The Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ)’s Australian website is very professional and is regularly updated.
There is a special organisation devoted to social justice, called ‘The Jewish Religious Action & Advocacy Centre‘ (JRAAC) whose mission is:
…to pursue the principles of justice, equality and integrity as outlined in Jewish texts and teaching…to be a source of education for member organisations of the UPJ and the wider community on issues of social justice… to raise awareness of injustices and advocate for fair outcomes across the world.
This mission is fulfilled through strong policy statements holding the UPJ and its constituents to a high moral standard on current issues. Through these statements we will call on the people of our region and of the world to take strong action to bring about moral outcomes for all. JRAAC will express opinions based on Progressive Jewish values to media, government and community groups in order to campaign for the changes we believe in.
One of their Statements is on Slavery – something totally repugnant to all civilized countries – where they:
…call all members of our community to take the messages we learn from our Haggadot and to speak out to condemn slavery globally.
We learn in our biblical history of being slaves in Egypt …
During the Holocaust, Jewish people were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to Nazi ‘labour camps’ where millions of people were literally worked to death…
Thankfully these instances of Jewish enslavement are a part of history, but slavery is continuing today across the globe… While slavery is explicitly condemned in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 4, stating “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms…Today slavery is visible in varying forms: including human trafficking, where people – particularly women and children – are sold across borders for the sex trade and bonded labour, where people are pledged against a loan or debt and forced to work long hours seven days a week…
While the vast majority of Jewish people may be free from slavery; sadly the State of Israel is not free from it. In 2006 the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a binding agreement between migrant workers and their employers as “a type of modern slavery.”
In June 2011, the US State Department yearly report on “Trafficking in Persons” ranked Israel in the ‘Tier 2’ category -“countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”
The report highlighted forced labour and sex trafficking, with some low-skilled worker migrants facing conditions of forced labour through the withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, inability to change or otherwise choose one’s employer, non-payment of wages, threats, sexual assault and physical intimidation.
This referred to the May 2011 Knesset amendment to Israel’s 1952 Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, enabling the Government to confine and dictate migrant workers’ conditions in the nursing and caregiver professions. The amendment, known informally as the ‘Slavery Law’ allows the State to infringe upon these migrants’ basic human rights of free choice of employment and freedom of movement, through granting the Minister of Internal Affairs the right to restrict the movement of about 55,000 migrant caregivers, mostly women, between employers to restrict their work to a specific geographical location and to restrict their field of occupation.
The UPJ condemns this 2011 amendment as a ‘legalised’ form of discrimination and we believe migrant workers in Israel should be treated fairly and justly under Israeli law.
The ‘Slavery Law’ infringes the rights set out in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we call on the Knesset to reconsider this amendment and allow migrant workers the same rights and freedoms as Israeli citizens in terms of working conditions…We believe Israel needs to offer full protection of these workers, with more active prosecution of abusive employers and persons engaged with labour trafficking. The UPJ believes that Israel will come to realise the lack of fairness in the current situation and will remedy it.
Whilst the statement was undated, presumably it was written in 2012, as an identical statement was published on J-Wire on April 3 2012 under the title ‘A Pesach Slavery Message. ‘
To label a piece of Israeli legislation, passed by a democratic Knesset, as the “Slavery Act” and falsely imply Israel approves slavery is simply a smear. If the (unidentified) authors of the article really cared about human rights, they would focus on countries where there is real slavery.
Now you’d think, considering UPJ is so hi-tech and progressive, and hold themselves to a ‘high moral standard’, that when circumstances change, they’d instantly update this important Statement, which is circulated to “media, government and community groups”.
Well, circumstances have changed dramatically: In June 2013, Romy Zipken| reported:
The U.S. State Department has ranked Israel a “Tier 1” country for the fight to prevent human trafficking for the second year in a row, Secretary of State John Kerry announced. A Tier 1 country is one that “fully complies” with the terms of the State Department’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards.
The Jerusalem Post reports:
From the legislative level down to non-profit organisations working with victims of sex and labor trafficking to Israel, the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report commended the country’s efforts to tackle the problem, including prevention and treatment for the victims.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio that despite the high ranking, Israel must continue “pouring in resources in preventing and deterring these crimes and to care for the victims.”
Only a decade ago, Israel featured on the embarrassing, infamous list of countries where humans are trafficked,” Livni said in a statement. “That’s what makes the report significant, because it places Israel in the same tier as other progressive countries that fight modern slavery.
Only a few years ago, the situation in Israel was very different. Ranked a Tier 2 country, Israel wasn’t doing all it could to meet the international standards. From the 2008 State Department report .
The Government of Israel does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. This year, the government increased the number of convictions for sex trafficking offenses, and conducted a campaign to prevent forced labor. Israel also continues to provide victims of sex trafficking with shelter and protection assistance.
In 2009, the Interior Ministry in Israel was unable to even locate human trafficking victims, though there were reportedly between 2,000 and 3,000 individuals forced into labor or sexual exploitation…
Shortly after that report, the Interior Ministry’s Oz unit began practicing new techniques to identify trafficking victims.
Even the left-leaning Haaretz reported:
U.S. ranks Israel among countries doing most to fight human trafficking
Israel was ranked in the top tier of countries that strive to fight human trafficking in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report. This is the second year in a row that Israel has made it into Tier 1.
“This achievement is welcome, and it isn’t self-evident,” said Rita Chaikin, who runs a project to combat trafficking in women for Isha L’Isha − Haifa Feminist Center.
“From the early 1990s until the mid-2000s, Israel was one of the main destination countries for trafficking in women from the former Soviet Union,” Chaikin noted, adding that the law enforcement agencies were largely indifferent to the issue back then.
“Israel began seriously dealing with the problem after the shock of being rated in the lowest tier in the State Department’s annual report for 2001,” said Sigal Rozen, public policy coordinator for the Hotline for Migrant Workers. HERE
With amazing advances in dealing with human trafficking, you’d think a progressive group like JRAAC would be proud to acknowledge how hard Israel tries to improve in all areas of human endeavour. And let’s face it, even when they were in Tier 3, they were probably a lot better than most of the surrounding countries. So why doesn’t the JRAAC focus on some of them for a change?
Whether or not there is legal liability to correct a statement which was true at the time it was made, but later becomes false, there is certainly a moral obligation to update information that is no longer relevant. Otherwise, readers would be left with the impression that Israel is currently guilty of severe moral failings. OK, Israel is not perfect, what country is? But to unfairly blacken her name also leaves the author(s) of this libel open to the accusation of moral failings.
In conclusion, UJP should be thanking G-d (the gender neutral one, of course, located in their prayer book, Mishkan T’filah, which eliminates references to God as “He”) that Israel has made such enormous strides to abolish the evil of human trafficking.