An open letter from Rabbi Michael Marmur, Chair, Rabbi for Human Rights and an appeal for donations to help create an Israel of equals, with democracy and human rights and where all Israelis and Palestinians are treated with dignity and respect.
Dear Friends and Supporters,
On this Memorial Day, RHR joins with others in our society, especially the Israeli-Palestinian initiatives from Combatants for Peace and the Parent’s Circle in remembering all of those Palestinian and Israeli alike, lost to the violence of this conflict. May all their memories bless us with peace!
Speaking a few months before the declaration of Israel’s independence, David Ben Gurion proudly spoke of “a vision of life, a vision of national rebirth, of independence, equality and peace — for the Jewish nation and for all peoples of the world.”
We mark the anniversary of that declaration this year in unprecedented circumstances. From the seclusion of our isolation, distanced from each other and removed from many of the normal challenges and solaces of our regular existences, we may pause to consider how this vision looks 72 years on.
Israel is a bustling, creative, contentious, exciting, exasperating place. A vision of life has been turned into reality. A vision of national rebirth has been realized – imperfectly, to be sure, but in many respects far beyond the most fancifully optimistic predictions of Israel’s founders. Individual Israelis of extraordinary talent and distinction are world leaders in a variety of fields. There is a vigorous and prolific cultural scene encompassing the written word, music of all kinds, drama on stage and screen, and more.
The first aspects of Ben Gurion’s vision for the state-in-formation have been advanced in significant ways. But how are we faring with regard to the other aspects – “independence, equality and peace – for the Jewish nation and for all peoples of the world”? These troubling but necessary questions are at the heart of the mission and program of Rabbis for Human Rights. We approach them as rabbis, men, and women who believe that Jewish sources and resources, values and voices, must be heard if the finest aspects of this vision are to come to fruition.
Israel has managed to navigate the COVID-19 crisis so far in a highly effective way – the amount of deaths and grave illness recorded here has been mercifully low. That said, it seems inevitable that the grave economic consequences of this crisis will only serve to deepen the gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Prime Minister Netanyahu’s apparent intention to annex portions of the West Bank and the Jordan valley, taking advantage of the support offered by the current occupant of the White House and the apparent compliance of his new coalition partner, will serve to undermine Israel’s long-term capacity, or interest, to fulfil the full extent of her founding vision. It simultaneously undermines the values upon which Israel is founded, the prospects for any future compromise, Israel’s standing in many parts of the international community, and regional stability.
It may not be fashionable to refer to the Occupation, but ignoring it will not make it go away, or make it prettier than it is. Israel’s core democratic institutions — among them the judicial system, the press, the rights of minorities – are under constant attack. Without vigilance and vigorous discourse, without a stubborn defence of the values of “independence, equality and peace” for all, without strong voices raised for the sake of justice and compassion and hope, we may find ourselves emerging from a health crisis only to fall directly into a profound economic, social, political, and moral crisis.
RHR’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been swift and, we believe, it has yielded impressive results. While struggling to find a way through the financial implications of the pandemic for our own organization, we have been instrumental in creating a Helpline operating in Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages to help individuals understand their rights and potential sources of assistance at this highly challenging time. Our education department has been offering online content at a high level. Our executive director, Avi Dabush, has a significant and growing reputation as a voice of conscience and leadership, and his thoughts are published and broadcast widely.
This Israel Independence Day, we want to ask you to help us to continue to build an Israel worthy of our finest dreams. At this time of interdependence, we need your support. At this time of seclusion, we need your solidarity. In our vision, Israel is best defended not by apologetic insistence that everything is going perfectly, nor even by emphasizing risks and fears to the exclusion of hopes and possibilities. Help us pursue that vision at this dramatic time.
Today, on Israeli Independence Day we look forward to your continued support and solidarity as the task of building an Israel that will fulfil of our aspirations of democracy and human rights continues. We believe that we have gotten to that point where our strength as a society is best expressed by treating all people in our midst, Israelis and Palestinians alike, with dignity and respect. We may be in the midst of a crisis, yet that does not deter us from insisting on nothing less than equality and human rights.
Rabbi Michael Marmur
Rabbis for Human Rights
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