New International Fellowship Program on Judaism and Human Rights

Last week an application process was launched for a brand new program called the René Cassin Fellowship Program (RCFP). With hubs in New York, London and Jerusalem, the RCFP will select 36 outstanding Jewish young professionals, ages 25-35. The year-long program of study, travel and hands-on impact projects does not take the place of one’s current employment or program of studies. It is rather an enrichment experience that will explore Jewish visions for a just society and will provide young Jewish professionals with the knowledge, skills and contacts needed to enhance their activism in the areas of social justice, international human rights or related fields.

It is sad and a bit ironic that some in the Jewish community have acquired an aversion to the array of organizations that deal with human rights. This stems from the fact that for several decades many human rights groups have put a spotlight on Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinian population living in the territories captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War. The U.N. has been a forum particularly hostile to the state of Israel, with many resolutions of condemnation failing only because of a United States veto in the U.N. Security Council. The U.N. sponsored 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban South Africa became a flashpoint for the obscene and disproportionate attention paid to Israel as compared to many other countries with no tradition of democracy or legal due process and with far worse records on human rights.

The RCFP starts with a different premise. We believe that the many international, national and NGO forums in which human rights is the focus can either support or detract from the legitimacy of nations. Israel and the Jewish people have an important stake in the issues addressed by these bodies. While it is unfortunate that Israel must engage in a debate over its legitimacy in the community of nations 65 years after its founding, the choice to be absent is an error. Israel was created by an act of the United Nations. Even in the face of the most outrageous accusations and plentiful evidence of double standards being used by states whose record on human rights are among the worst in human history, Jews must appear at such forums and speak the truth in the noblest tradition of Jewish values. The Fellowship program is designed to equip participants for just such kind of engagement.

The sponsoring organization for the fellowship program is René Cassin, a human rights NGO based in London that uses the experience of the Jewish people and Jewish values to campaign and educate on universal human rights issues such as discrimination, detention and genocide. Founded in 2000, the organization is named in honor of René Cassin, a French Jew and Nobel Laureate who was one of the principal co-drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With special consultative status at the United Nations, René Cassin uses that forum to give voice to Jewish values within the international human rights community.

The RCFP is funded by a lead gift from New York UJA/Federation’s Commission on the Jewish People. A critical dimension of the program is having three cohorts of fellows each from a different center of world Jewry. Between monthly study sessions, there will be regular Skype conversations between Jews in the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel. Each will bring their unique historical and cultural background to bear as they reflect on the very challenging issues presented in the international human rights arena. The group will participate together in a study tour of Israel in June 2013.

Partnering with René Cassin in Israel will be Makom, a division of the Jewish Agency for Israel led by Jonny Ariel. Makom is playing a leading role as a catalyst for effective and compelling Israel engagement and Israel education. The lead educator in Israel will be Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, an Orthodox rabbi from the UK with expertise in human rights who now lives and teaches in Israel. The lead educator in London will be Simone Abel, a human rights attorney who is also the executive director of Rene Cassin.

The deadline for applications is December 1, 2012. Those interested in learning more about the fellowship program or who would like to obtain an application form please email with subject line “RCFP”. Applicants should be between the ages of 25 and 35 and live close to one of the three regional hubs – New York City, London or Jerusalem. Selections will be made by February 15, 2013, with the program commencing in May. To learn more about the program, please visit: which is part of the René Cassin website.

Rabbi Sid Schwarz, author of Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World and the forthcoming, Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future, is the director of René Cassin Fellowship Program and will also serve as the lead educator in New York.

(Originally posted on