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Rabbi Jill Jacobs is Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and she alerted a few others and me in Los Angeles to the appearance of an article in the on-line edition of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal by Dr. Gerald Steinberg, who attacked harshly a group of  Israeli human rights organizations and NGOs because of their stance on the Knesset’s Prawer-Begin plan to relocate 40,000 Israeli Bedouin citizens from their homes in the Negev.

I thought it more important for Jill, speaking as the leader of one of these NGOs, to be the one to respond, and she did so in yesterday’s edition. See http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/a_response_to_gerald_steinberg_on_the_prawer_begin_plan“A response to Gerald Steinberg on the Prawer-Begin plan.” Dr. Steinberg’s article has has a link in Jill’s piece.

My synagogue group met with Dr. Steinberg over dinner in October as part of our Israel-Palestine Mission. Despite my respect for him and his work over many years, I was shocked and disappointed by our time with him.

I had asked Dr. Steinberg to reflect on the politics of the Middle East and Israeli security where his expertise lies. Before eventually getting to these matters he took quite some time to criticize harshly those human rights groups who he charged defame Israel’s good name abroad.

I do not know why he chose to do this with us. Perhaps because he knew of my role as co-chair of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street and my support of B’tzelem, Shalom Achshav, Ir Amim, NIF, T’ruah, Rabbis for Human Rights, and other human rights groups in Israel. Our group also had some influential members in medicine, the law, politics, business, and the arts.

It felt like an old settled battle was being waged yet again, that being a critic of Israeli policy is conflated with hostility to the state of Israel. Being a critic of certain policies, of course, does NOT automatically imply anti-Israel hostility. Israelis themselves are among the most self-critical citizens of any nation in the world, and Jewish tradition encourages debate. Indeed, it is contrary to Jewish tradition to withhold legitimate criticism. To criticize from love, in my mind, is the highest form of patriotism.

This is what many of the human rights organizations do that Dr. Steinberg attacks, including T’ruah, Shalom Achshav, B’tzelem, Ir Amim, New Israel Fund, Rabbis for Human Rights, and others.

Each and every one of these organizations is concerned with justice and the dignity of the individual (regardless of nationality, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or ethnic origin) as a reflection of the divine. The values and policies these NGOs support are reflected in Israel’s own Declaration of Independence.

I applaud Rabbi Jacobs in her response to Dr. Steinberg and urge readers to read both hers and his original piece.