Not all US olim are extremists

A roll call of those who came to Israel to enhance its democratic nature.

david forman 88 (photo credit: )
david forman 88
(photo credit: )
Having recently returned from a lecture tour in the United States, most of the Jewish audiences I addressed had the impression that virtually all new Jewish immigrants to Israel from America were religious extremists. Obviously, this is a skewed perception based on the reportage of the news networks. Unfortunately however, religious settlers like former Americans Daniella Weiss and Baruch Marzel, ever-willing to talk to anyone from the international press, have become the face of American Jewish immigration to the country - they, with their shameless pontifications about Israeli police and army carrying out pogroms against the settlers. Meanwhile, it is they who encourage the mini-pogroms that their compatriots perpetrate against Palestinians. Many American Jews clearly recognize that Israel is the lightning rod by which the world often judges Jews. They do not like finding themselves in a defensive posture because of American religious Jews, now Israeli citizens, shouting obscenities at Israeli soldiers and cursing Palestinians, as the TV cameras roll. They are rightfully embarrassed; and there is no way they can argue for a fair and balanced view of the shameful behavior of these former American Jews who have moved to settlements like Maon or Sussiya or Itamar. When reporting on the excessiveness of American-born Jews now living in these areas, and particularly in Hebron, which today is one of the lead international news items, inevitably the story is introduced with a reminder of two infamous US Jewish religious immigrants: Baruch Goldstein, the murderer and Meir Kahane, the racist. The media prefers to cover inflammatory stories rather than feel-good ones. But the Daniella Weisses and the Baruch Marzels are not the only American Jewish immigrants. There are thankfully other American Jews, who are respectful of Jewish religious values and came to Israel to build a society that is not chauvinistically inclined, but rather a reflection of the best of the social ideology of the prophets who spoke of justice and equality.
  • Rabbi Levi Lauer founded ATZUM, an organization that activates hundreds of volunteers who tend to the needs of Righteous Gentiles and care for victims of the first Intifada. Most important, ATZUM has been a leading force in confronting the horrific scourge of "trafficking in women." Lauer's noble fight to cleanse Israel of the moral stain of human slavery deserves publicity.
  • Rabbi Bruce Cohen initiated Interns for Peace (IFP), which fosters understanding between Israeli Arabs and Jews through joint community projects. Working together in Jewish towns and Arab villages in integrated teams, IFP fulfills the biblical dictate: "The strangers who live with you in the land, you must not oppress them" (Leviticus 19:33).
  • Rabbi Ronald Kronish established the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), whose mission is to harness the teachings and values of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, transforming them into a source of reconciliation and coexistence. In a most difficult atmosphere of hostility and violence, ICCI tries to find common ground among the three monotheistic religions.
  • Rabbi Arik Ascherman heads Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), which began shortly after the outbreak of the first Intifada in order to sound a rabbinic voice for decency and humanity, as opposed to the shrill voices that emanated from a rabbinic establishment that seemed to justify, in the name of the Jewish tradition, all manner of human rights abuses. In addition to its work in the territories defending the elemental rights of Palestinians, RHR's agenda is diverse, with particular emphasis on its educational initiatives - a human rights yeshiva, seminars on human rights and the Jewish tradition for Israeli public schools (religious and secular, Jewish and Arab), for police and army officer training courses and for pre-army programs.
  • Rabbi Robert Samuels served as the headmaster of the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa, building it into one of the finest educational institutions in the country. What distinguishes the Baeck School from most other high schools is its integrative approach to education. In addition to the requirement that all students do volunteer work in the community, the school has absorbed, with great success, Israeli-Arabs, Ethiopian and Russian Jews. The school also serves as a community center for the neighborhood.
  • Dr. Gershon Baskin created IPCRI (Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information), a joint institution of Israelis and Palestinians, dedicated to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. IPCRI, the most significant Israeli-Palestinian think-tank, was founded on the principle that a two-state solution should result from dialogue at various levels between the Israeli and Palestinian civil societies, promoted by a joint partnership between Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals, academics and professionals.
  • Ms. Jessica Montell is the director of B'Tzelem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Established in 1989 by a group of prominent academics, attorneys, journalists and Knesset members, it documents and educates the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the territories, combats the phenomenon of denial that is prevalent among the Israeli public, and strives to create a human rights culture in Israel.
  • Dr. Jeff Halper established the Israel Committee against Home Demolitions, which defends the rights of East Jerusalem Palestinians to build or expand their homes. It simultaneously fights demolition orders against homes that Palestinians are forced to build illegally because of municipal discrimination that willfully does not grant building permits to the Palestinian population, while allowing illegal Jewish settlements to enjoy immunity.
  • Attorney Yehoshua Schoffman was one of the leading lawyers for ACRI (The Association for Civil Rights in Israel). ACRI is one of Israel's oldest and largest human-rights organizations. It deals with the entire spectrum of human rights and civil liberties issues in Israel and the Occupied Territories. ACRI's work encompasses litigation and legal advocacy, education and public outreach as the most effective way in which to build toward a long-term vision of a just and democratic society that respects the equal rights of all its members.
  • Dr. Alon Tal founded the The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies that teaches and prepares future Arab and Jewish leaders to cooperatively solve the region's environmental challenges. Located in the Arava desert, the institute is a unique oasis for international teamwork, exploring a range of environmental issues from a regional, interdisciplinary perspective while learning peace-building and leadership skills. The student body includes Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis, North Americans, as well as other nationalities. To offset Daniella Weiss, Baruch Marzel and their hooligan cronies, who dominate the international airwaves, fostering an image of Israel as a haven for Jewish religious fanatics from the United States, Israel must expose to the world media those American Jewish immigrants who have enhanced the democratic nature of the Jewish state, with respect for all peoples. It is these American Jewish immigrants, and many more like them, who reflect genuine Jewish moral values.