of Rabbis for Human Rights and currently Director of Special Projects and External Relations: one at the Islamic Cultural Centre and one at the Menorah Synagogue in Jacksons Row.

The majority of the audience at the Islamic Cultural Centre were Muslim and most of them were regulars at the Altrincham mosque. Their Imam and the mosque have a good pedigree of participation in interfaith matters locally, but hosting Arik, a rabbi and an Israeli, talking on Israel, was a definite first for them. There were also a few Christians from different groups, as well as a few members from two Reform synagogues and two Orthodox synagogues present. Arik talked about the ethos and work of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel and the situations he faces and deals with on a regular basis. As always, he was open and honest, raising many difficult issues in a way that left his listeners spellbound. When he finished his initial talk, the Imam of Altrincham Mosque thanked him warmly and sincerely, embracing the fact that this was the first time the members of the mosque had been able to engage on this topic with Jews, and hear about the real issues in such a frank and personal manner.

The audience at Jackson’s Row was smaller, but again it comprised Jews (primarily from JR), Christians and Muslims. Arik gave a very similar talk but the atmosphere was more informal with participants sitting in a large circle. The talk was again well received and there were some even more difficult questions to answer, which again Arik was happy to grapple with and answer as openly and engagingly as only he can.

Gaining Insight with Rabbis for Human Rights

Rabbi Howard Cooper took part in the 2012 trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories organised by British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights. His personal reflections on the visit were first published on the MRJ website .

Take a bunch of British Reform and Liberal rabbis, mix in a few lawyers, judges and anti-racism workers, add a sprinkle of youngsters concerned with social justice issues, shake them up vigorously – and what do you get? The latest visit to Israel by the British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights.

Rabbis for Human Rights was established in Israel in 1988 by the American-born Reform Rabbi David Forman in order to give voice in the contemporary Israeli setting to the Judaism’s traditional concern for the ‘stranger’, the ‘outsider’ and the disadvantaged. Their initial focus was primarily on protecting the human rights of Palestinians in areas controlled by Israel; but they rapidly expanded their work to embrace the rights of vulnerable and minority groups throughout Israeli society.

Meeting with BedouinOur week-long tour, organised by the MRJ’s new Movement Rabbi, Laura Janner-Klausner, and the Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism, Rabbi Danny Rich – in itself a brilliant advert for the advantages of close co-operation between the two groupings – allowed participants to meet, study and travel with a series of inspirational and charismatic RHR rabbis – and their professional colleagues trained in law, education and civil rights – and thereby gain insight into a whole spectrum of issues that Israeli citizens and those in the Occupied Territories are facing on a daily basis.

Based in Jerusalem, we spent the first day gaining an insight into some of the grotesque consequences of the Separation Wall that now scars the landscape of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside. Although the wall – built, ironically, by Palestinian workers with concrete bought from factories owned by President Mahmoud Abbas – has given Jewish Jerusalemites a much greater sense of security, its ugly presence is a constant reminder that Jewish security has been bought in exchange for increased hardship for east Jerusalem Arabs: hospitals that were once ten minutes away by car now require a two hour circuitous trip, around Jerusalem and through two checkpoints; livelihoods have been ruined, and families divided.

The shock of the aesthetic desecration of Jerusalem – and Bethlehem, now surrounded by a ‘sleeve’ of brutal concrete that enables pious Jews access to Rachel’s Tomb, but denies access to Muslims, for whom it is also a site of prayer – is mirrored in the moral collapse at the heart of the government’s policy: although Israel has the right and duty to protect its citizens from attacks, the Wall was the most extreme solution available. We witnessed the ways in which its route was designed more for future political purposes – to make territory easier to annex in any future settlement – than for security purposes.

Trip ParticipantsAlthough one reads about these issues, it is not until one sees the reality on the ground that something of the human dimension to these actions becomes clearer. And it is the human costs that the RHR workers and rabbis are focussed on and helped us understand in some depth. Many of the projects we visited are working at grass-roots level on inequities that ordinary Israelis suffer: single mothers in Hadera who need help with economic and legal problems or domestic violence; Bedouin in the Negev whose civil amenities are far inferior to the Jewish neighbours, or whose land is appropriated for reforestation by the JNF; Orthodox women who suffer discrimination in their communities… the work of RHR embraces a bewildering variety of causes, often in partnership with other NGOs, some of whom – like the New Israel Fund, Yisrael Hofshit, and Citizens for Equality – we were also able to meet. Bringing specific human rights grievances to the attention of the Israeli public while pressuring the appropriate authorities – from local courts to the Knesset – is an endless job.

As a group we moved from being depressed, angry and perplexed at some of the glaring injustices – particularly on the West Bank where Orthodox settlers are currently engaged in a series or random attacks on Palestinian homes as well as the fire-bombing of mosques – to feeling stirred and inspired by some of the RHR workers who are battling for the soul of Israel, case by case, family by family.

As Director of New Projects, Rabbi Arik Ascherman (who had been arrested on our first morning, apparently a regular hazard in his work when he insists that the State uphold its own laws) said in our final session on Sunday morning, RHR takes no stance on any specific political solution to the Occupation: its focus on injustices in the occupied areas, which amounts to only half of its work, is part of its wider brief of addressing a range of human rights issues in the light of Israel’s original Declaration of Independence which states unequivocally that the State ‘will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants…it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…’

In the light of these ideals, the people we spoke with from RHR were vocal in their opinion that Israel was failing to live up to what it aspired to at its beginning – but that individuals and organisations both in Israel and in the diaspora had an ethical imperative to hold each Israeli government to account for their failures, and that a love of Zion – being a Zionist today – necessitated a commitment to redressing injustices wherever they occurred.