Freedom House, an American organization which ranks countries around the globe based on the political rights and civil liberties granted to their citizens, has published in its annual report that Israel is the only state ranked free in the Middle East region and which has upheld democratic principles when tested. To the contrary, Turkey’s AKP government, a frequent Israel critic who claims to be democratic, was ranked only partly free and accused of jailing “hundreds of journalists, academics, opposition party officials, and military officials in a series of prosecutions aimed at alleged conspiracies against the state and Kurdish organizations. Turkey currently leads the world in the number of journalists behind bars and democracy advocates are expressing deep concern for the state of press freedom and the rule of law.”
Among Israel’s other neighbors, Lebanon, Israel’s northern neighbor that is ranked as partly free, was criticized for “increasing attacks and restrictions on journalists, activists, and refugees.” Jordan, another neighbor of Israel’s that is ranked as not free, was accused of repressing widespread protests against a new electoral law and lack of meaningful political reform.” The report also ranked Saudi Arabia and Syria, another direct neighbor of Israel, to be in the worst of the worst categories when it came to the state of freedom. Iran, the Palestinian Authority, and the Hamas government in Gaza, are ranked as not free, while Egypt went from not free to partly free due to the successful completion of one democratic election, yet is still not ranked entirely free.
Indeed, the contrast between Israel and her neighbors is striking. While Egypt may have successfully completed one democratic election, it remains to be seen whether Egypt will become a democracy or a theocracy. The Egyptian opposition fears the extremism of the Muslim Brotherhood and questions their commitment to democracy. The status of minorities has also been on the decline in Egypt since the revolution. Anti-Christian statements have been made by radical imams and churches have been bombed. Christians are fleeing the country in droves.
In Syria, President Assad is waging a campaign of democide against his own people. According to the International Commission of Jurists, “Everyday we receive consistent and reliable reports about […] a mother who had to bury her murdered son in a public garden because heavy machine-gun fire from the army prevented her from holding a proper funeral and burial. An activist whose songs and slogans electrified the rallies of protesters that was found dumped in a river after having his throat slashed by security forces.” The reports of widespread violence and torture against the Syrian people by its government is overwhelming.
In contrast, Israel is a country that not only has successfully had democratic elections since she was established, but is also a country committed to democratic values. In Israel, unlike in a country like Egypt, minority rights are not only respected, but minorities are given the chance to thrive. Protest movements, even if they are opposed to the ruling regime, are given the chance to express themselves in an environment free of intimidation. And even during the bloodiest periods of conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, Israel has never known the level of violence that occurs on a daily basis in Syria. For these reasons, Freedom House rightly ranked Israel as the only free country in the Middle East.
By Rachel Avraham