Are Human Rights Actually Protected if we Confine Our Work to Human Rights?


Can human rights be effectively protected when power is being exercised from the top down without public accountability or challenge, and when the society – Israeli or American – is defined by the culture and institutions of permanent war?

Specifically, in our situation today in the US, is it possible to prevent --

the use of torture;

the indefinite imprisonment of various kinds of captives (including US citizens and immigrants) with no counsel, charges, trials, or any other redress;

the warrantless searching and surveillance of millions of citizens;

the killing of would-be immigrants on the Mexican border;

sweep arrests of Latino workers;

harassment of Muslims;

or other invasions of human rights --

so long as enormous power is centralized in a president with control over military and quasi-military institutions (e.g. spy and covert-action agencies), and foreign policy is defined as an endless "war on terrorism"?

In our situation today in Israel, is it possible to prevent specific invasions of human rights like the demolition of homes, the killing of alleged criminals without trial, the destruction of harvests and of orchards -- so long as a military occupation is being carried on by a powerful state upon another people?

Is it possible, while an occupation is under way, to protect the human rights (especially economic human rights) of the population whose government is carrying on the occupation?

Whatever we name our organizations, do rabbis who want in actuality to be effective in working "for" human rights -–

-- in Israel, need to be explicitly opposing the 39-year-old occupation of Palestinian land and people and actively seeking the end of the permanent war between Israel and other Arab and Muslim states, if the human rights of Palestinians and of Israelis caught in the life-grinding wartime budgets are actually to be protected?

-- in the US, need to be opposing the Iraq war, and working to reshape the entire approach of the US to international life away from a "war on terror" to the weaving of world community from the grass-roots up, if we are actually to prevent torture, warrantless surveillance, indefinite detention, etc.?

Finally, what can rabbis do in the sphere of culture and religion to prevent denials of human rights by non-governmental actors – for example, abuse of women and children in family life or religious life, and the imposition of slavery or near-slavery on immigrant or native-born workers by their employers or traffickers, etc.?

 Rabbi Arthur Waskow