As Israel celebrates her 65th birthday, it is absolutely critical to remember that Israel is the only thriving liberal democracy in the entire Middle East region. In fact, Freedom House rates Israel as the Middle East’s only free state; none of Israel’s neighbors are free like Israel is. Indeed, Israel’s Arab neighbors could only dream of living in a liberal democracy like Israel that respects human rights, minority rights, women’s rights, freedom of the press, freedom of thought and opinion, and academic freedom.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence grants “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Jews, Muslims and Christians are all granted religious freedom. In Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital city, churches and mosques coexist right next store to yeshivas and synagogues; Muslim and Christian pilgrimage sites are located beside Jewish ones. On university campuses, such as that of Ben-Gurion University, Muslim students hold prayer groups right on university property beside Jewish religious groups that do likewise. In fact, some persecuted religious groups such as the Bahai have been able to practice their religion freely in Israel in a way that they could only dream of doing in other countries, such as Iran.
Israel’s various minority groups are represented in all walks of life, from universities to the Israeli Army to the news media to the Israeli government. Special programs are in place to assist Israel’s various minority populations with the development of their careers, so that they will have the same opportunities to advance that Jewish Israelis do. For example, the Louis and Martin Whitman Scholarship Fund assists’ Israeli Arabs who study at Tel Aviv University as part of an affirmative action program. Additionally, the Robert Arnow Center for Bedouin Studies and Development serves as a liaison between Ben-Gurion University and the Negev Bedouin community, helping to advance higher education among Israeli Bedouins.
Israel is a country that respects women’s rights. If a woman wants to be a devout Muslim or a haredi married Jew, no one will prevent her from covering her hair or even face if she desires. She can wear a hijab, a burqa, a niqab, a wig, a hat, or a Jewish hair scarf without interference. If a woman wants to be secular and not cover her hair, she is also free to live like that in Israel as well. Israel is a country that respects that a woman has the right to decide what she wants to do with her body. Israel doesn’t compel women to cover their hair, like many Islamic states do, nor does Israel force women to not wear a face veil, like the French government does. In Israel, women are thus given freedoms that they simply don’t possess in many other countries to dress however they feel suites them. Additionally, Israel offers her female citizens equal pay for equal work, protection against violence, and assistance in advancing her career. For example, if a woman seeks to run for the Knesset as a new candidate, a mechanism is in place to help give her an advantage in the electoral lists in the primaries.
In Israel, political opposition is not only permitted, but the country thrives on diversity of thought. There is a Ladino phrase which goes, “Two Jews, three opinions.” The streets of Israel are always full of protesters advocating various causes, from human rights for the Syrian people to social justice to standing up against racism to labor unions striking for better working conditions to protests against Hamas and Palestinian terror. One will also find Arab women on the streets protesting honor crimes and advocating increased female employment within their sector of the population. In fact, Israel even permits anti-Israel activists to march on Israeli soil and advocate their ideas as well. This demonstrates how much Israel is a vibrant democracy, for even during an era of Palestinian terrorism and violence, Israel permits her citizens, whether they are Jewish or Arab, to protest against the State of Israel. On Israeli Independence Day, all Israelis should be grateful to live in a country like Israel who has managed to hold onto democratic values in a region of the world where democracies are virtually non-existent.
By Rachel Avraham
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