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Livni defends Clinton criticism of Israel democracy
By HERB KEINON
12/05/2011
Steinitz says concerns are 'exaggerated,' calls Israel a 'Living, breathing, kicking liberal democracy'
 
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni defended US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s criticism of the current state of Israeli democracy, saying Sunday that Clinton’s concern needs to “awaken those still blind to the ugly wave washing over Israel from inside.”

Livni’s comments came after several government ministers, on their way to Sunday’s cabinet meeting, took Clinton to task for comments attributed to her at a closed session of the Saban Forum in Washington on Saturday, attended by, among others, Livni and Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor.

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Clinton was reported in the Israeli press as criticizing efforts in the Knesset to restrict the foreign funding of non-governmental organizations, and likened haredi efforts for separate gender seating on buses to Rosa Parks, the black civil rights icon who in 1955 protested separate black and white seating in the US.

Clinton also was reported to have said that the refusal of some religious IDF soldiers to listen to female singers reminded her of the situation in Iran.

“Friends and admirers of Israel from within and without are worried about processes that Israel is undergoing,” Livni said. “This concern is coming from those who fight for us in the UN and against our detractors, and who act to preserve Israel’s military advantage in the area.”

But Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said Clinton’s claims “were completely exaggerated.”

Israel, Steinitz said, “is a living, breathing, kicking, liberal democracy. I don’t know many better democracies in the world. There is, from time to time, the need to fix things. The issue of exclusion of women, or separating women, or efforts to keep women from taking part in performances in the army or anywhere else, is completely unacceptable and needs to end.”

But, he said, there was a great distance from that to claiming there were threats to Israeli democracy.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) suggested that “elected officials all over the world should first worry about their problems at home.” He added, however, that he shared concerns about the exclusion of women.

“I, as someone who grew up in a religious home, think that these steps help those who want people to hate the Jewish religion. This is a shame, and I hope that the government will take steps that demonstrate its obligation to maintain equality between men and women in Israel. We are in the 21st century, and there is no place for discrimination of women in public transportation, in public performances, or in any other sphere.”

Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) defended the Knesset’s careful scrutiny of legislation.

“Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and I believe that everything we do here will be done according to the law and acceptable norms.”
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