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BSST

BSST is the leading charity focusing on small-scale grass roots cross community, anti poverty and humanitarian projects in Israel/Palestine
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JfJfP comments


2016:

06 May: Tair Kaminer starts her fifth spell in gaol. Send messages of support via Reuven Kaminer

04 May: Against the resort to denigration of Israel’s critics

2015:

23 Dec: JfJfP policy statement on BDS

14 Nov: Letter to the Guardian about the Board of Deputies

11 Nov: UK ban on visiting Palestinian mental health workers

20 Oct: letter in the Guardian

13 Sep: Rosh Hashanah greetings

21 Aug: JfJfP on Jeremy Corbyn

29 July: Letter to Evening Standard about its shoddy reporting

24 April: Letter to FIFA about Israeli football

15 April: Letter re Ed Miliband and Israel

11 Jan: Letter to the Guardian in response to Jonathan Freedland on Charlie Hebdo

2014:

15 Dec: Chanukah: Celebrating the miracle of holy oil not military power

1 Dec: Executive statement on bill to make Israel the nation state of the Jewish people

25 Nov: Submission to All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism

7 Sept: JfJfP Executive statement on Antisemitism

3 Aug: Urgent disclaimer

19 June Statement on the three kidnapped teenagers

25 April: Exec statement on Yarmouk

28 Mar: EJJP letter in support of Dutch pension fund PGGM's decision to divest from Israeli banks

24 Jan: Support for Riba resolution

16 Jan: EJJP lobbies EU in support of the EU Commission Guidelines, Aug 2013–Jan 2014

2013:

29 November: JfJfP, with many others, signs a "UK must protest at Bedouin expulsion" letter

November: Press release, letter to the Times and advert in the Independent on the Prawer Plan

September: Briefing note and leaflet on the Prawer Plan

September: JfJfP/EJJP on the EU guidelines with regard to Israel

14th June: JfJfP joins other organisations in protest to BBC

2nd June: A light unto nations? - a leaflet for distribution at the "Closer to Israel" rally in London

24 Jan: Letter re the 1923 San Remo convention

18 Jan: In Support of Bab al-Shams

17 Jan: Letter to Camden New Journal about Veolia

11 Jan: JfJfP supports public letter to President Obama

Comments in 2012 and 2011

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Posts

Rosh Hashona/Yom Kippur

Rosh Hashona/Yom Kippur

One becomes a Jew over one’s life

At Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year – 2011 the Jewish Chronicle gathered 5 people for a discussion on being Jewish in Britain. For our coming secular New Year, we post this round-table which ranges, calmly and crossly, over identity, Israel, God, anti-semitism, parenthood, judgmentalism, Palestine, the diaspora and much else.

The debate was chaired by Guardian and JC columnist Jonathan Freedland. The five people in discussion were:

● Baroness Julia Neuberger, senior rabbi of West London Synagogue and a cross-bench member of the House of Lords
● Playwright Amy Rosenthal
● Ian Livingston, chief executive of the BT Group (formerly British Telecom)
● Julia Hobsbawm, media businesswoman, writer, mother and stepmother
● Anthony Julius, lawyer, chairman of the JC, and writer on antisemitism

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Hundreds of Jews declare in unison at #occupywallstreet: We will hold ourselves accountable for the occupation of Palestine

There are four items in this posting
1) report of Planning Yom Kippur at OWS;
2) snippets and sermon from Yom Kippur at OWS;
3) interview with David Graeber
4) address by Naomi Klein at OWS

and

Occupy Wall Street movement branded as antisemitic

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A fishy story from Micah’s Paradigm Shift for the Jewish Days of Awe

Friday, 14 September 2012

(Micah’s Paradigm Shift: Israel-Palestine from a UK Jewish perspective. Rescuing the Hebrew covenant one blog post at a time.)

Jonah on the couch – inside the mind of the reluctant prophet


The Days of Awe were approaching and I was thinking about Jonah.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the story of the reluctant Hebrew Prophet who shirks his mission, runs away to sea and is famously swallowed by a giant fish.

We read his story in the synagogue every Yom Kippur afternoon as a parable of forgiveness and God’s love for all of his creation. When Jonah finally makes it to that great city of Nineveh he still doesn’t care much for the job he has been tasked with – telling the sinful Ninevites to repent. He can’t get his head around the idea that God should care a jot for this people who “do not know their right hand from their left.”

I can never quite decide if the story is a comedy or a tragedy. Here he is, centre stage, the man who tries to run away from God. As if God only looks down on Israel and to get out of God’s sight all one has to do his hop on board a boat from Joppa and travel west to Tarshish. Jonah, with his Israel-centric view of the universe, is comic and absurd even before the business with the fish.
One thing is for sure, he remains unimpressed by God’s mercy even after he is spewed onto dry land by the fish for a shot at redemption.

The Book of Jonah is certainly prophetic but the prophet himself is something of a ethical disappointment. He has little in common with his next door neighbour in the Hebrew bible, my good friend Micah.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, much appreciated!”

I looked up from the notebook in which I scribble ideas for this blog – and there in my living room was the fishy man himself.

Jonah had occupied my couch. With threads of seaweed still in his hair, he was reclining across the full length of the sofa, his legs sticking over the armrest. In his hand he was holding my TV remote control and flicking through the news channels on mute.

“So you think I’m just some Hebrew comedian do you? I don’t buy this interpretation of yours. And I don’t see any theology degree hanging on the wall either.”

What are you doing in my home?

“You believe in a universal God, a God for all, and for all time. Why should you be so surprised when scripture turns up in your front room? By the way, what year is this?”
What year do you think it is?

“I can’t decide. I’m thinking 1938, or perhaps 1942. No, maybe 1948, or 1967. I always liked 1967. When we put an end to those Auschwitz borders.”

It’s September 2012. It’s Yom Kippur soon. Is that why you’re here?

“How do I know? I expect you need some sense knocking into you. That’s usually why I seem to turn up in strange places. By the way, it must be 40 years since the Munich Olympics, I hope you said a few prayers and stood silent for the murdered Israeli athletes?”

The campaign was all a little too politicised for my liking. It felt like an excuse to remind the world about Palestinian terrorism and Jewish victimhood. Emotional blackmail at an international level. It left a nasty taste. The athletes deserved to be remembered but not at the expense of any kind of honest acknowledgement of what has driven the conflict for 100 years.

“Your kind are so soft. Your compassion is out of all control. Palestinians, Bedouins, African immigrants, Iranians! You put everyone ahead of us in the line. You’d prefer we were squashed to a pulp before raising a figure to protect your own people.”

I always thought the point of your story was the importance of a universal ethic of compassion.

“What’s the point of compassion for your greatest enemies?. Nineveh was the Third Reich of its day. How much compassion do you have for the Nazis (not to mention their cattle)?”

You’re right, it’s a pretty tall ask. But at least we could make a start on climbing the ladder.

“You’re crazy! Who wants to be the most ethical people in civilisation’s graveyard?”

So where does that leave us? What’s the point of being Jewish?

“Survival is the imperative. After the Holocaust, it’s the 614th commandment. I read that somewhere.”

And how does that play itself out today?

“We sideline the Palestinians. We keep the Americans wrapped around our little finger. We build what the hell we like in Judea and Samaria. We keep Gaza under lock and key. We make sure Iran knows who is boss in the Middle East.”

And how long do you think we can keep this up before too many people start to ask about human rights as well as Jewish rights?

“As long as we can play the eternal victim, we’ll be just fine.”

In the big fish, when you thought all was lost, you sounded very different. You called out to God and said: ‘They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.’

“A later insertion by the rabbis. Not a true reflection of my point of view. That whole prayer, in the belly of the fish, was the kind of defeatist attitude that suited us in our exile. Weak diaspora mentality designed for keeping in with the locals.”

You know, I’m beginning to feel attracted to that whole running away thing you did back then.

“Fine by me. We could do with fewer Jews like you with your naive questions and hypersensitivity. But now who’s trying to run away from God?”

Not from God, definitely not from God. Away from reckless power, away from a tribal self-obsession, away from a mad perversion of Judaism that’s turned nationalism into a Golden Calf. We are the ones who no longer know our right hand from our left. In fact, our whole moral compass has been sent into spasm at the very moment we think we have found our collective redemption.

“Nice little speech. You and your friends can go back into exile. See if anyone notices.”

I’m not planning to hide like you or wait for the storm to blow over. It’s not a passive exile I have in mind. I’m grabbing the Hebrew covenant and rescuing it from oblivion – one blog post at a time! If I can open a few Jewish eyes to what’s being done in the name of Judaism and the Jewish people then that will be a start.

“I see those murderous terrorist friends of yours in Gaza are still firing rockets into southern Israel. Anything to say?”

Are we really so very innocent? Do we really have not a single thing to answer for? Have you noticed how many more of their children than ours have died across the years? Yet we are the ones who are told to be fearful and feel eternally threatened? Can we never afford to express just a moment of self-reflection or, God forbid, some self-criticism?

“I’ll see you on Yom Kippur then?”

Well, we certainly both have much to atone for in our own ways. You’ve done too much. I’ve not done enough.

“I’ve no idea what you mean. I have a clear conscience.”

I thought you might say that. You know that’s the biggest problem! We can’t even see what we are doing. Delusion and denial and a grand scale! And you know, you are right, I was wrong about you being a comic character. Without doubt, your story is tragic. And now, you can get off my couch and hand over the TV remote, I would like my living room back!

“You can have your living room and the remote. I have bigger fish to fry.”

And with that the man with the seaweed hair was gone.

Happy New Year/Shonah Tovah! And may we all be written in the Book of Life.

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Yom Kippur

Shalom.

Please find here the annual RHR Yom Kippur Vidui (Confession) for 5773.  Afterwards, you will find my “Yom Kippur Thoughts,” based on my words in front of Minister Yishai’s home last Thursday, dealing with the way we treat African refugees. At the very end, you have the vidui in Hebrew

Sadly, there are many lines here which we have included for several years. There are also too many new lines.  Of course, this vidui dealing with the injustices of our society is not a substitute for the personal soul searching we each need to do at this time of year.

The vidui is also on the RHR website, and you can download it as a Word document.  (The Hebrew is also on our website, and you can click to download a Word document after the vidui at the bottom of the page.).

My “Yom Kippur Thoughts also on the website in English.

Dealing uncompromisingly with those aspects of our personal and societal lives that need improvement is the very thing that enables us to move forward.  In my opinion, the feeling that we are dealing with our shortcoming and hopefully making progress also allows us to celebrate that which is good within us.  Whether this is true or not, it is certainly very important also to recognize the positive.

Therefore, for the second year, we will publish for Sukkot our “spiritual harvest” for the year.

G’Mar Khatima Tova – May the Final Seal Be For the Good,

Arik

(Rabbi Arik Asherman)

P.S. Please go to  Parashat HaShavua for RHR’s weekly human rights sermon and updates. Or, follow us on facebook or on twitter  (Instructions in Hebrew, many posts in English)

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RHR Vidui 5773

The vidui (recounting of our sins) during the High Holidays is intended to make us feel uncomfortable, to confront us with the wrongs we have done. This vidui relates to our society today, to the way in which we treat the unemployed and disadvantaged, immigrants, migrant workers, single mothers, the elderly, the exploited women, the Arab citizens of the State and the Palestinians, and those we disagree with politically. The vidui asks us to take individual responsibility also for the collective sins of our society.  In many cases the first line is from the traditional vidui., another traditional source, or well known phrase or concept.  You can check this by reading the Hebrew or looking at the transliterations and references appearing here after the vidui.

Just as the High Priest in ancient times had to recite his own vidui before saying a vidui for others, we in the human rights community need to look at our own sins before we recount the sins of the society we are part of. For those using this English version, it is particularly important to personalize this section.  Yom Kippur is not a time merely to point a finger at somebody else. For some the sin they must confess is always assuming the worst about Israel, while others must confess defending Israel, no matter what….

For the sin we have sinned against You by harshly judging others

               Lacking faith in You, in ourselves, and in our society.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through offensive talk,

               Disparaging those whose concept of justice is different than ours.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through faint heartedness and
succumbing to dismay,

When we said that Tikun Olam (Repairing the World) is “In the heavens”
or “Across the Sea,” and thus beyond our capability.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through short sightedness

Ignoring education and long term change, believing we could repair the world instantly.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You by throwing off the yoke,

              When we gave up and said “Let others repair the world.”

And for the sin we have sinned against You by foolish talk,

              When we preferred complaining to acting.

And for the sin we have sinned against You by scoffing

              At those who yet believe that they can bring about a better world.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You saying knowingly and deceiving ourselves,

              “Everything will be fine,” in order to justify inaction.

And for the sin we have sinned against You saying “We didn’t know”

              But, we knew.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through justification.

               Allowing deportation to South Sudan because there is “only” hunger and malaria.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You saying “If I am not for myself who will be for me,”

              To justify caring only about Jews

And for the sin we have sinned against You saying “If I am only for myself, who am I,”

              Caring only about non-Jews.

And for the sin we have sinned against You ignoring “If not now, when,”

              Allowing the government to quiet the social protest movement.

 

For all these and more, God of forgiveness, we ask forgiveness, pardon,
and atonement.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You by indulging in food and drink

              While people freeze to death in Levinsky Park and immolate themselves in despair

              On the streets of Tel Aviv.

And for for the sin we have sinned against You by sitting and not taking action (Shev v’al ta’aseh)

              In our comfortable homes, even as others are being evicted from theirs.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through the words we have mouthed,

            As if we truly cared about the weakest and poorest among us.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through quieting our conscience

               By giving charity without dealing with the roots of poverty.

 

For the sin which we have sinned against You by hardening our hearts

              To poverty, hunger and despair.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through Lashon HaRa (slander)

               Claiming that the unemployed are “faking it” and “parasites.”

 

For the sin we have sinned against You saying “What is mine is mine, what is yours is mine,”

              Justifying the unequal distribution of resources.

And for the sin we have sinned against You saying “What is mine is mine, what is yours is yours,”

              Justifying the unequal distribution of resources.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You by breach of trust,

Preferring short term profits for ourselves over long term investment in education, living wage jobs and dignity.

And for the sin we have sinned against you by putting up blocks

Such as lack of investment in public housing and unfair eligibility requirements, denying a home to many.

And for the sin we have sinned against You by leaving buildings empty,

            Even as others lack a home.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You by casting aside the weak,

Neglecting medicines for the sick and the health system.

And for the sin which we have sinned against You by abandoning your Torah

              When we ceased to be a society responsible for one another.

 

For all these and more, God of forgiveness, we ask forgiveness, pardon,
and atonement.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through the desecration of Your Name

Fulfilling the commandments how to treat our fellow human beings only with regards to Jews

And for the sin which we have sinned against You through insolence -

            Saying that only Jews have rights to the Land.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through drunken vision

               Not seeing Israeli Arabs as fellow citizens.

And for the sin we have sinned against You consciously or unconsciously,

Not giving equal opportunity to study, work or be full members of  society

 

For the sin we have sinned against you by misusing our minds,

              Believing that Bedouin are trespassers and criminals taking over the Negev.

And for the sin we have sinned against You by running to do evil,

              Hurrying to take their lands without waiting for the courts to determine ownership.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through selfish envy,

              By not honoring Bedouin claims to 5.4% of the Negev

And for the sin we have sinned against You through abuse of power,

Demolishing homes and scheming to expel tens of thousands from their homes.

And for the sin we have sinned against You knowingly and deceitfully,

As the JNF hides from it’s donors its role in “Judaizing” the Negev.

               

For all these and more, God of forgiveness, we ask forgiveness, pardon,
and atonement.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You by plotting against our neighbors,

               The Palestinians

And for the sin we have sinned against You knowingly or unknowingly,

Allowing successive governments to steal, demolish, uproot, and humiliate.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You by ruling high handedly,

              While Palestinians are unrepresented among the lawmakers, judges and planners

              Determining their fate.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through double standards,

Expelling families from Sheikh Jarakh on the basis of pre ’48 claims, even as the law prevents them from reclaiming their pre ’48 homes.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through the abuse of power

Exploiting State power to prevent Palestinians from building legally.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through hard heartedness,

               Ignoring children’s tears when we demolished their “illegal” homes

 

For the sin we have sinned against you because we were seduced

               By Jerusalem’s magic to steal in Silwan, Issawiyah and throughout
East Jerusalem.

For the sin we have sinned against You through disrespect shown to parents, teachers and children

            By not building needed classrooms.

 

For all these and more, God of forgiveness, we ask forgiveness, pardon,
and atonement.
.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through justifying,

               Arguing that anything is permissible in the name of our defense.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through foolish talk

              Excusing collective punishment and harming civilians.

For the sin which we have sinned against You through dulling the mind,

              Claiming that the State discriminates against Jews in the Occupied Territories.

And through the sin we have sinned against You through obfuscation,

Planning mass expulsion from the South Hebron Hills while speaking of an “Enlightened Occupaton” and a “Moral army.”

For the sin we have sinned against You through hypocrisy,

Doing little to stop the rising violence against Palestinians, but

Lamenting when the same criminals attack soldiers.

And for the sin we have sinned against You by rushing to do wrongly,

            Abandoning alternatives and turning to force.

           

And for the sin we have sinned against You by causeless hatred

Towards those daring to ask questions or present facts contradicting our beliefs.

And for the sin we have sinned against You by breaking the yoke,

            Trampling the foundations of democracy and justice because we were the majority

 

For all these and more, God of forgiveness, we ask forgiveness, pardon,
and atonement.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You by closing our borders

              To refugees fleeing for their lives.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through imposing borders

              So that refuges would live somewhere in South Tel Aviv, but not next to us.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You by running to do wrongly,

               Rushing to beat, burn and demonstrate against refugees

And for the sin we have sinned against You through the words of our lips,

               Inciting and sowing fear.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through abuse of power,

               Jailing and expelling.

And for the sin we have sinned against You by eating and drinking

               Even as we denied refugees permits to work and put bread on their tables.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through forgetting

               The many times borders were closed for us.

And for the sin we have sinned against You for forgetting

That we were strangers in the land of Egypt

 

For the sin we have sinned against You in doing business 

               Making guest workers into modern slaves to be bought and sold.

And for the sin we have sinned against You through hard heartedness,

               Expelling their children.

 

For all these and more, God of forgiveness, we ask forgiveness, pardon,
and atonement.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through tolerating human trafficking

               Rather than fighting the traffickers and pimps.

And for the sin we have sinned against You by desecrating Your Name

Abandoning the “agunot” (Women not granted a Jewish divorce) and ignoring the solutions that exist in the Halacha.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You by educating

                           Our children with stereotypes and prejudice.

And for the sin which we have sinned against You by scoffing,

Denigrating new immigrants and failing to honor their traditions and cultures.

 

For sin we have sinned against You through spiritual blindness,

               Not seeing You in all the “others” who live among us.

And for the sin which we have sinned against You by thinking to ourselves and whispering in closed rooms,     

That which we should have cried out loud, raising our voices as a shofar.

 

For all these and more, God of forgiveness, we ask forgiveness, pardon,
and atonement.

.

May the meditations of our hearts and the words and intentions of our prayer bring us to true teshuva, and lead us forward to acts of righteousness and tzedaka, in order to make our world a place in which the Shekhina can dwell.

References:

Harshly judging others – plilut

Offensive talk – dibur peh

Faint heartedness and succumbing to dismay-timahon levav

Short sightedness – tzarut ayin

Throwing off the yoke – frikat ohl

Foolish talk-tipshut peh

Scoffing – latzon

Saying knowingly and deceiving ourselves B’da’at u’v’mirmah

“We didn’t know” lo yodim (Actual phrase is B’yodim u’v’lo yodim)

Justification-tziduk ha’din

“If I am not for myself who will be for me,” Im eyn ani li, mi li –All three of these phrases are a well known quote from Hillel in Pirkei Avot

If I am only for myself, who am I – c’sh’ani l’atzmi, mah ani

If not now, when – Im eyn akshav, ei-matai

Food and drink makhal u’mishteh

Sitting and not taking action (Shev v’al ta’aseh)

The words we have mouthed – bitui sfatayim

Hardening our hearts – Imutz HaLev

Lashon HaRa (slander)

“What is mine is mine, what is yours is mine,” Sheli sheli, shelkha sheli (Pirkei Avot)

What is mine is mine, what is yours is yours,” Sheli sheli, shelkha shelka (Pirkei Avot)

Breach of trust  tzomet yad

Casting aside the weak, based on Al taskhlikeinu …k;khlot kokheinu -prayer recited on Yom Kippur,

Desecration of Your Name –khilul HaShem

Insolence – Azut Metzakh

Drunken vision – Shikur Ayin

Consciously or unconsciously-b’Zadon u’v’shgaga

Misusing our minds, b’vli da’at

Running to do evil-ritzat reglayim le’ha’ra

Selfish envy-Tzarut Ayin

Abuse of power-khozek yad

Knowingly and deceitfully- B’da’at u’v’mirmah

Plotting against our neighbors, tzidiyat reah

Knowingly or unknowingly- B’yodim u’v’lo yodim

High handedly – yad ramah

Double standards, Eifah v’eifah

Abuse of power – khozek yad

Hard heartedness – eimutz HaLev

Seduced – shikur ayin

Disrespect shown to parents, teachers and children zilzul l’horim v’morim original is only parents and teachers.

Justifying-Tziduk HaDdin

Foolish talk – tipshut peh

Dulling the mind timtum ha’da’at

Obfuscation, Eynayim ramot

Hypocrisy, vidui peh

Rushing to do wrongly,

Causeless hatred – sinat khinam

Breaking the yoke – frikat ohl

Running to do wrongly – Ritzat ragleinu l’ha’ra

Words of our lips – siakh sifateinu

               Inciting and sowing fear.

Abuse of power-khozek yad

Makhal u’eating and drinking – makhal u’mishteh

Doing business  – Masa U’Matan

 

Hard heartedness – Imutz HaLev

Human trafficking V’I’dat znut

Desecrating Your Name – Khilul HaShem

Scoffing-Latzon

Cried out loud, raising our voices as a shofar (Adopted from Yom Kippur Morning Haftarah, Isaiah 58)

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Yom Kippur Thoughts 5773

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Based on my remarks at a vigil of kheshbon nefesh (Soul Searching) regarding Israel’s treatment of African refugees in front of the home of Interior Minister Eli Yishai on 20.9.12

 

 Minister Yishai, I am a somewhat emotional standing hear and speaking, after speaking just a few hours ago with a friend of mine who you deported to South Sudan.  He is now sick with malaria, and for a while was hanging between life and death.  I also spoke with somebody who told of the fear, the kidnappings and political persecution of anybody who criticizes the government.  Perhaps I also thought that the “only” problems in South Sudan were malaria and malnutrition.  However, I was wrong.

This evening I suggest that you watch the film, “The Voyage of the Damned,” about the countries that closed their doors to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany on the “St. Louis.”  This is a story that that has repeated itself time after time, in the darkest periods of our history.  Minister Yishai, saving fellow human beings fleeing for their lives is not only commanded in the Torah –  It is a command of history, seared in the consciousness of a people that is supposed to know the soul of the stranger. For, we were strangers in the land of Egypt, in Germany, Morocco, Salonika Spain, Poland and Iraq…  From our long history of doors closed in our times of need, we know all too well the soul of the refugee.

 I know that you are not the Education Minister, But, I must ask (As I did ask Education Minister Saar a few months ago). In light of the barrier we are building, in order not to even allow refugees and asylum seekers the opportunity to try and prove that they are truly refugees, how can we continue to condemn in our schools the behavior of the countries that did not lift a finger to help Jews?  When we employ on the border a policy of “Hot (Immediate) return, how can we continue to teach in our yeshivot, “You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his/her master. S/he shall live with you in any place s/he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever s/he pleases; you must not oppress him/her (Deuteronomy 23:18)?   How do you reconcile the fact that we are inciting hatred against refugees, calling them “infiltrators,” jailing them or denying them work permits even to those refugees that have the right to be here, with the verses, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him/her.  The stranger sho resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shal love him/her as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  (Leviticus 19:33-34)? How can we ask the Boreh HaOlam (Creator of the Universe) to sit on the throne of rakhamim (mercy) when judging us on Yom Kippur, when we don’t give a fair chance to asylum speakers to make their case?  Where is our rakhamim, when we threaten those who manage to get here with arrest or deportation?

I know that in these days of kheshbon nefesh, I simply can’t point the finger at others and clear myself of all blame.  It was all too easy to believe that it wasn’t so terrible for the South Sudanese to be sent back.   Both an Israeli court and international human rights organizations said that, even if there are still war torn areas, terrible poverty and hunger, there isn’t the sort of pervasive political or ethnic persecution that would justify blanket protection.  In other words, it didn’t seem to be a violation of international law to return refugees to South Sudan, as long as they were allowed to ask for refugee status on an individual basis.  However, as I have already said, I have a sick friend and have heard about the persecution, not to mention the at least eight deportees that have died.  I also wanted to believe that, although you deported the South Sudanese refugees, you wouldn’t heed the command not to oppress the stranger.  We would treat decently the Eritreans and North Sudanese still enjoying blanket protection prohibiting deportation.  However, with your promise to jail them, I now realize that I was again looking through rose colored glasses.  I also have been at fault for not doing anything other than offer sympathy for the Israelis living in South Tel Aviv, where most of the refugees have been dumped.  I knew that the Israelis were also in need, but did nothing.  It was easy to relieve myself of responsibility by saying, “It will all work out.”  But, it hasn’t.

So, Minister Yishai, I do understand that you may have also given in to the temptation that to hear what you wanted to hear.  Perhaps you also deluded yourself into believing you could deport and jail and deny work without really harming anybody.  Surely now you also know that this is not the case.

You are also a politician.  You read polls and you know what your voters feel.  You rightly empathize with the distress of the residents of South Tel Aviv.  However, Rabbi Israel Salanter said that any rabbi whose community always agrees with him is not truly a rabbi.   This is true for political leaders as well.  You have a responsibility not only to chase after your voters and do what is popular.  You must lead.  When you correctly worry about the Israelis in South Tel Aviv, the solution is not to resort to demagoguery.  You must not pit one disadvantaged group against another.  You should not be the one to inflame hatred against foreigners.  You must not promote that abominable notion found in all too many religions, the idolatrous belief that the God of all existence and of every human being is only concerned for one people.  God’s commandments instructing us how to treat our fellow human beings (Beyn adam l’khavero) do not refer only to how we treat fellow Jews.

As Interior Minister, you could you use your authority to help both refugees and the veteran residents of South Tel Aviv.  You could spread out the refugee population, and I don’t mean that you should do this by imprisoning them.  They could be spread throughout the State, and House of Israel.  As we will read on Yom Kippur, “No, this is the fast I desire…It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your house; When you see the naked, to clothe him/her, and not to ignore your own kin.  (Haftarah for Yom Kippur Morning, Isaiah 58: 6-7). Minister Yishai, your kin are not just the Jewish people, but all of humanity.  The fact that every human being is created in God’s Image unites each and every one of us.

If you believe (And you may be surprised to know that I think there is some truth to this.) that both financially and culturally Israel cannot absorb the tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of refugees that would come here if we allowed it, then I have an idea for you.  I have already put out feelers asking how we might convince foreign governments by allowing us to be a way station, accepting refugees that have made their way here.  Obviously you can do much more than I.  We could ask Jewish communities around the world to lend a hand by sponsoring refugees from Israel, as they once sponsored our brothers and sisters from the Former Soviet Union.  When foreign countries knew that those Former Soviet refugees were less likely to become an economic burden, they were more willing to relax immigration laws.

However, rumor has it that you already have received such offers.  There have been countries that were willing to accept refugees from Israel, if you would only give them official refugee status.  It is rumored that you did not want to do that, fearing it would increase the number of refugees desiring to make it to Israel.

Finally, Minister Yishai, I know you well enough to know that you are capable of change.  You came to Hadera in 2005 convinced that the Israeli Wisconsin Plan (Welfare to work program using the carrot and stick approach which RHR took a leading role in defeating. A.A.) was the best thing ever.  To your credit, you didn’t duck in the back door, but took the time to sit and listen to the demonstrators that were waiting for you.  You were so moved by what you heard that you went back and made major changes in the program.

Here too, I know that you are capable of doing what not too many politicians are capable of doing. I know that there is a difference.  The refugees are not fellow Jews and not potential voters. However, when we are talking about pikuakh nefesh (saving human lives), that should not matter  You have it in you to listen to those whose eyes are turned towards you, to pause for a moment of kheshbon nefesh, to turn, change direction, and return to the core values of our Torah and our people, thereby answering those in need.  I don’t say that it will be easy. But, isn’t that just what this season is about?

G’Mar Khatima Tova (May the Final Seal Be For Good).

Rabbi Arik Ascherman
Rabbis For Human Rights

 


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