Israel’s critics must get their priorities straight

Clinton and Marcus must focus on more pressing issues than Israeli domestic policy.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
In recent weeks, there has been too much hype about the issues of the haredim and the rights of women in Israel. As a democratic country where a woman currently presides over the Supreme Court, the world need not worry about Israel’s democratic freedoms or internal affairs. Instead, the global arena should focus on truly pressing matters such as the growing economic crisis and ongoing massacre of thousands of innocents in Syria.
In a Washington Post , columnist Ruth Marcus compared the situation of Israeli women to that of Saudi Arabian women under strict Sharia law. It was this article that prompted US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, at the Saban Forum in Washington, to comment that the situation in Israel reminded her of extremist regimes like Iran and of the plight of civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
The problem is that the situations of Israeli women and women in Arab countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia are not even remotely comparable. In Israel, haredi women have full voting and property rights and the same democratic freedoms afforded to all Israelis. In Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, honor killings of women for rape and infidelity are not outlawed, fair elections are non-existent and women are punished with lashes if caught driving. King Abdullah only recently granted women the right to vote and run for public office, starting in 2015.
According to a 2010 report published by Freedom House, “the Basic Law of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not guarantee gender equality. To the contrary, gender inequality is built into Saudi Arabia's governmental and social structures,” whereas Israel was characterized as “an open democratic society with fair and free political life.”
Therefore, besides Marcus and Clinton’s assertions being over-exaggerated and untrue, the mere fact that such a high ranking government official would comment on the domestic affairs of an ally in democracy is shocking. Clinton must have more substantial issues to address than the democratic values of a country that is proud to have women serve as foreign minister, high court judge and speaker of the Knesset. Moreover, only a small minority of haredi Jews is misogynistic and it is unfair of Clinton to characterize and reprimand Israeli society for the actions of its fringe groups—can American society be judged as a whole by the actions of US neo-Nazi groups?
No one can claim that problems don’t exist in Israeli society, as in all nations, but those problems are for Israel to solve. Instead, Clinton should comment on real human rights issues, like the genocide in Darfur or Syrian President Bashar Assad’s massacre of his country’s people.
Excessively commenting on Israeli domestic affairs detracts from serious matters that actually need attention. It is time that the US media and government retire the magnifying glass they have focused on Israel and attempt to solve America’s domestic problems, including the ever-growing economic crisis. Lest you forget, unemployment rates are rising, Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and the Arab Spring has transformed the Middle East into a powder keg.
The writer is President of MIT Students for Israel.