Human rights in Israel

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and others protesting in support of “Dreamer” immigrants, Washington, DC, Jan 2018. (photo: Ralph Alswang / Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism)

The last of the tzaddiks (righteous ones).

By David Shulman | The New York Review of Books | Jun 28, 2018


A Palestinian brought before such a military court, for example in the notorious Ofer Prison north of Jerusalem, has no hope of achieving even the slightest semblance of justice. Conviction rates of Palestinians in these courts are higher than 99 percent. Proceedings take place in Hebrew, which Palestinian defendants often don’t understand, and security specialists routinely give secret testimony to which defendants and their counsel have no access.


In the somewhat exotic Jewish home in Iowa where I grew up, it was axiomatic that there was an intimate link between Judaism and universal human rights. Like nearly all Eastern European Jewish families in America, my parents and grandparents were Roosevelt Democrats, to the point of fanaticism.

They thought that the Jews had invented the very idea, and also the practice, of social justice; that having started our history as slaves in Egypt, we were always on the side of the underdog and the oppressed; that the core of Judaism as a religious culture was precisely this commitment to human rights, and that all the rest — the 613 commandments, the rituals, the theological assertions — was no more than a superstructure built upon a strong ethical foundation.

For me, this comfortable illusion was shattered only when I moved to Israel at the age of eighteen. . . .

In Israel, one can still find some unusually courageous figures committed to the prophets’ ideal of justice. Among them is Michael Sfard, who in one sense follows in the line of Loeffler’s exemplary figures and, in another sense, transcends them by far. . . .

Sfard’s The Wall and the Gate tells the story of that struggle, which he shares with other brilliant anti-establishment lawyers such as Avigdor Feldman, Felicia Langer, Leah Tsemel, Gaby Lasky, Elias Khoury, Tamar Peleg-Sryck, and Eitay Mack. These people operate in an impossibly hostile political and social environment. They have analyzed the situation in the occupied territories with sober clarity and drawn the necessary, practical conclusions. Their most important virtue is dogged persistence, which at times attains heroic proportions and even, though unfortunately rather rarely, achieves meaningful successes.

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