TWO VOICES: Is there a specific Jewish view on human rights legislation?
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

TWO VOICES: Is there a specific Jewish view on human rights legislation?

Two Voices
Two Voices

This week’s Two Voices asks: is there a specific Jewish view on human rights legislation?

Simone Abel says…

Simone Abel
Simone Abel

I would reframe this question to: ‘Should there be a Jewish position on whether the UK retains the Human Rights Act?’ The answer is a resounding yes.

Recognition of the need to protect human rights, and the framework of international agreements to protect them, sprang directly from the Shoah. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights emerged after the Second World War as practical expressions of the determination to prevent such horrors recurring.

The rights guaranteed in the Convention and, more recently, the HRA, speak directly to the Jewish experience. At their root is the notion that all humans are vested with a dignity that states have a duty to protect and fulfil. If our own historical experiences do not illustrate why such protections are needed, then I don’t know what does.

Yet our government is committed to HRA’s repeal, and to the erosion of the cornerstones of access to justice, such as legal aid. This should alarm us given how hard won our human rights protections are. A ‘British Bill of Rights’ is a regressive step if the rights in the HRA or the mechanisms for enforcing those rights are watered down.

René Cassin, the French-Jewish co-drafter of the UDHR, said: “Human rights are an integral part of the faith and tradition of Judaism.” But he knew faith and tradition were not enough – rights could only be guaranteed by being enshrined in international and domestic law.

Simone Abel is a trustee of René Cassin

Robyn Ashworth-Steen says…

Robyn Ashworth-Steen
Robyn Ashworth-Steen

The underlying principle of human rights legislation is that we are all equal before the law, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation and so on. These universal rights are then qualified if one’s actions warrant it. Human rights legislation ensures these rights are enshrined and that we can hold the state to account if they are unlawfully infringed.

Any discussion of human rights in a Jewish context would, of course, start with Genesis 1:27 – “and God created the human being in God’s own image”. Here is the Jewish principle of equality – we are all made in the image of God – we are all equal. As Arthur Green states in Radical Judaism: “Every creature and every life form is a garbing of divine presence. The way in which we treat them and relate to them is the ultimate testing ground of our own religious consciousness.”

The universal nature of human rights, and the underlying principle of equality, must be fiercely guarded. The main concern about the proposed ‘British Bill of Rights’ is that it infringes upon the principle of equality by asserting that rights are just for ‘us Brits’. What about the stranger, the vulnerable? We are enjoined in the Torah, a remarkable 36 times, to love the stranger and commanded to protect the vulnerable in our society. These principles must be defended at all costs when it comes to our human rights legislation.

Robyn Ashworth-Steen is a student rabbi at Leo Baeck College, ex-human rights solicitor and co-founder of Tzelem

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments