Sensation at the United Nations

There is much to praise, and criticize, in Israel's handling of civil rights.

un building 88 (photo credit: )
un building 88
(photo credit: )
Stop the presses: A United Nations anti-racism panel has said a few good words about Israel! The committee was debating a report on the existence of an anti-racism charter in Israel and received a number of memoranda - in particular from Adallah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) - that attacked Israel. The ACRI memorandum casts a negative light even on the disengagement from Gaza: The opposition to the disengagement, says ACRI, is indicative of "significant racist tendencies in Israeli society." In contrast to these memoranda, the committee noted a number of positive points in Israel: the laws in favor of affirmative action for Arabs in the civil service and government corporations; the law to prevent discrimination in products and services; the ruling by Israel's Supreme Court in the Qa'adan case (guaranteeing Arab rights to public land); the law mandating signage in the Arab language; the appointment of an Arab minister. IN CONTRAST to the position taken by post-Zionist academicians, the committee does not rule out the legitimacy of the Law of Return and accepts Israel's definition as a Jewish state, but it rightly demands that this definition not serve as an excuse for individual discrimination between Jews and Arabs. Similarly, the committee recognizes Israel's security constraints, but demands that they be guided by proportionality. Alongside this praise, the committee also has harsh and incisive criticism of Israel. Some of that criticism is justified, especially the part relating to the settlements in the territories - whose very establishment created intolerable legal discrimination - and the problem of the unrecognized villages that the government has been disgracefully ignoring. Nevertheless, the committee also voiced totally unfounded criticism, such as the bizarre and insolent demand that Israel provide it with information on Israel's ethnic makeup; and its demand that Israel cancel the law that prohibits tens of thousands of Palestinians from entering Israel and becoming citizens of it - a demand that has no basis in international law. The most problematic criticism of all is the attack directed at Israel for discrimination in its recruitment into the Israel Defense Forces. The committee expressed concern at the advantages granted to those who serve in the army in the areas of housing and education, because most of Israel's Arabs do not serve in its army. The government has debated this matter in the past, and in the wake of a demand from Meretz ministers canceled the special child allowances granted to army veterans. INDEED, THESE allowances were a form of discrimination, and it is good that they have been done away with. However, the discrimination where IDF service is concerned actually works against those serving in the IDF, who are forced to give up their freedom and devote three precious years of their lives to difficult service, even risking their lives for Israel's existence and security. The state may and must compensate those it enlists to make this sacrifice, which also has financial repercussions, such as by means of the Justice Minister's proposal to pay enlisted soldiers the minimum wage. Indeed, without compensation of this kind, the discrimination against Jews and Druze only increases. In order to prevent further criticism, the IDF should be declared open to Arab volunteers, who should be given the option of not having to serve in combat units. Such an option, which does not exist at this time, will make it clear that no discrimination is involved: Any Israeli who wants to receive compensation for IDF service will be able to do so. In any case, we must not ignore this report. The government must amend those things that need amending and which are compatible with the goals of our Jewish and democratic state, and reject those that run counter to it. Commander of the Prison Service, please note: Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom applies to all prisoners, as well as to those coming to visit them. The writer is a former president of the Interdisciplinary Center-Herzliya, minister of education and a Member of the Knesset.