Rabbis for Human Rights Israel (RHRI) is at odds with its sister organization in North America over an issue that goes to the heart of the debate over Zionism's use and misuse of military might to defend itself.
During a board meeting Monday in Jerusalem, some leading members of RHRI strongly criticized Rabbis for Human Rights North America (RHR-NA) for honoring a New York-based legal advocacy group that sued two senior Israeli security officials for perpetrating "war crimes."
On December 11, RHR-NA honored the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) with the Raphael Lemkin Award for its work combating purported torture and abuse of suspected terrorists held by the US authorities on Guant namo Bay, Cuba.
But the CCR is the same organization that issued class action suits on behalf of Palestinians and Lebanese against Avi Dichter, former director of Israel's General Security Service, and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya'alon, former head of the Intelligence Branch and former chief of General Staff of the IDF.
One board member of RHRI said he and other board members were appalled by the decision to honor the CCR.
"This incident demonstrates the ideological rift that exists between us and our sister organization in North America," said the rabbi.
Executive director of RHRI Rabbi Arik Ascherman said in response that the board reached a decision not to discuss the issue with the press before notifying RHR-NA of its decisions.
But Ascherman did comment on his organization's stand on the issuing of class action suits against IDF commanders for perpetrating war crimes.
"Our organization is fairly wary about these things," said Ascherman. "But I can tell you as an individual that the Israeli courts have a mixed record on prosecuting human rights violations."
Rabbi Kalman Levi-Weiman, leader of the Kol Haneshama congregation, who was also present at the board meeting, refused to comment on the criticism voiced by members of his organization against RHR-NA, but admitted that the two organizations had different ideological leanings.
"The very fact that we live here has an impact on how we see things," said Levi-Weiman. "Rabbis in North America have very different issues to deal with."
On December 8, 2005, the CCR sued Dichter for war crimes and other "gross human rights violations" in connection with the targeted killing of Saleh Shehadeh, head of Hamas's military arm in Gaza. On July 22, 2002, the one-ton bomb that was dropped on Shehadeh also killed 14 civilians.
On December 15, 2005, the CCR slapped Ya'alon with a legal suit that included charges of war crimes, extrajudicial killing, crimes against humanity and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The
charges were in connection with Ya'alon's role in ordering the shelling of a United Nations compound in Kfar Qana, Lebanon that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 civilians. The IDF said it was reacting to Hizbullah missile fire near the compound.
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