Human rights
A Lifetime Struggle for Human Rights
Expanded remarks by Professor Tova Rosen at a conference on "The Left and Academia"
Already in his youth in South Africa, Leon Sheleff developed his aversion and sharp criticism towards all forms of injustice, and especially those carried and supported by the law itself.
There, in South Africa, and later, during Leon's studies at The Ohio State University during the Sixties, we can find the seeds of his relentless struggle - a lifetime struggle - for human rights. Here in Israel he found, unfortunately, a vast arena for his moral vision, his intellectual energies and his activist temperament.
Academic Research
As Professor of Law and Sociology at Tel Aviv University, Leon combined his legal expertise with a keen interest in social issues, politics, psychology, anthropology and what not. The wide scope of his interests – all connected one way or another with human rights, with the struggle for justice, and with finding a just solution to the Jewish-Palestinian conflict – is reflected in the titles to his books, beginning with:

  • The Bystander (1978), where he studied the the passive witnessing of evil and the impulse to altruism;
  • Generations Apart (1981), about children’s rights;
  • Ultimate Penalties (1987), about capital punishment, life imprisonment and torture;

  • Kol Hakavod (Civil Disobedience and Civic Loyalty, 1989) in Hebrew, about conscientious objection in Israels and about the refusal to serve in the occupied territories as a basic human right (this book followed Leon’s role as the defense advocate in Gadi Algazi’s trial);

  • The Future of Tradition (1999), a call to integrate tribal customary law into modern law – a comparative study including references to Bedouin customary law;

  • Asabim Shotim B'Gan Eden (Weeds in The Garden of Eden, 2002), his last published book in Hebrew: an original commentary on biblical stories and midrashim, which he proposed as a foundation for reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians, as well as for solutions to other social problems in Israel;
  • Drowning One's Sorrow, an as yet unpublished manuscript, holding western governments and manufacturers of alcoholic beverages to accountable for alcoholism among indigenous peoples.
  • Activism
    Over the years Leon Sheleff was affiliated with a large number of groups and organizations, as a leading member, as legal adviser, or as a simple participant in activities in the field.
    I’m sure the following list is not inclusive: B’Tselem, Amnesty International, The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition, The Israeli Committee against Torture, The Association for Human Rights, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Ad Kahn at TAU (which was a name he invented.)
    Our small left (or should we say small "SMOL") has shrunk even further with Leon’s death. All who knew Leon will miss his original mind, his generous spirit and his endless dedication.