Theo Bikel’s Video in Support of Israeli Bedouin

Theo Bikel’s Video in Support of Israeli Bedouin

Partners’ board chair, Theodore Bikel, has made this video as part of a cooperative effort by progressive Zionist organizations to forestall the destruction of Bedouin villages in the Negev and the forced relocation of 40,000 Israeli citizens:

 For the last two weeks, we have been part of an ad hoc coalition dealing with this issue, including
Rabbis for Human Rights, T’ruah (formerly RHR-North America), and several groups in the UK.
We are backing the RHR effort to enlist your support to convince the government to withdraw support for a Knesset bill to move 40,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel into a new “Pale of Settlement”:

By | 2013-05-31T20:53:00-04:00 May 31st, 2013|Blog|23 Comments


  1. Anonymous June 1, 2013 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    There are a number of positive elements in this video.

    However, this quote from the video in the context of the Negev is not one of them, and can be understood as emblematic of the contradictions and inevitable inequality inherent in a “Jewish state.”

    “When a non-Jew resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him or her. The non-Jews shall be to you as one of your citizens.


    Implying that Bedouins in the Negev reside with Jews in their land turns the actual situation on its head. Calling Israel a “Jewish state” and using religious statements like this to justify treating the indigenous non-Jewish people as citizens, inevitably contributes to situations where giving Bedouins rights is a gift of sorts to a non-Jewish population that lacks intrinsic rights to the land and thus are second-class citizens at best.

    This is exactly an example of where the basic concept of a Jewish state and Jewish land are problematic, and a stste of all citizens is much more appropriate to dealing with rights like those of the Bedouin in the Negev.

    In a state of all citizens there is no need to use religious injunctions to justify rights to non-(fill in the blank).

    The video is marred by using this quote.


  2. Ralph Seliger June 1, 2013 at 8:39 pm - Reply

    The humanitarian value of Israel as a Jewish state has to do with insuring that Jews have at least one place that will welcome them in the face of antisemitic hatred, no questions asked; this is what they graphically lacked in the face of genocide during WW 2. The world recognized this when the UN voted for two states in Palestine in 1947 (a concept that was violently rejected by the Arab world at that time.)

    Theo Bikel’s quotation from the Hebrew Bible has to do with convincing Jews of the need to provide equal treatment for non-Jewish citizens in their midst.
    (Israel’s Declaration of Independence offers this same promise.) Naturally, the Bedouin deserve this regardless of what the Bible says, and Mr. Bikel knows this full well.

    If one looks at the sad headlines almost everyday from Syria, Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, one sees how badly minorities and different ethnic and religious groups are treated in those countries. Consequently, there’s no question that Jews will safeguard their rights in their own country; but picking on the Bedouin minority runs counter to Israel’s interests and to the high ideals of an inclusive society that we progressive Zionist have always supported.

  3. Anonymous June 2, 2013 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    Do you support the statement that Bedouin in the Negev are non-Jews residing with Jews in Jewish land (the implication of the Leviticus quote)?


  4. Ralph Seliger June 2, 2013 at 9:55 pm - Reply

    I would like to see an Israel where Jewish, Arab and other citizens feel equally at home in the country they share. I don’t see Negev Bedouin as living on “Jewish land,” but I support Israel as a “Jewish state” in the sense that when Jews are threatened or discriminated against, they have at lease this one place in the world where they can live in freedom.

  5. Anonymous June 3, 2013 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    I would like to suggest that two things that you state that you support have to date proven to be impossible to reconcile in practice:

    1) “I would like to see an Israel where Jewish, Arab and other citizens feel equally at home in the country they share.”

    2) “I support Israel as a Jewish state”

    Depite your desire and efforts, and those of some others, finely shaded definitions of Israel as a Jewish state have not carried and the day, and experience and reason suggest they never will.

    The implicit contradiction of Israel as a Jewish state, and also a country where non-Jews feel equally at home and share equal rights (though not something you said directly) will not be squared.

    And pushing quotations like this one from Leviticus – “When a non-Jew resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him or her. The non-Jews shall be to you as one of your citizens.” – just emphasize that lacking of a vision of equal rights for Palestinian Bedouins and other non-Jews.


  6. Ralph Seliger June 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    My idea of a Jewish state is where Jews — as a vulnerable and historically persecuted minority group in most of the world — have their security and human rights guaranteed, alongside equal rights for its non-Jewish citizens. Israel has not lived up to this ideal, but anyone who looks at what’s been going on in other countries in the region, knows that Israel is still better in this regard than any of its neighbors.

  7. Anonymous June 4, 2013 at 11:34 am - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    Israel’s actions and failures are not justified by the poor records of its neighbors.

    Nonetheless, claiming that Israel has a better record for human rights than its neighbors is laughable. Israel holds more than 4 million Palestinians under a brutal military occupation. The 1.4 million Palestinians who live in Israel are third class citizens. Palestinians who are refugees and descendants of refugees are frequently denied the right to visit, much less their right of return, to their homeland from which they were driven by military force. Africans refugees are subject to vile racism as well as mistreatment by the government. And Israel’s abuses of Palestinians have been constant – on-going for 65 years.

    While Jordan, Lebanon Egypt and Syria certainly have many terrible human rights abuses, the blithe claim that Israel’s record is better than its neighbors just does not stand up to any objective scrutiny.

    A country cannot systematically discriminate against half the population under its rule (not even accounting refugees who are excluded) for generations and make any positive claims, including the claim, in this case, of doing better than one’s neighbors.


  8. Ralph Seliger June 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    We are forthright critics of Israel’s human rights failings. Why Ted is ignoring the atrocities and systematic abuses among Israel’s neighbors is a mystery.

    None of this excuses Israel, but the following is a non-exhaustive list: over 80,000 Syrians have been killed so far in its civil war; Iraq is again spiraling into murderous chaos (1,000 were murdered in terrorist bombings last month); Lebanon is again teetering on the edge of sectarian fratricide; Kurds still must assert their rights in Turkey and Iraq; Coptic Christians are threatened and discriminated against in Egypt; Iran is a theocratic dictatorship; Sudan routinely engages in near-genocidal mass violence.

  9. Anonymous June 4, 2013 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    I am not ignoring systematic human rights abuses by Israel’s neighbors in any way. I am not sure where you got that idea. Actually, like most supporters of Palestinian rights, I am concerned about human rights worldwide and for everyone, a concept called universal human rights.

    What I firmly reject is the idea that Israel’s record is “better” than its neighbors. My rejection is based simply on the reality that Israel has systematically violated the rights of about half the population under its control since 1967, after expelling hundreds of thousands from their homes in 1948 and holding many others under military rule from 1948-66. This is leaving aside the invasion of Lebanon and other Israeli military campaigns. Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, etc., are all guilty of serious human rights abuses at different points and over different periods. I am not sure how one would accurately weigh who is better or worse. It would involve compiling all kinds of very detailed historical data, and then weighting the significance of different kinds of violations over periods of many years.

    Ralph you seem to have dispelled with any need for serious analysis, and concluded, I guess not surprisingly, that Israel’s record is better. And anyone who rejects that is an apologist, or I suppose signling out Israel.

    Standard hasbara and apologia for Israel that is timeworn and not at all convincing. I don’t see any evidence that Israel has a better human rights record than its neighbors.


  10. Ralph Seliger June 4, 2013 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    This is unbelievable. Ted just has to follow the news to know that the human rights situation among most of Israel’s neighbors is appalling. Israel engages in civil rights abuses; several Arab countries engage in mass killings, while most Mideast countries systematically discriminate against different ethnic groups and religions.

    If Ted’s honest, he knows that we oppose the occupation and generally criticize Israel’s use of force. We are dissenters in the Jewish world and within the Zionist fold. But his narrative is completely one-sided, with no understanding that wrongs and provocations have been committed by all sides in this conflict.

  11. Anonymous June 4, 2013 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    I’ll give you Sudan, if you consider that a neighbor of Israel.

    After that, it becomes pretty murky. The Iraqi and Syrian governments have over time probably killed more people than Israel has over the last 65 years, but on the other hand they also have significantly higher populations. Per capita, Israel might do pretty well if we compared, not sure.

    But killing people is not the only measure of human rights violations. How many lives severely constrained equal one death? I don’t know.

    As I said, then you get into difficult weighting of other types of rights abuses. How do you weigh driving 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and then depriving Palestinians in the OPT and Palestinian refugees of many basic rights, subjecting Palestinians in the OPT to constant, daily harassment, violence, land theft, deprivation, etc. for 46 years, vs. the very serious repression and violence against parts of their own populations committed by Syria and Iraq for shorter periods of time?

    Israel has discriminated against its Palestinian citizens since 1948 to varying degrees. Is that discrimination lesser or more than the discrimination that Copts, for example, have experienced over the same time period in Egypt? I don’t have a clear answer. Probably at times Copts have had more freedom, and at times less. Palestinian citizens of Israel were under military rule from 1948-66, for example.

    You are also underestimating significantly a basic reality here if you do not mean to include Israel in this statement “most Mideast countries systematically discriminate against different ethnic groups and religions.”

    Ralph, while you’ve visited Ramallah some and perhaps grudgingly shaken Hanan Ashrawi’s hand (or was that just Lilly?), your evaluation of Israeli actions here does not convey a clear understanding of the daily, grinding harassment, arbitrary threat (and sometimes reality) of violence and constrained rights, freedoms, resources and possibilities that Palestinians have been living under for generations. If you don’t feel safe going there, you would have/should have read many, many clear examples of this over the years in the writing of Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, just to note Israeli documenters of this reality.

    You’d like to blame both sides considerably. It’s complex! But you know, apart from all the other aspects and choices that Israel made that we could delve into, that Israel had a choice after 1967, and did not need to carry out a long-term occupation and to also build settlements to help cement that long-term occupation. That was one of the major forks in the road.

    If you see clearly how to weigh all the different deaths and degrees of repression and discrimination committed by Israel and its neighbors, I’d suggest you then publish the Meretz human rights violation weighting scale that will also allow Meretz to create the global (or at least regional) index of human rights violations. I’m sure Amnesty and HRW will appreciate this new tool. It can be used alongside the human development index, transparency indexes, etc.. Although they might have some questions if Israel keeps coming out on top.


  12. Ralph Seliger June 4, 2013 at 9:55 pm - Reply

    This is not about keeping score. We want to see the occupation and inequities within Israel end. But the catastrophic level of violence and oppression among Israel’s neighbors makes it more difficult for a majority of Israelis to envision a secure peace.

    And yes, the Nakba was an enormous tragedy, but can Ted concede that it occurred because Palestinian Arabs (and later their external Arab allies) attempted to destroy the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, after the UN had voted for partition? If the Jews had lost, the dislocation and human losses would have been at least as bad; as it was, even in winning, Palestinian Jews lost one percent of their entire population killed and another 2.5% wounded, along with the destruction and forced dislocation of Jewish communities in the Etzion Bloc, the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, and in the Judean Desert.

    Our purpose as an organization has always been to work for reconciliation and peace. Blaming only one side, aside from being historically inaccurate & unfair, cannot accomplish this.

  13. Anonymous June 5, 2013 at 2:22 am - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    You don’t really believe that “winning” required a) expelling 800,000 Palestinians from their homes, b) destroying their villages, and c) never allowing them to return, do you?


  14. Ralph Seliger June 5, 2013 at 11:03 am - Reply

    No, I do not. But I believe that Palestinian Jews were in a life-or-death struggle and that once the tide of war turned (if I remember correctly from my reading, this was in March 1948, when the Palestinian military leader was killed in battle), Jewish forces did what came naturally in fighting their enemy.

    Ask yourself if the Arab world was “required” to expel 900,000 Jews in their midst? This was about 99% of Jews in those countries, and the entire Jewish communities in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Algeria, and over 90% in Morocco, Yemen, Syria and Tunisia.

    By contrast, “only” about 75% of Arabs were expelled from Israel’s new borders. This was all bad, but it’s what happens in a bitter ethnic war.

  15. Anonymous June 5, 2013 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    You continue to recite Hasbara points, as opposed to logical and factual arguments:

    1) You must know that Israel and Zionists groups actively campaigned for Jews to leave Arab countries. I don’t think we know what percent of Jews left for that reason. But we do therefore know for sure that your claim that the Arab world expelled 99% of Jews from their midst is simply inaccurate (and an obvious hasbara, as opposed to real claim).

    2) In any case, don’t hold Palestinians accountable for things they were not responsible for. Jews being expelled or leaving Arab countries after Palestinians were expelled from their homes by Zionist groups and Israel was not Palestinians doing or responsibility. Palestinians did not expel Jews from their homes in Arab countries. Israel did expel Palestinians from their homes.

    3) Finally, since 1948 the international community has stood for and attempted to enforce refugees right of return. This right holds for Palestinians and for Jews who were expelled from their homes.


  16. Ralph Seliger June 5, 2013 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    It’s true that not all Jews left Arab lands because they were expelled. But clearly, most of those Jewish communities did experience being kicked out, with mobs threatening them and governments taking their property. If this were simply a matter of Zionists making aliya, those communities would have remained intact (probably with a majority of their members).

    Yes, the Palestinians did not expel those Jews. They massacred and expelled Jews in the Etzion Bloc and East Jerusalem, where Arab forces were victorious in 1948.

    The right of return for Palestinian refugees is not absolute. There is an understanding that compensation may be substituted. This is something that needs to be carefully negotiated; there also is an understanding among most Palestinian spokespeople in recent years that the right of return cannot be implemented unconditionally. Besides, we have to consider whether people can remain “refugees” for generations.

    The real remedy has to do with giving people a choice of full citizenship and resettlement, including in the countries where they live now or in the new Palestinian state. But that choice has to be limited by Israel’s right as a sovereign country to control immigration. Otherwise, you’re just continuing the conflict, not arriving at a peaceful agreement.

  17. Anonymous June 5, 2013 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    It looks like you have a bone to pick with Ken Roth of HRW on your claim here:

    “The right of return for Palestinian refugees is not absolute. There is an understanding that compensation may be substituted. This is something that needs to be carefully negotiated; there also is an understanding among most Palestinian spokespeople in recent years that the right of return cannot be implemented unconditionally. Besides, we have to consider whether people can remain “refugees” for generations.”

    “The real remedy has to do with giving people a choice of full citizenship and resettlement, including in the countries where they live now or in the new Palestinian state. But that choice has to be limited by Israel’s right as a sovereign country to control immigration. Otherwise, you’re just continuing the conflict, not arriving at a peaceful agreement.”

    Ken Roth says that according to international law, your approach is incorrect, and that Israel does not have the right to limit refugees’ choice. And I’ve already previously posted information from HRW and others showing that yes, people can remain refugees for generations. A state’s efforts, like Israel’s, to deny a right for generations does not extinguish it as long people maintain ties to their “homeland.”

    The organization also called on President Clinton and the international community to ensure that individual refugees are permitted a free and informed choice among the three options and that returns take place in a gradual and orderly manner.

    “The options of local integration and third-country resettlement should not extinguish the right of return,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Rather, they should enhance the choices facing individual refugees. All three options should be available.”

    Roth noted that Human Rights Watch has defended the right of refugees to return to their homes in Bosnia, Chile, China, East Timor, Rwanda and Guatemala, as well as in other instances. “It is a right that persists even when sovereignty over the territory is contested, or has changed hands,” he said.

    In the letters to Barak, Arafat, and Clinton, Human Rights Watch said that it made no claim to preempt consideration of the negotiating parties’ political and national security interests. Rather, these interests should be met in a manner consistent with internationally recognized human rights.

    In any case, Ralph, let’s not lose track of the fact that what we are doing is rebutting sub-point by sub-point your larger indefensible argument that Israel’s human rights record is better than all of its neighbors. And this came up in the first place because you asserted, in continuing to defend the concept of a Jewish state, that non-Jews are treated better by Israel than minorities are in neighboring countries. As we’ve seen through this discussion, this argument is a) false, and b) not relevant, as human rights standards are not relative, but absolute. And none of it is a defense for Theo Bikel’s use of the Leviticus quote in the video.


  18. Ralph Seliger June 5, 2013 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    Ted is quite fanciful in his reading of our discussion. He’s constantly ignoring the fact that we are critics of Israel’s human rights record; that Israel’s neighbors have a much worse record in human rights should be beyond dispute (just pay attention to the news on Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, etc.).

    My view of the right of return is in accord with the informal agreement arrived at nearly ten years ago in Geneva. Israelis and Palestinians agreed at that time that there is a right of return, but that it cannot be implemented without Israel’s agreement as a sovereign state. That’s why there needs to be an agreed-upon limitation on the actual number of Palestinians “returning” to what is now Israel; no country can be realistically expected to permit entry and residence to individuals who are hostile to that country and may harbor violent intentions toward its people. Yet since very few non-Israeli Palestinians are still alive who once lived in what is now Israel, there is a manageable number that can be agreed to.

    Kenneth Roth’s interpretation does not consider the political and diplomatic reality, and therefore can only make a negotiated peace less possible if it’s insisted upon. Using this as a stumbling block to peace serves nobody’s best interests, least of all the generations of Palestinian refugees. Btw, to my knowledge, Palestinians are unique in maintaining the status of refugees for generations.

  19. Anonymous June 5, 2013 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    This is what is funny and annoying about discussions with so many Israel supporters – ignorance of international law and worldwide practice, and repetition of ignorant tropes.

    What I posted in the previous comment is not simply Ken Roth’s interpretation. That is the consensus understanding of international law relating to refugees as stated and practiced by all international bodies, the UN, the legal community, non-governmental organizations, etc.. Practically the only people who dispute these issues relating to refugee rights and international law are self-deceiving supporters of Israel who live in a bubble.

    Ralph, you can have “your view,” but don’t try to pretend that is not fly in the face of what is agreed to and practiced by the international community.

    Ken Roth and HRW are not simply addressing the issue of Palestinian refugees, they are applying the same standard of international law to Palestinian refugees that is and has been applied to all refugees everywhere since 1948. That this is inconvenient for what some supporters of Israel would like to see the state does not effect international law or refugee rights. It is a fundamental violation of human rights to deny refugee rights as they were outlined that HRW document, which is but one of many possible documents from many sources that could be cited outlining the international consensus on refugee rights.

    The second point, again, one that Ralph and many Israel supporters want to avoid, and one I have posted documentation on before on this site, is that according to international law, refugee rights can be passed from generation to generation, if individuals maintain “a genuine and effective link” to their “own country.”

    Again, HRW, in this case summarizing Article 12 of the International Covenant on civil and Political Rights (but again, many other sources besides HRW could be cited):

    A “genuine and effective link” to one’s “own country” can be composed of various elements, including language, long-term residence, cultural identity, family ties, etc. The right of return is not restricted to nationality in the formal, or de jure, sense. Nor can it be restricted to permanent or habitual residence. One’s “own country” implies a broader set of ties and connections that together make up “a genuine and effective link” as defined in the Nottebohm case. It allows for those outside their own country to return for the first time, even if they were born elsewhere and would be entering for the first time, so long as they have maintained a “genuine and effective link” to the country.

    Other long-term refugee populations also have had their status as refugees passed on to new generations “even if they were born elsewhere”, not just Palestinians. Once again, that is simply how the international community deals with refugees and refugee rights everywhere. That Israel has managed for so long to prevent the exercise of that right, cannot and does not extinguish that right if individuals maintain “genuine and effective links” to their “own country.”

    If you do not know whether and how right of return is practiced with other refugee populations, go to the the HRW website and search for “right of return” or “right to return.” I will repeat, because otherwise you are going to complain about HRW and “Ken Roth’s view,” these are the consensus positions worldwide regarding refugee rights and international law, and there are very few who disagree with this consensus.

    Leave the bubble of Israel supporters who repeat the contrary to one another over and over. Israel is guilty of violating the rights of one of the largest refugee population in the world, and has been for the last 65 years.


  20. Ralph Seliger June 6, 2013 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    The problem with absolutists on the application of international law is that they think that the realities of international politics and diplomacy have been repealed. Just as police and judges are generally empowered to use discretion in the application of domestic law, discretion must be recognized in deference to the reality of national sovereignty.

    Notwithstanding the views of Ted and Kenneth Roth, a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem must be negotiated with Israel and other concerned parties. And formulas have been discussed (such as under the framework of the Geneva Accord) that can fairly and reasonably settle the issue.

    I’m not even sure that Roth disagrees. Quoting Ted paraphrasing HRW’s view: “… Human Rights Watch said that it made no claim to preempt consideration of the negotiating parties’ political and national security interests.”

  21. Anonymous June 6, 2013 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    I did not paraphrase HRW. Those are direct quotes. Look at the links I provided.


  22. Ralph Seliger June 7, 2013 at 12:05 am - Reply

    My apologies, but if it’s a direct quote, it only strengthens the last point I’ve just made.

  23. Anonymous June 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    I told you they were direct quotes, because I try to be factually accurate, not because telling you would have strengthened or weakened my case.

    However, if you spent the time to learn about the issue and to read the documents, you would probably conclude that, while admittedly that single sentence injects some ambiguity, HRW’s emphasis is above all on giving refugees the free choice between options three as guaranteed by international law, and therefore not allowing governments to impose numerical restrictions that might restrict that free choice. I think HRW is saying the mechanism that you choose is up to you, we are not dictating that, but that your solutions must respect refugee’s right to choose freely.

    The second sentence, which you chose to omit, qualifies the first and reinforces my assertion:

    “In the letters to Barak, Arafat, and Clinton, Human Rights Watch said that it made no claim to preempt consideration of the negotiating parties’ political and national security interests. Rather, these interests should be met in a manner consistent with internationally recognized human rights.”

    These are the final sentences in the press release and that phrase is the only time HRW mentions not preempting political and security considerations. And HRW explains what those “internationally recognized human rights” that must be taken into account are throughout the document.

    In the introductory paragraph, HRW explains “a peace agreement between the two sides should allow Palestinians in exile to choose freely among three options: returning to their country of origin, integrating into the country of asylum, or resettling in a third country.”

    The next paragraph notes the need to “ensure that individual refugees are permitted a free and informed choice among the three options.” The next sentence is Roth’s quote to the same effect.

    And I think the accompanying letter to then Prime Minister Barak reinforces my interpretation and shows again that your interpretation is not correct, no matter how much you wish it was:

    But if you still feel unsure how to interpret these documents, address your questions to HRW. They would probably respond. Again, I would encourage you to step outside of the hasbara echo chamber that so many Israel supporters stay within and engage with the rest of the world on this and other issues.


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