Remarks at Lemkin Awards
Remarks at Lemkin Awards
Thank you to my dear friend Daniel Schorr for those kind words. Dan and Lee are our very dear friends, and have been for well over four decades. I especially like hearing Dan say nice things about me because he sounds sooo credible. Don’t you agree? Anyway, thank you, Dan. And thank you for your friendship all these years.
I feel so honored by this award. And especially to be honored along with Marian and with my friend Gerry Sirotta, and in the name of Rafael Lemkin, and, even more especially, to be honored by Rabbis for Human Rights.
If I deserve this honor at all, it is not for me personally, but for the New Israel Fund, with which I have been associated for many years, and which, as you know, it was my privilege to chair for the past six years.
Rabbis for Human Rights and the New Israel Fund and, thankfully, many others in Israel do take to heart the injunction of the prophet Amos and do pursue, intensely and continuously, the cause of justice for all in Israel.
The websites of both organizations sound very much alike: reading in this case from RHR’s list, economic and social justice, minority rights, indentured foreign workers, women’s rights, interfaith dialogue, the human rights of Palestinians, the route of the separation barrier, and so on.
When you honor me, you honor NIF, and when you honor NIF, you honor the causes of human rights and justice to which we are all deeply committed.
I trust we know that the cause of human rights never goes away. The work is never done, The prophets spoke in words that, sad to say, still fit our world today, thousands of years later, and the struggle will be there tomorrow and the day after that.
Yet I think this is a moment to pause in hope for the future.
We in America made history a month ago. People all over the world were deeply inspired by what we did. We did something that many of us thought would never happen.
It was and is a transformational moment, and one we celebrate with profound enthusiasm. And the way it happened – with the active participation of literally millions and millions of our people – was an exercise of democracy that we have seldom seen, indeed perhaps unprecedented in its size and scope.
So I think we can pause in hope. And then get back to work.
This young President is deeply committed to the values that bring us together tonight. But he and we have our work cut out for us. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and that is true every day, not just during elections.
We have an enormous obligation and responsibility to help our brilliant new President achieve his program to restore our economic health and bring sense to our foreign policy, and then move on to the longer-term program of moving our country forward.
I wish we could say that we live in a world that sees human rights as axiomatic. But we know that, even as some leaders mouth the rhetoric of human rights, its fulfillment is another matter.
Polling in Israel continuously reveals that 70 percent of Israelis now favor the formation of a Palestinian state. Yet it does not come to pass. There are many reasons for this, of course, but one is that when it comes to the details, people’s feet get kind of cold. Borders, Jerusalem, right of return, water rights – oh, they say, I’m for a Palestinian state but not for those things. The work is far from finished.
And supporters of RHR and NIF know that resolution of the conflict may be at the top of the list, but the agenda of human rights for Israelis and Palestinians is much lengthier and even more complex, and that every issue is important and must be addressed. I have been so gratified in traveling around the United States for the New Israel Fund to find so many American Jews who are fervent supporters of Israel and equally fervent in their support of human rights and justice.
At the same time, I am always disappointed at the number of American Jews whose progressive views seem to stop at the water’s edge – who, when it comes to Israel, are blind to the very same issues of justice that they embrace in the United States. So our work, the work of RHR and the work of NIF, the challenge to both organizations, continues and I am afraid will continue after all of us are gone.
It is a two fold challenge – one, to act, as loving supporters of the state of Israel, toward fulfillment of justice and human rights there; and two, to reach more widely within the American Jewish community, to convince many more of our Jewish friends that they can and should love Israel, but as Camus said, they can and should love justice at the same time.
As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said so succinctly, “We are not all guilty but we are all responsible.”
Thank you again for this wonderful honor.