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Vayeishev 5773
Human Rights Shabbat Chanukah

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein
7 December 2012


In the Canaanite countryside somewhere between Hebron and Shechem, traditionally associated with Nablus and now identified as Tel Balatah in the northern West Bank, Joseph asked an ish, a stranger: “Et achi anokhi m’vakaysh – I am looking for my brothers…(Gen 37:16)”

Where Human Rights are concerned, the security of one person’s rights should not affect another’s. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10th December 1948 laid out a format for individuals to live in harmony with one another and within their nation states. Whilst some anthropologists consider it against human nature to curb their desires to dominate the other, others point to the gradual civilising of population groups over time. Will there be a time that we might term a messianic age when all humanity can live in harmony with one another, one not seeking domination over another, in the process subjugating another’s human rights?

As Jews, our attention is unfortunately once more trapped by news from Israel and Palestine. The Palestinian Authority applied for and gained UN recognition as a non-member state. As Ali Younes, an analyst based in Washington D.C. wrote in Al Arabiya: “For President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, this vote was not necessarily part of a national strategy to achieve real statehood for the Palestinians - in the absence of any peace process with Israel - rather a last-minute attempt to boost his increasingly diminished relevancy and to cover for the Palestinian leadership historic failures.”

In retaliation, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced plans to build settlements in the E1 area of the West Bank. Building on this land - north-east of Jerusalem and west of the major settlement bloc of Ma’aleh Adumim - was first mentioned by Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 to halt the ‘Arabisation of Jerusalem.’ “The affect would be to connect Jerusalem to a city that is one of the larger Israeli settlements – whilst splitting the Ramallah region off from Bethlehem, effectively cutting the West Bank in two and making a contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible (from Joint URJ-CCAR Statement).” Whilst there is a possibility that the Israeli Government sincerely intends to build on E1, the ambiguity of statements suggest that they are aimed more at the Israeli electorate to boost the chances of a right-wing bloc being elected, in other words a cynical election ploy.

It seems that the leaders of the region are more content to treat their nations and their people like toys – boys with toys. Neither move does anything to bring cheer to the hearts of citizens. Very few Palestinians turned out to celebrate UN recognition and in Israel I have seen no appetite for good cheer approaching Chanukah. The stalemate is maintained along with the abuse of human rights of Palestinians and Israelis, at the very least the right to live without fear.

The stalemate is the leadership’s lack of courage to approach what each knows is the solution and each knows will result in painful concessions for each side (e.g. http://forward.com/articles/167286/bnai-jeshurun-should-rethink-rash-statehood-suppor/). The risk is that they will be so unpopular and so painful that the leadership are swept aside, democratically or otherwise. Yet the long-term benefit to human rights that would be gained is worth short-term unpopularity.

Et achi anokhi m’vakaysh – I am looking for my brothers…” The stranger the ish of whom Joseph makes this enquiry reminds us of the ish who his father struggles with before his reconciliation with Esau. This ish might similarly be interpreted literally as a human being, as a divine being or allegorically as Joseph’s own conscience. Following these experiences, Jacob and Joseph put themselves at risk to seek out their brothers, seek the humanity in the other. One succeeds immediately and the latter only after painful experiences. But each goes forward to seek.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Tel Aviv this evening to participate in the yearly parade commemorating Human Rights Day. Waving signs and shouting slogans pertaining to issues such as treatment of migrants, the occupation, and the cost of living. The President of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel particularly spoke about the abuse of women’s rights in Israel yet he could have focussed on any number of issues. Whatever the outcome of the Israeli elections or power struggles amongst the Palestinian people, there are still a so many people who seek and deserve their human rights and might see past deep and long-held possessional desires to make painful concessions to that end. May our words and actions always harness them with encouragement and strength so that one day from amongst them, leaders will arise whose wish for peace, for the protection of human rights and good overrides personal ambition.

Et achi anokhi m’vakaysh – I am looking for my brothers…”


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