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Rabbi Arik Ascherman and his peers fight for human rights

For Rabbi Arik Ascherman, a human rights activist in Israel and the Occupied Territories, it is important for Palestinians to see a kippa-wearing Jew on their side.

That was one of the points the American-born Israeli Reform rabbi made in reviewing the work of Rabbis for Human Rights, the organization he co-founded in 1988.

The talk at the Gelber Centre was organized by Canadian Friends of the group and drew an audience of 40.

Ascherman noted that human rights is a theme in the Torah. “We are all made in God’s image, and this applies to all of humanity,” he said.

The organization believes that human rights should extend to all in Israel and the Occupied Territories, African asylum seekers, the poor in Israel, and Bedouins in the south. They are opposed to two sets of zoning regulations in the West Bank, one for Israeli settlers and another for Palestinians.

He discussed Operation Cast Lead, which resulted in disproportionate casualties when Israeli military forces responded to Hamas rockets last summer. Ascherman underscored that Israel has the right to defend itself, but added that given this right, there are limits, and added he believes that this time, Israel crossed the line.

Will excessive force by Israel achieve the desired goal of making peace more likely, he asked rhetorically?

The sanctity of life, even if military action is necessary, should always be paramount, he said.

He posed other rhetorical questions: Who is doing more for peace in the long run, those who demolish homes or those who work to save and build new ones?

Opinion surveys show that the same proportion of Palestinians and Israelis believe they want peace and that the other side does not, he said.

On behalf of Rabbis for Human Rights, Ascherman awarded retired McGill English professor Leanore Lieblein with a plaque for her contribution to their work.

Earlier in the day, Ascherman spoke to the Unitarian Church at its weekly Sunday service.

Information provided by Deena Schrier. Canadian Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights is on Facebook.

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