|Israel Resource Review
||14th September, 1999
the Israel Resource
Click on the above banner for more information
Rabbis for Human Rights Responds to David Bedein
by Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman
- David Bedein wrote in his April article, "Rabbis Who Ignore Human Rights",
"Ten years ago, a group known as the Rabbis For Human Rights" . . . was
formed to relate to the human rights and civil liberties of the non-Jew in the
land of Israel." In fact, we are a universal human rights organization which
has also defended the rights of Jews, including Ethiopian Jews,
agunot (Jewish women who can not remarry because they can not obtain a
Jewish divorce), and currently we are part of a coalition to defend Israeli
- David wrote, "The Rabbis For Human Rights have instead
chosen to identify and coordinate its actions with the PLO, the
Palestinian Authority, and UNRWA." We have never identified or
coordinated actions with any of these bodies. In fact, while as
rabbis we believe that we our mandate is to speak to our fellow
Jews about human rights abuses they have committed against Jews
or non-Jews, we have expressed our concern about PA human rights
abuses to the PA and to Chairman Arafat himself when we have had
the opportunity. In October of 1995, in a meeting with Chairman
Arafat, we presented Chairman Arafat with a document (which was
sent to David Bedein) expressing concern regarding PA human
rights abuses and asking that he do more to help locate Israeli
MIA's. When RHR chairperson Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman
participated in a larger delegation meeting with Arafat, he did
the same. Although it is not our mandate, we have expressed
concerns from time to time when Palestinian human rights
activists have been arrested, etc.
- David wrote, "As a matter of policy, The Rabbis for Human Rights have
maintained a silence in the face of daily executions orchestrated by the
Palestinian Authority and the PLO. In addition to the general concerns
outlined above, RHR has specifically expressed our concern on this issue,
as David himself acknowledges in his current article.
Now regarding David Bedein's current article. In this article
David thankfully refrains from the factual errors which
characterized the previous article. He also apparently accepts
our statement that our primary mandate as rabbis is to speak to
Jews, although he backtracks on this in his subsequent list of
questions and "epilogue." David therefore concentrates on the
fact that Israel finances a high percentage of the PA's budget
and therefore has responsibility for the widespread human rights
abuses perpetrated by the PA.
David Bedein raises serious and thought provoking questions. I will be
perfectly honest and admit that, before David raised the question, I had
not given much thought to the level of Israeli funding of the PA. I have not
checked the accuracy of David's figures, nor have I spoken with this
directly with organizations with whom we work, such as LAW (Cited by
I suspect that, when I do ask, LAW will not support the withholding of
funds which would lead to the collapse of the PA, but rather actions to
strengthen those fighting to democratize the PA from within. However, this is
speculation, and I will issue a correction if I find out otherwise. I must
also add, that while silence can be seen as tacit support, we have never
actively supported any of the policies which David decries. In general, I
can add that during the Rabin/Peres years, there was a principled
disagreement between those, such as Yossi Sarid, who argued that some
sacrifices in the field of human rights were temporarily justifiable for the
sake of achieving peace. Human rights organizations, such as Betzelem,
disagreed. We did not publicly take part in this debate as far as I know (I
began to work for RHR in the summer of 1995.) I would say that our position
is more toward the Betzelem side . . . .
What is the implication of David Bedein's questions regarding
our "support" for Israeli funding of various Palestinian
institutions? The implication seems to be that we are not truly
concerned about Palestinians. If we were, we would be shouting
"gevalt" about these issues that he brings up. Somehow the fact
that we do not automatically adapt the issues which David brings
up indicates illegitimacy, insincerity or some other deficiency
on our part. He states in his "epilogue", "For RHR to not
conduct press conferences and public forums concerning the PA's
suppression of human rights and civil liberties would negate its
definition as a human rights organization." This is analagous to
saying that we don't really care about economic justice for
Israelis because we work on health care issues but not housing
policy. Now it may come as a surprise, given our accomplishments
over the year, but I currently hold a 3/4 time position with
RHR, we have a field director at 1/4 time, and a 1/4 time
secretary. That's it! After sending me the article to respond
to, David posed 5 additional questions about PA injustices and
asks when we will convene a press conference to condemn each one
of them. Not only have we sent a statement to David on one of
the issues and not only are we again speaking about speaking to
Palestinians as opposed to Jews, but when was the last time that
RHR on its own (as opposed to as part of a coalition) held a
press conference on anything? I wish that we had half the
capacity that David attributes to us.
The fact is that I would fully support any organization that wishes to
research and address these issues in a serious way. We may do it ourselves
at some point. However, I wish that David Bedein would invest the energy
he has invested in trying to find fault with RHR in attempting to rectify the
issues that we do work on.
David has repeatedly expressed to me concern about some of our
issues, but the continued effort to criticize RHR is a
convenient way to avoid dealing with them. Even if David is 100%
correct about the evils of Israeli funding of the PA, that does
not in any way lessen the evils of the Israeli policy
demolishing homes in Area C and East Jerusalem when most of
these families, whose title to their land is undisputed, have
almost no chance of obtaining a legal permit. Estimates of
standing demolition orders go as high as 6,0000. Neither does
Israel's funding of the PA lessen the evil of attempts to move
groups of Bedouin such as the Jahalin out of their encampments
by bulldozing them in the middle of winter and giving them
shipping containers to live in. They do not justify mistreatment
of foreign workers or cuts in our health budget.
I wish to conclude with a true story. A number of months ago an angry
woman contacted me by email listing injustice after injustice perpetrated
by Palestinians against Jews. My response was, "You are right. Every one
of the injustices which you list is terrible. I am sure that with your
deep concern for injustice you are equally bothered by the terrible injustices
perpetrated by Jews upon Palestinians." I proceded to enumerate some of
them, and suggested that we dedicate two days. On one she would guide me
to visit with Jewish victims of Palestinian crimes, and on the second I would
guide her to visit Palestinian victims of crimes perpetrated by Jews. (If
David had been part of the conversation, we could have added a third day
dedicated to crimes perpetrated against Palestinians by Palestinians.)
This woman begged off, saying that the issues which I was bringing up weren't
important, that she didn't have time, and that maybe we could do it toward
the end of the summer. I'm still waiting. Injustice is injustice is
injustice. The fact that organizations with limited resources concentrate
on certain issues shouldn't be taken as a lack of concern for other issues.
In the words of our sages, "I am a creature of God and you are a creature
of God. My work may be in the city, yours is perhaps in the field. As you
rise early to your work, so I rise early to my work. As you do not claim
that your work is superior to mine, so I do not claim that mine is superior
to yours. And should one say, I do more important work and the other less
important work, we have already learned: more or less, it does not matter,
so long as the heart is turned toward heaven. (Talmud Bavli: Berakhot 17a).
There are enough issues and enough work for many human rights organizations.
Instead of finding fault with what each of us doesn't do, we would all be
better served by respecting and responding to what each of us does manage
May 5760 be a year of human rights for all of our global community.
Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman
Rabbis For Human Rights
Return to Contents
David Bedein's Response to Rabbi Asherman
Dear Rav Arik,
I am more than pleased to publish your reponse to my piece.
In terms of my response to you, please know that it is because I
have expectations from the Rabbis for Human Rights that I indeed raise
these issues of moral and Jewish consequence. I would never think of
raising such matters of ethical concern to Meretz or the Mafdal. No
My concern and credibility on the issue of home demolitions is reflected in
my continued legal fight on behalf of a group of Arab homeowners near Bani
Nayim. Betzelem sang my praises back in 1992 when I won an injunction
against the civil adminisrtation from touching their property.
What I vociferously object to is you again raising the unsubstantiated
number of "6,000" home demolition orders, with no source nor documentation
to back up this figure. What the use of such a figure does is to leave the
uniformed human rights activist with the impression that this is the
general Israel and, indeed, Jewish policy in dealing with the matter of
Arab homes. You could just as well cited the Israeli government estimates
for the other figure for the thousands of homes that have indeed been built
illegally, and work it from there. I am planning a major news story about
Beit Tzfaffa where the illegal housing construction has become rampant, and
where the Jerusalem municipality has not enforced any existing laws in this
I remind you that the PLO used fabricated human rights reports throughout
the Intifada to bolster their case to the world media. Do you remember
their lie about the IDF killing children with teargas? Or another one about
the IDF "targeting" children after the PLO put them in the front line to
die? (Dauod Kuttab's inciteful piece in the Journal of Palestine Studies
from February 1988 described that methodology of the use of kids in riots
in great detail)
The point is that I am focusing on RHR because your moral judgement of
Israel reaches beyond the shores of our country, and were you to focus on
individual cases and were you to warn about a specific number of incidents,
I and others from everywhere on the political spectrum would join you in
the concern that the Rabbis for Human Rights has raised.
Yet the minute that you throw out figures which have not been
substantiated, the holy issue of human rights loses all credibility.
The issue of the RHR coordination with the PA/PLO is reflected only by
those who sign petitions together with RHR. Discretion is the better part
of valor when you become part of a coalition that includes PA/PLO entities
and when you march with groups like the Christian Peacemakers Team.
I of course know that RHR raised human rights issues with Arafat. The fact
that he ignored you should be a source of outrage and should be a matter
that we hear about. The fact that you did write to him and meet with him is
step one. Not to respond when he continues his suppression of civil
liberties and when he continues to order the murder of his people would
give the impression that you acqiesce in such actions.
shtikah c'hoda'ah dami = the Talmudic point that "silence is agreement",
could well be applied here.
Yes, Betzelem back in 1995 was critical of the PA. That was before Yizhar
Baer and Bassam Eid left them. Their low profile in regard to PA human
rights abuses over the past few years speaks for itself.
The trampling on human rights and civil liberties remains one of the
characteristics of the current negotiation process between Israel and the PA.
RHR may have some leverage with the new Israeli government. Perhaps it will
use that leverage to make the peace process contingent on the respect for
human rights and civil liberties, including those of the Jewish and Arab
victims of Arafat and the PA.
At a time when the Israeli government spokesmen shrug their shoulders at
the prospect of letting out prisoners who have murdered Arabs or prisoners
who have tried to murder Jews, I would expect to hear the voices of Rabbis.
If the act of murder and of attempted murder by people who express no
regret and indeed take pride in their act is not a cause of concern to
eighty Rabbis, am I wrong in not expressing some confusion about human
My hope in the new year is that you indeed become a forceful conscience for
the state and people of Israel. We sure need one.
B'vracha leshana tova umetukah.
Return to Contents
Incitement: The Missing Element in the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum*
by David S. Bedein
The agreement signed between Israel and the PLO on Sept. 4th, 1999 was
different in one significant
way from the Oslo accords that were reached in August, 1993 and the Wye
Accords that were reached in October, 1998.
The element that was missing was that there was no call and no requirement
for the Palestinian Authority to cease its incitment to war against the
state and people of Israel.
The new curriculum of the Palestinian Authority, which indeed inculcates a
new generation of Palestinian Arabs for war with Israel and for liberation
of all of Palestine, is described on the website of the Center for
Monitoring the Impact of Peace, at www.edume.org.
The legal advisor to the office of the Israeli Prime Minister mentions that
the call for the PLO to cease incitment is implicit in all agreements
between Israel and the PLO.
The question remains: why was it not explicit?
* The Sharm el-Sheikh
Memorandum on Implementation Timeline of
Outstanding Commitments of Agreements Signed and the Resumption of Permanent Status Negotiations
Official Text -
Return to Contents
the Israel Resource
The Israel Resource Review is brought to you by
the Israel Resource, a media firm based at the Bet Agron Press Center in
Jerusalem, and the Gaza Media Center under the juristdiction of the Palestine
You can contact us on email@example.com.