1959 (age 63–64)
Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Known for||Long time executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights|
Arik Ascherman (Hebrew: אריק אשרמן; born 1959) is an American-born Israeli Reform rabbi, and Executive Director of the Israeli human rights organization Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice. For 21 years, starting in 1995, he served as Co-Director (1995-1998), Executive Director (1998-2010), Director of Special Projects (2010-2012) and President and Senior Rabbi (2012-2017) for Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization.
As a human rights activist, he has spearheaded activities to defend Palestinians against Israeli settler violence, worked for socioeconomic justice for Israelis, and advocated on behalf of Israel's Bedouin citizens. He has been frequently attacked and subject to beatings by settlers, and has stood trial several times for acts of civil disobedience. He appears in the 2010 documentary Israel vs Israel. He is fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic.
Ascherman grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania and attended Harvard University. Though he planned to attend rabbinical seminary immediately after graduation, he was not accepted, and encouraged to reapply after gaining some real life experience. He joined Interns for Peace, a coexistence project which sent him to the Israeli Arab city of Tamra and the Israeli Jewish city of Kiryat Ata to work from 1981 to 1983. After that, he returned to the United States to complete his rabbinical training. He immigrated to Israel in 1994. He attributes his interest in activism on behalf of universal human rights to the rabbinic concept of tikkun olam (lit. "repairing the world"), referring to universal human rights and social justice. He draws his inspiration specifically from a remark in the Mishnaic ethical tract Pirkei Avot: "In a place where there are no men (decent people) strive to be a man."
Ascherman actively protects Palestinian citizens and farmers against Israeli police and settlers. In 2002, he intervened in the questioning of two Muslim women representatives of the International Women's Peace Service in the Palestinian village of Haris. He accompanied them to an Israeli police station. Here they were accused of obstructing police activities and incitement to riot after they questioned Israeli soldiers who had fired live ammunition into the village. Ascherman translated documents for them and drove them back to Jerusalem after their release eight hours later.
Ascherman and Rabbis for Human Rights were known for dispatching volunteers to act as human shields to protect the Palestinian olive harvest from vandalism and assault by settlers living on nearby land; every year, clashes are reported between settlers and Palestinian farmers. In 2008, the volunteer effort encompassed 40 villages. The effort was launched in 2002 when a Palestinian peace activist solicited RHR's help to protect olive pickers against attacks by settlers living near the village of Yassuf.
According to Nicholas Kristof, writing in The New York Times, Ascherman's car has been stoned by Palestinian youths and he has been arrested and beaten up by Israeli security forces and settlers. In 2004 to 2005, he was tried for civil disobedience after obstructing a bulldozer as it was demolishing houses in East Jerusalem. In March 2005, he was convicted, he agreed to 120 hours of community service, and the conviction was expunged. He was arrested again in March 2008 after witnessing an attack on Palestinians in Silwan. When he went to give testimony, he found himself accused of "inciting Palestinians to oppose the police" near the ongoing archaeological dig in the City of David.
In 2006, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Association for Civil Rights In Israel and five Palestinian local councils won a landmark Israeli High Court case requiring Israeli security forces to allow and protect the access of Palestinian farmers to all of their agricultural lands. As a result, many Palestinian farmers today work lands that settlers and/or the army had prevented them from working for many years.
Rabbi Ascherman casts his position as a moral and religious one rather than a political one, as he stated at his 2005 trial:
That moral inheritance tells us that the policy of home demolition is immoral. It may be technically legal according to Israeli law narrowly interpreted. However, not everything that is legal is just. The policy is certainly illegal according to international law and tramples on the Torah, which I as a rabbi am sworn to uphold. The Torah commands us to love those different to us, not to have double standards and to have one law for all.
During his tenure at Rabbis for Human Rights, the organization expanded into the field of socioeconomic justice for all Israelis. RHR led efforts that ended of the "Israeli Wisconsin Plan" in 2010, was active in the social protest movement of 2011, and was instrumental in creating the "Public Housing Forum." RHR also began to teach in pre-army academies and created "human rights yeshivas" at Israeli universities and colleges. RHR also began to advocate for African asylum seekers in Israel.
In August 2016, Rabbi Ascherman and two additional RHR senior staff people left Rabbis for Human Rights to found an interfaith human rights organization, "Haqel (The Field) - Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights. In 2017, Rabbi Ascherman left Haqel, and founded "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Torat Tzedek is seeking to stop the chipping away at the 2006 High Court decision, accompany and protect Palestinian shepherds, advocate on behalf of the "unrecognized" Israeli Bedouin villages in the Negev, and for public housing for Israelis. Rabbi Ascherman continues to be active in "HaMaabarah", a public housing advocacy collective he helped found in 2011.
- 2002: Torch Lighter in the Yesh Gvul Alternative Israeli Independence Day Ceremony
- 2005: Abraham Joshua Heschel Award of the "Jewish Peace Fellowship"
- 2006: Humanitarian Achievement Prize by the " Wholistic Peace Institute"
- 2009: Keter Shem Tov Prize awarded by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
- In 2009, he was co-recipient (with Alice Shalvi) of the Leibowitz Prize, presented by the Yesh Gvul.
- In 2011, he was co-recipient (with Rabbi Ehud Bandel, a co-founder of Rabbis for Human Rights) of the Gandhi Peace Award, "for their nonviolent methods of resolving human rights abuses in Israel and the Occupied Territories".
- 2014: Honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC-JIR
- 2015: Honorary Doctor of Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary
- 2016: Tikun Magazine Award
- In 2019 The Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund awarded Rabbi Ascherman and Torat Tzedek the Fund's Human Rights Prize for the Jewish year 5779.
- Under Rabbi Ascherman's leadership, Rabbis For Human Rights won the Niwano Peace Prize in 2006.
- "Born with a Knife in Their Hearts: Children and Political Conflict" in Nurturing Child and Adolescent Spirituality: Perspectives from the World's Religious Traditions edited by Yust, Sasso, Johnson and Roehikepartain, 2005
- "On the Human Rights of the 'Other" in Judaism: The Israeli Context" (Hebrew) in Human Rights and Social Exclusion in Israel edited by Ya'ir Ronen, Israel Doron, Vered Slonim-Nevo, 2008
- "Does Judaism Teach Universal Human Rights" in Abraham's Children edited by Kelly Clark, 2012
- "The Little Acts That Tip The Scales" in Defending Hope – Dispatches from the front lines in Palestine and Israel edited by Eoin Murray and James Mehigan, 2018
- "Israeli rabbi faces trial for opposing demolition of Palestinian homes". Daily Times (Pakistan). 14 January 2004. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- "Profile: Arik W. Ascherman" (in Hebrew). Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- Lynfield, Ben (17 December 2010). "In Israel, a rabbi who argues that anti-Arab measures are un-Jewish". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- Kristof, Nicholas D. (7 July 2010). "In Israel, the Noble vs. The Ugly". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- Judy Maltz,'How a U.S.-born Rabbi Became the Nemesis of Radical West Bank Settlers,' Haaretz 26 April 2021:'During nearly a quarter century of human rights work, Ascherman has been arrested, by his count, “dozens” of times and physically assaulted, including at knifepoint, “somewhere between 20 to 30 times.” He stood trial once for trying to obstruct a bulldozer that was about to demolish a Palestinian home in East Jerusalem, though his conviction was later overturned after he agreed to perform community service. He had another close call earlier this year when his car was sabotaged while he was out on patrol duty, and the wheels started to break loose while he was driving back home.'
- "Israel vs Israel (2010)". Internet Movie Database. 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- Langer-Gal, Anat (29 November 2009). "Interview with Rabbi Arik Ascherman". justvision.org. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- Macintyre, Donald (1 November 2010). "A rabbi struggles to protect his Palestinian flock". The Independent. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- Bullock, Katherine (2005). Muslim Women Activists in North America: Speaking for ourselves. University of Texas Press. pp. 46–48. ISBN 0-292-70666-9.
- Lazaroff, Tovah (10 October 2011). "Settlers, Palestinian farmers collide in Itamar". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- "Settlers clash with rabbis guarding Palestinian olive harvest near Hebron". Reuters. 3 October 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- McGreal, Chris (25 March 2005). "The rabbi who pricks Israel's conscience: Zionism is moral, not military, says activist convicted of blocking West Bank bulldozers". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- Rapoport, Meron (13 March 2008). "Police arrest rabbi for 'inciting Palestinians' in East Jerusalem: Arik Ascherman, head of Rabbis for Human Rights, arrested for encouraging opposition to excavations". Haaretz. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- Adam, Heribert; Moodley, Kogila (2005). Seeking Mandela: Peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians. UCL Press. p. 151. ISBN 1-84472-129-9.
- "Awarding ceremony of the Leibowitz Prize to Alice Shalvi & Arik Ascherman - a Yesh Gvul initiative". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
- Bloom, Joshua (22 April 2011). "Gandhi Peace Award Honors RHR's Rabbi Arik Ascherman & Rabbi Ehud Bandel". Rabbis for Human Rights. Archived from the original on 7 November 2011. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- Miles, William F. S. (2007). Zion in the Desert: American Jews in Israel's Reform kibbutzim. SUNY Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-7914-7103-6.
- Goldstein, Elyse; Diamant, Anita (2008). New Jewish Feminism: Probing the past, forging the future. Jewish Lights Publishing. p. 218. ISBN 978-1-58023-359-0.