A balanced view of liberal Israel

One of the more common arguments put forth by supporters of Israel is that the young State possesses a moral superiority to their Palestinian counterparts. The idea is founded on the notion that Israel’s political and legislative framework is constructed using “liberal” values, which provide for a much more enlightened attitude towards fundamental human rights.

The aim of this article is not to pick a side, nor is it meant to push readers into making any kind of decision but rather, it is to highlight the importance of using credible, neutral sources to make arguments.

While it is true that Israel is a democracy, it is far from fair. Of course no democracy is perfect, so why does Israel tend to be termed as a “defective democracy” rather than a “liberal” one by most experts in political science?

As Dr. Wolfgang Merkel, a recognised expert in the area, puts it in his article, the reason Israel’s democracy is termed as “defective” is because of the “unequal distribution of these negative defects along ethnic and religious cleavages which violates the third core principle of democracy, equality”.

Having said this, Merkel still does stress the fact that Israel must be commended on the fact that it has the beginnings of what, one day, might be termed as a fair, “liberal” democracy. As of yet, however, this is not the case.

The assertion that free speech is a given in Israel is false. According to an official United Nations report on the issue, it was judged that since September 2000 Israel has committed 478 press freedom violations as compared to 30 press freedom violations by Palestinian Authorities.

Further to this, in its 2004 Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index covering 165 countries, “Reporters Without Borders” placed Israel’s performance in the occupied Palestinian territory on rank 115 and the performance of the Palestinian Authority on rank 127.

As is clear from these statistics, neither side can boast a good record on free speech.

The Palestinian authorities are usually heavily criticised, as they should be, for the enduring inequalities that exist in their society regarding these issues. Israel, while making genuine attempts to improve rights for the LGBT community is also brought down by an ultra-conservative mindset of certain Orthodox groups that still very much discriminate against Gays, Muslims and women throughout cities in Israel.

Tel Aviv, is often used as a shining example of Israeli liberalism, however, as unfortunate as it is, Tel Aviv must instead be seen as the exception to the rule. The city is accepted by many experts on the subject as being a beacon of hope for Israel as it is liberal in many of the ways most of our western societies are. However, according to UN reports on the issue, it is also recognised that other cities in Israel, or under Israeli military control, do not fair as well when it comes to fundamental human rights.

There continues to exist grave breaches of human rights on both sides of the wall. To demonise one society over another is counter-productive to any aspirations for peace. The sad truth is that this conflict has gone on so long, and embittered so many, that it cannot be said that one side is morally untouchable. As clichéd as it may sound, this author finds himself on the side of peace, as it is clear that both sides have a lot to answer for.

Kevin Chabbel is a 3rd Law student in DCU.

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