US report on Israeli abuses of foreign workers welcomed by activists here

Several Israeli groups praised the United States' most recent human-rights report for bringing more attention to Israeli abuses they've long campaigned against. The State Department's annual report on international human-rights practices highlighted Israel's "institutional, legal and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens," government corruption, "various abuses" by the IDF of Palestinian detainees, "de facto discrimination" against disabled people, and "trafficking in and abuse of women and foreign workers." The 2005 report contained "much more extensive" coverage of mistreatment of foreign workers than in 2004, according to Shevy Korzen, executive director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers. She welcomed the new focus, saying, "It's time that Israel faces up to this issue and starts respecting the rights of foreign workers." Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Religious Action Center also noted more concern with what the report termed "discrimination in personal and civil status matters against non-Orthodox Jews." He called the document's listing of obstacles to non-Orthodox religious services as accurate and helpful. "Unfortunately we need our American friends to remind us that the policy of Israel through the years is a serious breach of human rights," he said. In many ways, however, the report echoed the tone and content of previous years. It repeated 2004's assessment that the government "generally respected the human rights of its citizens." "Like the United States, Israel puts respect of human rights at the very center of its political culture. We hold ourselves to the very highest international standards," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev in response to the report. "While we pride ourselves on our strong democratic foundations, Israeli society as a whole is always seeking to move forward." As in years past, the survey also mentioned Palestinian transgressions, including terror attacks on Israelis, "frequent" publication of anti-Semitic material, perceptions of government corruption, and "social prejudice and repression" of women. The report also slammed a host of Arab and Muslim countries, such as enemies Syria and Iran, as well as US allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Egypt was assessed as having a "poor" human rights record with "serious abuses" that included reports of torture of prisoners, lack of due process, restrictions of civil liberties and "limitations on the right of citizens to change their government." Saudi Arabia faced similar opprobrium, with additional focus on discrimination against minorities, limitations on women, and the absence of religious freedom. The report noted, however, that while "human-rights issues have not historically been the subject of public discourse [they] have become increasingly prominent during the year."