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Some light on, and to Rabbis for Human Rights

June 17, 2007


Les Canges

(Canges is a concerned secularist for peace and was the first Bar Mitzvah of Congregation Rodef Shalom)

The last time I attended anything at a synagogue was some four years ago when I went to an election rally at the Hebrew Educational Alliance for the honorable Joseph Lieberman, then running as a democrat for president of the country. I was forced to wear a kippah (yarmulke). I watched as the crowd steered him from expressing some grudging admiration for Hanan Ashrawi to denouncing all Palestinians, especially “homicide” bombers. It was the first time Senator Lieberman disappointed me, which he now does on an almost daily basis.

On June 12 I went to Beth Evergreen Synagogue, on the border of Elk Meadow Park, which has a particularly pretty and peaceful overlook of the Eastern side of the park and Colorado Highway 74, the main road into Evergreen, Colorado. I was one of thirty or so people who came to hear Rabbi Brian Walt, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America, in a talk entitled “After 6-Day and 6-Year Wars: Balancing Military Power and Prophetic Ideals in Israel and the United States”. I was not forced to wear a kippah.

Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) was established in 1988, in part as a response to the first intifada. Several American reform, conservative and orthodox rabbis decided to move to Israel and establish a Jewish, moral alternative to the Israeli strategy dealing with the first intifada. Dr. Walt quoted then defense minister Yitzhak Rabin’s statement of that strategy, “To break their bones and smash their skulls”. Dr. Walt, representing RHR, believes that Israel, the Jewish state, has jettisoned perhaps the highest core value of Judaism: Social Justice. It also has its focus on eliminating the use of torture, especially by Americans. Dr. Walt mentioned that a Sunday, June 26 event in Washington DC, `A Day of Action to Restore Law and Order

RHR has three primary goals. The first is to re-introduce and promote social justice as a core Israeli value. This is done through biblical and cultural research, teaching basic human rights to Israelis, especially those in the military, and directing a Yeshiva to produce more rabbis and teachers of like mind. Its second goal is to promote economic justice in Israel itself and its third is to ensure that the legal and democratic processes in Israel treat the Israeli/Palestinian conflict within the context of biblical/historical and current understanding of human rights. Being a Rabbi, Dr. Walt discussed the book of Amos the Prophet who lived at a time when Israel was prosperous but disrespectful to its neighbors and “strangers” in its lands. He also referenced the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the 40th anniversary of which is next year, as a Jewish inspired blueprint for human and political interaction.

The second and third goals are accomplished through partnership and collaboration with other Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations and groups, for example joining members of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions in living in Arab homes and thereby preventing or slowing the demolition of those homes due to “zoning violations” when Arab families expand their homes to accommodate new family members. RHR has also vigorously pursued in Israeli courts, with some success, the rights of Arabs who live in or near West Bank settlements.

In 2002 another group of American rabbis established RHR – North America (RHR-NA) to publicize RHRs efforts and raise funds among American Jews and others for RHR. It also has its own focus on eliminating the use of torture, especially by Americans. Dr. Walt mentioned a June 26 event in Washington, DC, a Day of Action to Restore Law and Justice. RHR is joining with ACLU, Amnesty International, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Religious Campaign against Torture and other groups in this historic Day of Action. The following link: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/29719res20070514.html provides more information on the event.

Most of the 30 or so people in the audience are members of the Beth Evergreen Congregation. They were respectful and receptive to Dr. Walt’s message. During the Q&A period Dr. Walt emphasized that he is a Zionist, dedicated to the permanent establishment of a Jewish State (aka Israel) in that geographic area of the world. He is convinced by theology, history, universal declarations, and current events that the disrespectful, violent, and sometimes torturous policies of the Israeli government during most of its modern existence are detrimental to true Zionist goals. He supports a two-state, peaceful and mutually respectful solution to the conflict, as do most of the people in the region.

One more note: I believe special consideration should be given to Rabbi Benjamin (Jamie) Arnold for inviting Dr. Walt and hosting this event. I may even visit his synagogue again.
Prince Comments:
Rabbi Brian Walt, spoke at two venues, once in Evergreen, on which Les Canges reported, the other at the home of Rabbi Tirzah Firestone in Boulder. I have not yet heard about the Boulder event. Another reaction to the Evergreen talk (name omitted) that I received by email described the event as follows:

“Rabbi Brian Walt’s presentation at Congregation Beth Evergreen last evening was wonderfully compassionate and articulate. He did superbly in fielding more than an hour of thoughtful, sometimes challenging, questions from the 35 or so people in the audience, followed by more discussion during a reception afterward”

Two questions came to mind?
1. I wonder why wasn’t a presentation set up for Rabbi Walt in Denver?
2. When Rabbi Walt talked about torture, did he include Israeli torture of Palestinians, some 10,000 or so are in Israeli prisons? Don’t mean to be provocative but it is a serious and well documented issue.

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