Support Human Rights? Support Israel

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Israel is a model of human rights and democratic values, particularly in the Middle East, a region consisting otherwise of dictatorships that severely limit personal freedoms.

Hasbara Fellowships presents a series of attractive and informative postcards on topics including freedom of the press, gender equality democratic government civil liberties, and religious freedom in Israel.




Israeli Human Rights: What You Need To Know

In its annual report, Freedom House listed Israel and the United States as ‘free’ with Israel sharing the same ranking as Italy, Japan and Greece. While no nation has a perfect human rights record, most Americans are unaware of the scope of freedoms, including equality of social, political and religious rights, recognized by the state of Israel for all, irrespective of religion, race or sex. This Leadership Action Network Alert provides an overview of Israel’s human rights.

Talking Points:

1) Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people but does not dictate a state religion. All religions are free to practice and each religious community has legal authority over family matters, including issues of marriage, divorce, and burial.

2) The holy sites of all religions are protected under Israeli law, making damage to any holy site a criminal offense. 

3) Like the United States, Israel is a melting pot welcoming people from over 100 countries, both Jews and non-Jews. A number of programs have been put in place by the government focusing on minority communities that may need additional support in adjusting and integrating into a modern society like Israel. There are many immigrants of diverse backgrounds who have succeeded and serve as role models including Ethiopian immigrant and current Knesset Deputy Speaker Shlomo Molla and Eli Marom, the first Commander of the Israeli Navy of Chinese descent, appointed in 2007.

4) Women and men are equal before the law in Israel.  In fact, there are multiple Israeli laws written specifically to protect women including the 1951 Women’s Equal Rights law which states that, “a man and a woman shall have equal status with regard to any legal proceeding.”  Well before Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain, Golda Meir was elected the Prime Minister of Israel. Currently, two of Israel's major political parties are led by women.

5) All Arab citizens are endowed with equal rights under the law.  In fact, even Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens may appeal to the High Court. The only legal distinction made between citizens is one of civic duty as all Israeli Arabs but the Druze and Circassians are exempt from compulsory military service, although they may volunteer. Representatives from numerous Israeli-Arab political parties have been elected to every Israeli Knesset since the re-establishment of the state.  Israeli Arabs hold prominent positions throughout society. Certainly there are tensions with elements of the Arab population, particularly given the dynamics of the region, but note that fully 40% of Jerusalem Arabs indicated in a poll that they would move to Israel if their neighborhoods became part of a Palestinian State.

6) In stark contrast to other Middle Eastern countries, gays and lesbians can live openly in Israel. In fact, many gay men from Arab countries come to live in Israel to avoid persecution and even death sentences for the “crime” of being gay. Israeli law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gays and lesbians have the right to adopt children, share partner benefits and serve openly in the military. 

7) Disabled Israelis are protected under the Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law. This law “protects the dignity and freedom of persons with disabilities and provides a basis for his right to equal and active participation in society in all spheres of life.”  The law also stipulates that public transportation be made available for disabled people throughout Israel.

8) 92% of the land of Israel belongs to the State and is not for sale but can be leased by anyone, regardless of race, religion or sex. All Israeli Arab citizens are eligible to lease government land[1].
9) Each Israeli citizen is guaranteed healthcare from birth. The Israeli government alsoprovides medical care for Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who are not citizens. 

10) As in any free society, there are troubling issues that capture the news headlines, often caused by individuals or groups not reflective of the mainstream. The United States experiences this every day. Such is the case of the recent actions by a fringe group of ultra-orthodox haredim in Bet Shemesh who exhibited religious intolerance and acted against women’s rights, even against other sects of haredim. Bet Shemesh is a modern, diverse community with numerous secular Israelis and those of various religious affiliations calling it home.  The mainstream of Bet Shemesh and Israeli society responded to these actions with revulsion. Prime Minister Netanyahu reached out to the Attorney General to make sure the laws prohibiting discrimination and violence against women would be enforced. He said, “Discrimination against women goes against the tradition of the Bible and the principles of Judaism.” At the same time, thousands rallied in Bet Shemesh to protest. In this creative protest, 250 women of all ages and across the religious spectrum were part of a flash mob in the public square that has gone viral worldwide.

Background and Further Reading Material:

Freedom House
Freedom of the World Report, 2011

International Labor Organization
National Labor Law Profile: The State of Israel

Israel’s Declaration of Independence

Israeli Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty

L.A. Times
Chinese Jews Feel More at Home in Israel

Israel Up Close

Apartheid in the Middle East

Jewish Virtual Library:
Human Rights In Israel
Freedom of Religion in Israel

America-Israel Public Affairs Committee
Near East Report: Women’s Rights in Israel

Christian Science Monitor
Israel to Grant Darfur Refugees Citizenship

National Post
Middle East Truth-Telling, From an Unlikely Source

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Behind the Headlines: The Israeli Humanitarian Lifeline to Gaza

The Jewish Federations of North America
Myth and Fact: Israeli Checkpoints and Medical Care for Palestinians

Special thanks to Mindy Stein for her contributions to this alert.

[1] Arab Israelis. Jewish Virtual Library, 2012.
[2] Shimon Shetreet. Freedom of Religion in Israel, Jewish Virtual Library, 2012.
*Courtesy of the Leadership Action Network