'Clinton's worry for Israeli democracy exaggerated'

US secretary of state refers to NGO bill, exclusion of women as worrying; Livni agrees, Yishai, Steinitz reject criticism.

Hillary Clinton speaking 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao )
Hillary Clinton speaking 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao )
Several government ministers on Sunday rejected comments made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which she expressed concern for Israel's democracy.
Clinton was cited by the Israeli media as expressing Saturday concern over certain anti-democratic legislation and trends signifying the deterioration of the status of women in Israel.
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Speaking at the Saban Forum in Washington, Clinton specifically mentioned bills limiting funding for NGOs, and the exclusion of women in the public sphere, as exemplified by gender separation on buses serving the haredi community and controversy over women singing in public.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz called Clinton's claims "completely exaggerated." He claimed that Israel is a healthy democracy. "I don't know many better democracies in the world."
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan suggested that "elected officials all over the world should first worry about their problems at home." He added, however, that he shared some of Clinton's concerns about the exclusion of women.
"I, of all people, who grew up in a religious home, think that these steps cause hatred of the Jewish religion and I hope that the government will take steps that demonstrate its obligation to maintain equality between men and women in Israel."
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that "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 I am not worried about it."
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni agreed with Clinton's comments, saying that her concern "should serve to wake up all those that are still blind to the murky cloud that is passing over Israel from within."
Livni added: "Friends and admirers of Israel from within and without are worried about processes that Israel is undergoing. 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."