Submitted by Brown Pulliam
Rabbi Arik Ascherman, President and Senior Rabbi of Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization, was the speaker at a special Lyceum at the First Parish in Bedford, Unitarian Universalist, this past Sunday afternoon, March 30. His appearance was sponsored by the Peace & Justice Committee of the First Parish, The Boston Chapter of American Jews for a Just Peace, and the New England Chapter of Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East.
Introduced by Dr. Alice Rothchild, pediatrician, author, and film maker, Ascherman described the wide range of human rights issues in Israel and Palestine that engage his organization. They range from the plight of Africans who have fled genocidal violence in their homeland only to be facing expulsion from Israel, economic policies leading to hunger and other deprivation faced by children of Israeli families, the plight of Israel’s Bedouin citizens in the Negev, legal and illegal discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens especially in housing, protecting Palestinian farmers from violence in their olive harvest, and the long standing Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
A major thrust of Ascherman’s very moving message was that only by recognizing that God made all people in his image, and if people would just recognize the humanity of all, they could then live by the ancient Jewish rule to act toward others as you would have them act toward you. He admitted his shame that by acts that ignored that Golden Rule, the Israeli Army is not the “most moral army in the world” as it has claimed to be. In spite of his strong condemnation of the Occupation of the West Bank and the imprisonment of Gaza, Ascherman described his organization’s desire to be a-political and focus action on direct acts that redress the effects of repression. As an act of civil disobedience he stood in front of a bulldozer to prevent it from knocking down an Arab’s house, and was arrested for that. He then went on and helped re-build the house which was again demolished by Israeli authorities and finally rebuilt by Rabbis and survived.
In his talk and in the questions and answers afterward, it was obvious that Rabbi Ascherman often feels he is fighting an uphill battle, but he retains strong and basic hope. He has seen the violent acts of Jewish settlers against the Palestinians and argued against the theological justification offered by those same religious settlers using the same chapters of the Torah that he quotes. He has been instrumental in building Rabbis for Human Rights which encourages other Rabbis to take a position. He keeps on because he sees no other way to live his religion. Throughout, he spoke with passion, referring often to the Torah, which he quoted in Hebrew and translated to English. It was a moving and powerful session.