One of the moments that I think that BFRHR can be most proud of in the last few years was our campaign against the Praver-Begin Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev. This campaign ran from mid 2012 to the beginning of 2013 and was a great example of cross denominational cooperation, quick thinking, immediate action and coordinated multi-faceted response. The Bill proposed the resettlement of 30,000-40,000 Bedouin in the Negev which in effect would have been forcible eviction for this population.
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 have written to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen to ask them to prevent the passage of the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev. To learn more about their letter click here.
We would like you also send a letter to these ministers protesting against the bill and to find a fair and just solution to the living arrangements and welfare of the Bedouin community in the south of Israel.
It is simple to take action! Just click here to also send a letter to protest against the bill.
Two members of British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights wrote op-eds for Jewish newspapers to draw broader attention to the situation of the Bedouin in Israel and to mobilise more support for the campaign to stop the legislative process of the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev through the Israeli Parliament.
Rabbi Alexandra Wright wrote on June 13, 2013 in the Jewish Chronicle: ‘All is desolation and destruction’. Read the full op-ed here.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg wrote on June 23, 2013 in the Jewish News: “Let’s show Israel is based on Jewish value of justice”. Read the full op-ed here.
He also wrote on July 15, 2013 in Haaretz: “Every Jew should see the Bedouin issue as test of Israel’s moral values”. Read the full op-ed here.
The international press has given extensive coverage to the letter signed by 65 UK rabbis under the auspices of British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights to protest against the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev.
- Jewish Chronicle (June 7, 2013): “British Rabbis tell Netanyahu: don’t evict Bedouins”
- Jewish News Online (June 10, 2013): “Dozens of Rabbis present letter protesting Bedouin treatment”
- Jewish Chronicle (June 13, 2013): “Halt Bedouin evictions, say UK rabbis”
- Jewish Chronicle (June 13, 2013): “‘All is desolation and destruction’”
- Jewish News Online (June 23, 2013): “Let’s show Israel is based on Jewish value of justice”
- Jerusalem Post (June 8, 2013): “British rabbis call on PM not to evict Beduins”
- Haaretz (July 15, 2013): “Every Jew should see the Bedouin issue as test of Israel’s moral values”
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.
A 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.
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.