A Pesach Slavery Message

April 3, 2012 by  
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As Pesach fast approaches, the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) and ARZA (the Australian Reform Zionist Association) 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, where the Hebrew people were subject to inhumane treatment under the ruling power of the Pharaoh of Egypt. We also learn that Moses stood up under the command of God and eventually freed the Hebrews from slavery. “Let My people go, to worship Me” [Exodus 9:1]. This is not the only time the Jewish people have been enslaved.

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, while others were forced to work in horrific conditions with no pay, little food or shelter and tortured. Thankfully these instances of Jewish enslavement are a part of history, but slavery is continuing today across the globe.

Today, there are more slaves than ever before with estimates of between 12 and 27 million people, according to ‘Anti-slavery International’. While slavery is outlawed in all countries under the Slavery Convention (1926) established by the League of Nations, and is explicitly condemned in the United Nations 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”. We still see slavery as a major global challenge which requires urgent action world-wide by both individuals and governments. As in biblical times – when Jacob took his family to Egypt because of a lack of food – modern slavery often occurs because affected people are left with few other choices. 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, often for an undefined period. These people are often forced into slavery out of desperation of having a sick family member, or because of lack of access to work in their regions. While condemning the wide-scale practice of slavery in many parts of the world we cannot overlook areas where the Jewish people can and should act. 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 United Nations 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.

Not only is this law a violation of migrant worker rights, it is also an overtly sexist law, as it discriminates against migrant women, who are generally more vulnerable and subject to abusive employers. We believe Israel needs to offer full protection of these workers, with more active prosecution of abusive employers and persons engaged with labour trafficking. “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” [Exodus 22:20]. The UPJ believes that Israel will come to realise the lack of fairness in the current situation and will remedy it. We call upon the United Nations and its member states to make the elimination of the slave trade a top priority – allowing workers fair wages, a minimum working age, fair working conditions and the protection of their basic human rights. Although we are told to recount the story of Pesach “as though we had been slaves in Egypt” let us work to make real slavery only a thing of the past.


One Response to “A Pesach Slavery Message”
  1. Paul Winter says:

    Who wrote this drivel? That it hasn’t got an author indicates that the compilers ashamed to put their names to this antisemitic smear. Who on earth decided to smear some Israeli legislation as the “Slavery Act”? And who then turns around and makes the blood libel that Israel practises slavery? It is not slavery to decide where a guest worker will be employed. It is not the right of any foreigner to choose where they will work. In Australia some overseas doctors were admitted on the basis that they would work in rural areas for a period of time. And they were migrants, not guest workers! Does anyone really care what the USA grades Israel, considering that the USA privatised prison system employs convicts as cheap labour and those companies ship prisoners interstate. And it was not so long ago that the USA had chain gangs. But in the land of the free and the home of the brave, Honest Abe abolished slavery, except for the Jim Crow laws. And what of the Hispanic illegals who enable the Californian agriculture to operate? But the most offensive bit about the article is that it ignores the brutal and murderous slavery in Saudi Arabia, the Sudan and in Mauritania. There is child slavery in Pakistan and the Burmese army enslaves Keren people. China has a massive slave prison industry and so has North Korea. But these precious human rights advocates can ciritcise only Israel! We just recently had a Mr Deng, originally from Sudan, tell us us that the accusation of apartheid in Israel are a pack of lies. This article is a shamful blood libel by a group pretending to be liberal and pretending to uphold Jewish values procede to aid the enemies of the Jewish state with libels equivalent to the one which claims that Jews use the blood of gentile children to make matzah. Shame on the author(s). You have cast a pall over the chag we will be celebrating just as the Nazis did and for no other reason than to advance and anti-Israel agenda in support of the enemies of all Jews.

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