توراة الح תורת צדק Torat Tzedek
Torat Tzedek (Torah of Justice) is an Israeli human rights NGO founded in September 2017 by Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who led Rabbis for Human Rights for 21 years.
Rabbi Ascherman’s niche through the years has been to work for universal human rights as a Jewish religious obligation, and to present the foundation for this obligation in Jewish sources. Rather than remaining behind a desk, he has always believed that in the human rights field we must have one foot in the grass roots, and the other among the decision and opinion makers.” The greatest successes of the organizations he has worked with have been the result of field work that gave us knowledge and a moral voice when we went to the court, the Knesset, the public, the international community and/or the press. Where necessary, Rabbi Ascherman is willing to put his body on the line.
The goals submitted to and approved by Israel’s NGO directorate are the following:
- Torat Tzedek will strive for a society that honors God’s Image in every human being, and for the human rights that this necessitates.
- Torat Tzedek will educate our society that honoring God’s image in every human being, protecting human rights and taking concrete action to further these goals is a human and religious obligation in general, and in particular a Jewish religious obligation.
On principle, Torat Tzedek will work for the human rights of both Jews and non-Jews.
Torat Tzedek will not work on issues that are consensus, nor be a Don Quixote chasing at windmills. We will look for issues where our input, combined with the efforts of whoever else is working on a given issue, could possibly tip the scales.
For many who support a human rights agenda in Israel and around the world, Rabbi Ascherman serves as a role model, demonstrating that it is both possible and obligatory for a religious Jew to work for universal human rights and uphold international law, based on the Jewish tradition. However, many members of Torat Tzedek are not religious. We will not confine ourselves to religious arguments. However, Torat Tzedek will have a Jewish, religious character, and allow staff and members to speak from the Jewish tradition.
The name “Torat Tzedek” (Torah of Justice) embodies the belief that the Torah and the Jewish tradition must be a force for justice. However, it does not leave out those who are not Jewish or religiously motivated. “Torah” in Hebrew is not only a Torah scroll, but also a body of thinking or knowledge, or certain approach to a subject.
Torat Tzedek is working in several areas. On principle we don’t want to focus on just one of them, despite the fact that in the beginning there won’t be a budget for employing many staff people. The reason is that “the medium is the message.” The very fact that we are working for the human rights of diverse populations, including both Jews and non-Jews, is a powerful statement that all human beings are created in God’s Image.
Torat Tzedek‘s current projects include:
- Occupied Territories
- Restoring the Full Implementation of the Morar High Court Decision. Rabbi Ascherman was very instrumental in winning the Morar decision of 2006. As a result of this decision, Israeli security forces are today protecting Palestinian farmers accessing lands they could not access for as many as 16 years, or more. However, eleven years after the decision, the army has succeeded in chipping away at the decision. Many Palestinians have internalized the idea that they only have the right to access their lands once or twice a year.
A primary responsibility of the half time Palestinian field worker Torat Tzedek hired in January is to help us map out the needs in every village. We are comparing what the farmers would be doing on their lands were there no occupation, to what they are actually managing to do. We are also trying to determine the extent that the gap between needs is due to the actions (or inaction) of Israeli security forces or settlers. We will then use the authority of the Morar decision to demand that the army allow and protect all work required to meet these needs. Torat Tzedek had not planned on interventions until the full report was ready. However, we have been discovering immediate needs that cannot be ignored, and are trying to work with farmers to ensure that these needs be met.
There are locations where there are Palestinian trees inside settlement fences. In some cases the settlers do not harm the trees, and the fact that the army does allow Palestinian access to their trees once or twice a year is sufficient to maintain the health of the trees and to demonstrate ownership. However, Torat Tzedek is working with farmers from the village of Awarta who own lands inside the Itamar settlement’s fence, and with Beit Umar farmers with lands inside the Karmei Tzur fence. In these locations limited access, sometimes combined with intentional harm caused to the trees, means that most of the trees are dead or dying. Awarta has submitted a restoration plan to the army, and Beit Umar will soon do so. In the case of Awarta, an officer had told us that we would be able to plant trees this spring, but then reneged. We will need to continue to press the issue, perhaps even taking legal action. If we succeed, there will be a need to fund trees, irrigation, fertilizer, tractors, etc.
- Preventing Home Demolitions. Starting back in 1997as a cofounder of The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), Rabbi Ascherman committed himself to stopping the scourge of administrative home demolitions for the lack of impossible to obtain building permits. Realizing that standing in front of bulldozers wasn’t going to change the policy, he put together a coalition in 2005 to get to the heart of the issue by petitioning the Israeli High Court to return planning and zoning authority for villages in Area C to Palestinian hands. In 2015, the Court unfortunately accepted a fig leaf “policy change” by the government to consult with Palestinians about master plans for their villages, while maintaining full planning authority. Even this was never actually done. However, he Court did order that there must be a three year progress report. There is a need to press the government regarding the reporting requirement, and demonstrate that no progress has been made. We must also look for other strategies to combat home demolitions. This fall Torat Tzedeq will be co-sponsoring an ICAHD rebuilding cap that will also participate in the olive harvest.
- Torat Tzedeq is cooperating with Ta’ayush and the recently formed coalition of organizations working in the Jordan Valley to accompany shepherds and engage in other on the ground activity preventing the displacement of Bedouin and the destruction of villages. This project has reached a critical stage because the current political environment has greatly emboldened settlers, and led them to be increasingly aggressive. After many months of relative success in the Uja area due to understanding reached with the army as to expanded areas were shepherds would be allowed to graze, a local settler has persuaded the army to backtrack. The army is allowing settlers in both the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills to utilize a new tactic of scaring away flocks. Settlers in the northern Jordan Valley are also becoming more aggressive. All of these developments will require that Torat Tzedek and our partners develop new on the ground, legal and public relations strategies.
- Public Housing/Socioeconomic Justice for Israelis. Rabbi Ascherman has remained a member of the “Ma’abarah,” the Jerusalem public housing collective he helped found in 2010. The Ma’abarah is part of the extremely successful national “Public Housing Forum” that he also founded. The Forum has brought about a major reversal of the policy of successive governments since the early 90’s to eliminate public housing. Currently, the Ma’abarah has launched a campaign regarding the non-need based eligibility criteria that prevent those in need from having a chance to obtain public housing. For example, single parent mothers with one child are told they must have three children to be eligible. The Forum is also conducting a campaign exposing sexual predation of women in need of public housing, and forging new alliances with the Ethiopian community. Torat Tzedek will be looking for additional socioeconomic justice projects when we have the resources to do so.
- African Asylum Seekers. Up until now African Aslyum Seekers has not been the highest priority issue for us, but the situation is reaching a new crisis point. Rabbi Ascherman has been working in recent years to promote the possibility that countries such as the U.S. and Canada will absorb larger numbers of asylum seekers currently living in unacceptable conditions in Israel, and that Jewish communities will sponsor them. Torat Tzedek is increasing its participation in additional public activities in conjunction with partners such as “Right Now.”
- Negev Bedouin. Most of Torat Tzedek‘s current work regarding the Bedouin is working with government officials to find a solution for the endangered community of Umm Al HIran. This has reached a critical stage. Although the Umm Al Hiran exists where the State moved the Abu Al Qian tribe in 1956, the Government is currently moving ahead with plans to build a Jewish community on the rubble of Umm Al Hiran. The State reneged on a fair agreement signed in July 2017 creating a new community for the allowing them to continue their way of life., and then used arrests and threats of immanent demolitions to force most of the residents to sign an “agreement” moving them into a township. The villagers maintain that even the new “agreement” is not being carried out. Torat Tzedek is currently exploring legal and other strategies to at least ensure that the new “agreement” is honored, and will possibly appeal to the Israeli High Court to force the government to honor the agreement they reneged on.
At Rabbis For Human Rights, Rabbi Ascherman initiated several public opinion polls indicating that there is a very good possibility of changing public opinion regarding the Bedouin in general, and Umm Al Hiran in particular. Torat Tzedek hope to raise the funds necessary for a major campaign based on the messages that the polls indicate would be effective. This would include both new and paid media. We are exploring the possibility of a High Court appeal by the villagers and a coalition MK. This would require a large amount of funds to hire a top human rights lawyer.
- Arms Sales to Mynamar and Other Human Rights Violators. Led by Torat Tzedek chairperson Yoav Hass, Torat Tzedek has joined the coalition of organizations seeking to stop such arms sales. Yoav has managed to put together a coalition of MKs spanning the political spectrum. We must now translate this into policy change. Some Israeli officials have indicated that arms sales to Myanamar have been halted, but we have not corroborated this.
- Sumarin Family. In 2011 Rabbi Ascherman reached an understanding with the JNF preventing the eviction of the Sumarin family in East Jerusalem. While the State eventually promised the High Court not to use the “Absentee Property Law” to take properties from families in East Jerusalem when family members are present, the Sumarin property had already been taken. The settler group “Elad” highly covets the property, and a lawyer who works for Elad represents JNF in efforts to evict the family. The threat has returned, and Torat Tzedek is responding. While other organizations are conducting a massive letter writing campaign similar to the one that was conducted in 2011, Torat Tzedek is exploring the option of an agreement with the JNF.
- Writing. There is a great need to continuously lay out the Jewish basis for honoring human rights. In Israel Judaism is often associated with positions antithetical to human rights. Rabbi Ascherman and Torat Tzedek interns regularly write divrei Torah, blogs, op-eds, etc., in both Hebrew and English.
Here are links to some of the English language op-eds and blog pieces Rabbi Ascherman has written since founding Torat Tzedek. Hebrew language op-eds can be provided upon request:
Jerusalem Post (Link to all JP Op-Eds. The last two were written since founding Torat Tzedek: https://www.jpost.com/Author/Arik-Ascherman
Haaretz: (Link to all Haaretz Op-Eds. The most recent one was written after founding Torat Tzedek: https://www.haaretz.com/misc/writers/1.4970122
Times of Israel Blog: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/arik-ascherman/
By Torat Tzedek intern (via Achvat Amim) Micah Friedman:
Contribution to the SISO High Holy Days supplement:
With a founding membership of veteran activists, Torat Tzedek will be exploring additional potential projects, as resources allow.
For More Information: Rabbi Arik Ascherman: firstname.lastname@example.org * Tel. 972 50 5607034