Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Over the past two weeks there has been a war of words published in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal on-line between Dr. Gerald Steinberg of Bar Ilan University, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the President of Teruah, and me on the issue of Bedouin human rights in Israel and the recent Prawer-Begin Bill that passed the Knesset and then was cancelled by Prime Minister Netanyahu for reasons, frankly, that are unclear (some say that the human rights organizations forced him to withdraw the bill; others say that his coalition parties in the right wing were equally unhappy for other reasons with the bill).
I have deferred to Jill as the leader of a respected human rights organization of 1800 rabbis to respond to Dr. Steinberg. Jill's most recent excellent and comprehensive piece (published yesterday) on the situation of the Bedouin who are citizens of the state of Israel, by the way, I believe, should settle the issue.
For Rabbi Jill Jacob's piece, see http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/the_bedouin_human_rights_and_legitimacy_a_final_word_to_gerald_steinberg. Dr. Steinberg's prior piece has a link within Jill's article.
12.20.13 at 6:30 am | Rabbi Jacob's most recent excellent and. . .
12.19.13 at 6:54 am | Moses was absolutely unique, the only prophet to. . .
12.17.13 at 7:41 am | I applaud Rabbi Jacobs in her response to Dr.. . .
12.16.13 at 8:28 am | Israel's human rights organizations are not. . .
12.11.13 at 2:49 pm | Exile is not just about one’s physical. . .
12.7.13 at 5:18 pm | Joseph and Nelson Mandela demonstrate that a few. . .
12.17.13 at 7:41 am | I applaud Rabbi Jacobs in her response to Dr.. . . (135)
12.11.13 at 2:49 pm | Exile is not just about one’s physical. . . (77)
12.16.13 at 8:28 am | Israel's human rights organizations are not. . . (74)
December 19, 2013 | 6:54 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The Book of Exodus is essentially a story about God’s saving love for the oppressed Israelites. It begins with the birth of Moses and follows him as a young prince and then as he turned into a rebel and outlaw, then a shepherd, and finally THE prophet of God.
Why Moses? What was so unique about him that God chose him to be his most intimate prophet?
Moses was a complex man; passionate, pure, just, humble, at home nowhere, carrying always his people’s burdens while hearing God’s words.
Moses was absolutely unique, the only prophet to speak panim el panim (“face to face”) with God, and that is what my drash-poem is about. Moses is the most important Jew in our history and our gold standard of a religious, moral and political leader.
In our own time the world has benefited from great leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and President Nelson Mandela. Nevertheless, Moses stands alone.
So often we walk in a daze, / Eyes sunk into creviced faces / Fettered to worldly tasks / And blind to rainbows.
I imagine Moses, in Midian, like that, / Brooding in exile, / Burdened by the people’s suffering, / Knowing each day / Their screaming in stopped-up hearts / And their shedding of silent tears.
A simple shepherd he was, / Staff in hand counting sheep / Until one day / Weaving through rocks /Among bramble bushes he heard / Thorns popping. / Turning his head / His eyes opened / As if for the first time.
God had long before / taken note of him, / From his birth, / But waited until this moment / To choose him as Prophet.
Dodi dofek pit’chi li / A-choti ra-yati / yo-nati ta-mati. / “Open to me, my dove, / my twin, / my undefiled one.” (Song of Songs 5:2)
Moses heard God’s voice / and beheld angels, / His soul flowing in sacred rivers / Of Shechinah light.
‘Why me? / Why am I so privileged / To behold such wonder? / Unworthy as I am!’
God said, / ‘Moses – I have chosen you / Because your heart is burdened / and worried, / Because you know the world’s cruelty, / and you have not become cruel. / Nor do you stand by idly / when others bleed.
You are a tender of sheep, / And you will lead my people / With the shepherd’s staff / And inspire them / To open their stopped-up hearts / without fear.’
Trembling, Moses looked again / Into the bush-flames, / Free from smoke and ash.
His eyes opened as in a dream / And he heard a soft-murmuring-sound / The same that breath makes / As it passes through lips.
Two voices—One utterance! / He hid his face / For the more Moses heard / The brighter was the light / And he knew he must turn away / Or die.
The prophet’s thoughts were free / Soaring beyond form / No longer of self. / To this very day there has not been a purer soul / Than his.
God said, / ‘Come no closer, Moses! / Remove your shoes, / Stand barefoot; /
I want your soul.
I am here with you / And in you – / I am every thing / And no thing – / And you are Me. / I see that which is / And which is not / And I hear it all.
Take heed shepherd-prince / For My people‘s blood / Calls to Me from the ground, / And the living suffer / A thousand deaths.
You must take them out! / Every crying child – / Every lashed man – / Every woman screaming.
And Moses, know this / “With weeping they will come, / And with compassion will I guide them.” (Jeremiah 31:8)
The people’s exile began with tears / And it will end with tears.
I have recorded their story in a Book – / Black fire on white fire – / Letters on parchment / Telling of slaves / Seeing light / And turning to Me / To become a nation.
The Book is My spirit, / The letters are My heart, / They are near to you / That you might do them / And teach them / And redeem My world / And free every human being – / My cherished children all – / That the world might not be consumed / In flames.
That book I give to you / O purest of souls.
December 17, 2013 | 7:41 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Rabbi Jill Jacobs is Executive Director of T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and she alerted a few others and me in Los Angeles to the appearance of an article in the on-line edition of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal by Dr. Gerald Steinberg, who attacked harshly a group of Israeli human rights organizations and NGOs because of their stance on the Knesset's Prawer-Begin plan to relocate 40,000 Israeli Bedouin citizens from their homes in the Negev.
I thought it more important for Jill, speaking as a the leader of one of these NGOs, to be the one to respond, and she did so in yesterday’s edition. See http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/a_response_to_gerald_steinberg_on_the_prawer_begin_plan - “A response to Gerald Steinberg on the Prawer-Begin plan.” Dr. Steinberg's article has has a link in Jill's piece.
My synagogue group met with Dr. Steinberg over dinner in October as part of our Israel-Palestine Mission. Despite my respect for him and his work over many years, I was shocked and disappointed by our time with him.
I had asked Dr. Steinberg to reflect on the politics of the Middle East and Israeli security where his expertise lies. Before eventually getting to these matters he took quite some time to criticize harshly those human rights groups who he charged defame Israel’s good name abroad.
I do not know why he chose to do this with us. Perhaps because he knew of my role as co-chair of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street and my support of B'tzelem, Shalom Achshav, Ir Amim, Rabbis for Human rights, T'ruah, NIF, and other human rights groups in Israel. Our group also had some influential members in medicine, the law, politics, business, and the arts and perhaps he wished to make a point.
It felt like an old settled battle was being waged yet again, that being a critic of Israeli policy is conflated with hostility to the state of Israel. Being a critic of certain policies, of course, does NOT automatically imply anti-Israel hostility. Israelis themselves are among the most self-critical citizens of any nation in the world, and Jewish tradition encourages debate. Indeed, it is contrary to Jewish tradition to withhold legitimate criticism. To criticize from love, in my mind, is the highest form of patriotism.
This is what many of the human rights organizations do that Dr. Steinberg attacks, including T’ruah, Shalom Achshav, B’tzelem, Ir Amim, New Israel Fund, Rabbis for Human Rights, and others.
Each and every one of these organizations is concerned with justice and the dignity of the individual (regardless of nationality, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or ethnic origin) as a reflection of the divine. The values and policies these NGOs support are reflected in Israel's own Declaration of Independence.
I applaud Rabbi Jacobs in her response to Dr. Steinberg and urge readers to read both hers and his original piece.
December 16, 2013 | 8:28 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
As readers of my blog know, I have been writing of the travails of the estimated 55,000 Eritrean and Sudanese Refugees who made it to Israel by walking hundreds of miles because they desperately sought safety from the genocidal dictatorships ruling their countries.
In last week's blog I wrote of the Knesset's passing a new amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law that permits incarceration of these political asylum seekers for up to one year in an open incarceration center (i.e. prison) in the south in the middle of nowhere. In this center, there is a roll-call performed three times every day, so these people cannot successfully walk to the nearest Israeli town to buy food or toothpaste or anything in a grocery store and return to the incarceration center in time for roll-call. Should they not show up, they would be deported to their country of origin and most likely suffer death at the hands of their government.
Despite the High Court's earlier ruling that the original Knesset bill calling for three years incarceration was contrary to Israel's Basic Laws about freedom, the Knesset modified the law to one year.
I print below this morning's press release (December 16) from Israel's "Hotline for Refugees and Migrants" whose leader Sigal Rozen led my congregants and I on a walking tour of the South Tel Aviv neighborhood in October in which 35,000 Eritreans and Sudanese Refugees are forced to live (this is a 3 or 4 block area around the central bus station).
Israel's human rights organizations are not taking the most recent Knesset bill without fighting back. As you can see below, they are going back to the High Court of Justice (Israel's Supreme Court) and appealing the legality of the Knesset bill.
December 16, 2013
Human Rights Organizations Challenge New Amendment to Infiltration Law
New law even more unconstitutional than the one overturned by Court in September
Yesterday (December 15) several human rights organizations filed a petition with the High Court of Justice seeking the nullification of the new amendment to the Law to Prevent Infiltration. The organizations claim that the new amendment does not abide by the principles set forth by the Court's September 15 decision to overturn the previous amendment to the law, and is in many ways more severe than the nullified amendment.
The petition was submitted by Attorneys Oded Feller and Yonatan Berman of theAssociation for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Attorneys Asaf Weitzan and Nimrod Avigal of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (formerly the Hotline for Migrant Workers), Attorneys Anat Ben Dor and Elad Cahana of the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law, and Attorney Osnat Cohen Lifshitz of theClinic for Migrants' Right at the Academic Center for Law and Business, on behalf of ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, Kav Laoved, Physicians for Human Rights, the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), and two asylum seekers from Eritrea transferred last weekend from Saharonim prison to the Holot "open" facility across the road.
The petition strongly criticized the state's actions following the High Court decision. Rather than seek new humane solutions to the refugee issue as the Court directed, the respondents delayed the releases ordered by the Court as long as possible and rushed through a piece of legislation that undermines the ruling and continues treating the asylum seekers inhumanely. The new amendment's one-year administrative detention provision ignores the Court's ruling on the unconstitutionality of imprisoning people who cannot be deported. Perhaps worse, the amendment allows for the interminable detention of non-deportable migrants in facilities managed by the prison authorities and designed to break their spirit until they "voluntarily" self-deport, even if it means endangering their lives.
The petition further argues that the ostensible deterrence purpose of the legislation presents a solution to a problem that does not exist because no new asylum seekers are reaching Israel. "Less than three months after the decision, which included harsh criticism, the legislation was passed in lighting speed. What changed during this period? Nothing. Was there a substantial increase of asylum seekers entering Israel that required a response? No. According to Population and Immigration Authority publications, in the past three moths, 4 Sudanese men have entered Israel irregularly."
To support their request for an interim injunction, the petitioners point out that despite the government having decided to build the "open" facility over than three years ago, it saw no use for it until the court's decision to overturn the prior amendment. "The urgency of the legislation and the completion of the facility demonstrate that its establishment and operation are not the result not of substantive considerations but rather the desire to avoid releasing the detainees, in defiance of the decision of the Court."
For these reasons, the petitioners claim that the new amendment, like the old one, is "outside constitutional boundaries and does not comport to the principles set forth by the High Court of Justice, to the point of ignoring [the prior amendment's] having been voided at all." The petitioners seek an urgent hearing on the petition and an injunction to stay the transfer of asylum seekers to the Holot facility. Justice Handel ordered the respondents to file their response to the injunction request within ten days.
To read the entire petition (in Hebrew) click here.
For more information about the previous legal proceedings (in English) click here.
Anat Ovadia (Hotline for Refugees and Migrants)
Marc Grey (ACRI)
December 11, 2013 | 2:49 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Vayechi is the final parashah in the book of Genesis (47:28-50:26) and it is unusual in a specific way that bears on the State of Israel’s new "Anti-Infiltration Law" aimed at containing 55,000 Eritrean and Sudanese political refugees seeking political asylum in Israel.
What is so unusual about Vayechi that I would make such a connection to contemporary Israel’s dilemma with African refugees?
Every Torah portion’s end is followed by nine open spaces before the first verse of the next parashah begins. But not Vayechi! It is completely closed; that is, it proceeds immediately without interruption by spaces after the last word of last week’s Torah portion Vayigash .
Rashi asks what this might mean, and he concludes that this section is closed “For when Jacob our father died, the eyes and hearts of Israel were closed because of the affliction of the bondage with which the Egyptians began to enslave them.”
Rashi teaches that the enslavement of the people was the beginning of their exile, a condition characterized by spiritual blindness and a hardening of the heart.
Exile takes on many forms – physical, emotional, and spiritual. This means that a Jew can be in exile even if he/she lives in the Land of Israel, in Jerusalem the holy city, in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, and within meters of the Kotel (the holiest site in Judaism).
Indeed, exile is not just about one’s physical location. It is about being separate from God and distant from the Jewish people’s core spiritual aspirations, from the Jewish people itself, from our people’s prophetic moral and ethical principles, and from humanity as a whole.
The Knesset this last week passed a new version of the “Anti-Infiltration Law,” a law that mandates placing into detention centers asylum seekers who make it to Israel. A version of the policy that allowed for detention periods of up to three years was struck down by the Israeli High Court of Justice three months ago on the grounds that it amounted to an unacceptable deprivation of liberty. This new version allows for the detention without trial for one year and for refugees to be held indefinitely in a new "open facility."
More than 55,000 refugees had made it to Israel on foot seeking political asylum as relief from Eritrean and Sudanese genocidal campaigns before Israel completed its southern security fence prohibiting further infiltration.
Though Israel has not deported them for what I presume are humanitarian reasons, I do not understand why Israel has passed this new law, why it refuses to grant these people political asylum or, shy of that, to grant them indefinite work permits until repatriation is safe. Eritreans and Sudanese refugees already work where they can in Tel Aviv’s hotels and on construction sites on a per diem basis, but they have no security as illegal aliens in the state, can be arrested and deported, and taxed heavily for whatever income they have earned thus depleting whatever financial security they have gained. It should be noted that the Eritrean and Sudanese crime rate in Israel is six times smaller than crime rates committed by Israeli citizens.
The State of Israel is a great democracy that has made great contributions in science, medicine, agriculture, water conservation, technology, education, archaeology, the arts, culture, immigrant absorption, and disaster relief in Haiti and the Philippines. It has most recently treated 800 Syrian casualties under the world's radar from the Syrian civil war, to its enormous credit.
But in this area of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, I do not understand why the Israeli government has chosen to do what it did this week.
Does Israel really wish to be closed like the end of the last parashah, shut off from its own Jewish heart and soul to peoples in desperate need?
December 7, 2013 | 5:18 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
There is a parallel between Joseph’s life, the life of Nelson Mandela, and that of Bibi Netanyahu and Abu Mazen.
Nelson Mandela began his struggle as a revolutionary advocating violence against the injustice of apartheid. However, he emerged from prison not thirsty for revenge, but as a man of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. He said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Joseph too could have acted with vengeance against his brothers when they appeared before him, but he did not do so. Rather, he forgave them and said: “Ani Yosef achichem - I am your brother Joseph…do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me here; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:4-5)
Joseph’s and his brothers’ reconciliation was a turning point in Jewish history, for had he not turned from vengeance, not forgiven his brothers (implied by receiving them open-heartedly once Judah revealed that he did not intend to commit the same sin again by leaving Benjamin behind), and not saved his family from famine, the children of Israel would have perished.
A similar challenge confronts the Palestinians and Israelis. Will the two peoples’ representatives acknowledge the wrongs that each has committed against the other, forgive those wrongs and resolve to end this tragic and bloody conflict in a just and secure peace with two states for two peoples, or will they descend into more war, bloodshed and suffering?
Will Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas be like Joseph in Egypt and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, or will they join so many leaders before them who failed to effectively wage peace?
Joseph and Nelson Mandela demonstrate that a few inspired and courageous leaders can change history and be lights unto the nations.
I would love nothing more than for Bibi and Abu Mazen to become the next Nobel Peace Prize Winners, along with Secretary of State John Kerry.
May they do what must be done and then may we celebrate them for having done so.
December 3, 2013 | 6:33 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Last month upon returning from Israel where my synagogue group met Eritrean and Sudanese refugees living in squalor in south Tel Aviv, I wrote a blog about their plight and argued why the Israeli government's efforts in amending the Prevention of Infiltration Law, contrary to the High Court's ruling to release all detainees within 90 days, so as to incarcerate and/or deport these people was contrary to Israel's own Basic Laws and not befitting Israel in its role as the last resort of refuge for the Jewish people.
Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center, has called upon all friends of Israel to sign a petition to Prime Minister Netanyahu asking the Israeli government to reverse its draconian intention to deal harshly with these refugees.
Below is Anat's letter and how you can include your signature on this petition to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The goal is 25,000 signatures. Please sign it and distribute this blog to your friends to follow suit.
For those in Los Angeles, Anat Hoffman will be speaking tonight (Tuesday, December 3, 7:30 PM) at Temple Israel of Hollywood. All are welcome.
Sign our letter to the Prime Minister - http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50494/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12521
Dear Friends of Israel ,
One year ago, I wrote to you about the 53,000 asylum seekers in Israel, the vast majority of which come from Eritrea and Sudan. Many of these individuals are the survivors of unspeakable horrors at home as well as during their Exodus through the Sinai to Israel. They have arrived to Israel over the last decade, believing the country to be a haven free from the evils of their home countries and neighboring countries.
Today, I come to you with a question: how can Israel—a country founded by refugees—continue to imprison and deport African asylum seekers who desperately need her protection? Just over 2 months ago, Israel’s High Court of Justice unanimously ruled that amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which were being used to hold asylum seekers in detention for 3 years or more, were unconstitutional and contradicted Israel’s Basic Laws. The High Court demanded that the State release all imprisoned asylum seekers within 90 days, by December 15th, 2013.
Since the High Court’s decision, only a quarter of the asylum seekers in detention have been released. In defiance of the High Court, the Israeli government instead has begun the legislative process to pass new amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which will keep the same asylum seekers who the High Court ordered to be released to Sadot, an “open” detention center, where they will be held indefinitely.
Sadot is not an “open” center. Prisoners there will have to submit to a headcount three times each day, which, because of Sadot’s isolation along the border with Egypt, will ensure that prisoners will not be able to leave the facility. The Israel Prison Service, which has no prior experience operating an “open” detention center, is slated to run the facility. Anyone who breaches the conditions of the “open” center risks immediately being transferred to the closed prison for anywhere from three months to a year.
Sadot currently has room for 3,300 prisoners, nearly 2,000 more people than those that are currently detained at Saharonim and Ktziot. To fill the other available spaces at Sadot, the Israeli authorities have indicated that they plan to actively arrest asylum seekers who currently are living freely in Israeli cities and to force them to relocate to Sadot facility.
Once an asylum seeker is forced into the “open” detention center at Sadot, the only way that he or she can leave the facility is to consent to “voluntary” deportation to his or her country of origin or a third country. Given that asylum seekers in Sadot will be coerced into making an impossible choice between indefinite imprisonment in Israel and torture and indefinite imprisonment in their home countries, their “consent” to deportation cannot be considered “voluntary.”
Capturing the desperation of asylum seekers in detention, a Darfuri asylum seeker told human rights groups, "I would rather die in my own country than be in prison forever in Israel. I would do anything to get out of prison."
These detention policies are contrary to the democratic and moral values of the State of Israel and have one clear aim: to force those who seek help and protection out of Israel.
Speaking on November 24th, 2013, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not have made the Israeli government’s intentions any clearer: “We are determined to remove the tens of thousands of infiltrators who are here.”
We are calling on the Israeli government to end these unjust policies. Israel has long championed refugee rights—we must help Israel reclaim this position, and fight for those fleeing persecution.
Executive Director, IRAC
Action Alert: Sign the letter to the PM! http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50494/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12521
We are asking our supporters to sign this letter to Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, insisting that Israel release asylum seekers from detention and provide them with a legal, moral, and fair path to apply for asylum in safety. Our goal is 25,000 in the next two weeks so please forward it to your friends and family and post it on your Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Anat Hoffman's Speaking Tour Dates
Tuesday, Dec 3, 19:30 – Temple Israel of Hollywood – Hollywood, CA
December 2, 2013 | 7:19 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
It is true in our interpersonal relationships, as it is true in religion, science, politics, business, education, technology, and the arts – that those who take the greatest risks, who act from love and not fear, who challenge the limits of current thinking and think outside the box, who meld their self-interests with the common good, who act on behalf of justice, compassion and peace, that these are the people who not only evolve and grow as individuals, but effect progress in society and the world as a whole.
I have pondered for years why some people are uncommonly courageous, willing to step outside the mainstream to create something new, to fight for justice and peace, despite the inherent risks.
I ponder as well why other people resist positive change, hold tenaciously to their truths regardless of the evidence that disproves their veracity, are risk adverse, and seek certainty even if it means ignoring innovations that will improve their quality of life and the quality of life of others.
Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston in the Graduate College of Social Work, has studied such differences in people and come to the conclusion that the determining factor in the way people think and behave is how they cope with vulnerability, for it is vulnerability that underpins our feelings about ourselves, our relationships to others and to the world around us.
At the heart of vulnerability, she says, is the fear of losing connection with others due to a sense of inherent unworthiness. The most frightened among us fear especially the shame that comes with disconnection. These people assume that because they themselves feel unworthy they will be rejected when others discover the truth about them, that they are not smart enough, desirable enough, lovable enough, talented enough, competent enough, promotable enough, or wealthy enough. Whatever the deficiency they feel, they fear being revealed as flawed and vulnerable.
Those who do not fear their vulnerability are what Dr. Brown calls “whole-hearted” because they feel worthy of love and connection, despite their flaws, and so they allow their vulnerabilities to be known and seen and do not worry about rejection. Such people tend to have greater empathy and tenderness, and rather than fear the shame that comes with disconnection, they feel courage in connection. It is that courage born in a sense of self-worthiness that enables them to muster their abilities, insights and talents and take risks, create, innovate, and change.
Those who fear disconnection the most not only become numb to their vulnerabilities, they numb other emotions including empathy, compassion, gratitude, and joy. Disconnected, they feel miserable and seek means to discharge their misery. Is it any wonder, Dr. Brown asks, that this generation of Americans is the most addicted and medicated cohort of any we have seen before in American history?
Those numb to vulnerability tend to crave certainty and black/white answers to life’s most difficult challenges. They regard intolerance as virtue, openness as destabilizing, nuanced thinking as elitist, and creativity as subversion.
To acknowledge vulnerability is to accept our humanity, for none of us is perfect. Recognizing our vulnerability means that we are alive, and being courageous in connection we invest in relationships that may or may not work out. We start something new that may or may not bear fruit. Vulnerability understood this way is hardly negative, it is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.
As I have thought about the role that vulnerability plays in the way people, communities and nations respond to creativity, innovation, and change, I believe that Dr. Brown has identified a key emotional reality that we ignore at our own peril.