In a region of authoritarianism and gross human rights violations, Israel stands as a liberal democracy that maintains gender equality and respects minority rights as well as freedom of speech, press, and religion. Civil rights are guaranteed by law, and guarded by numerous NGOs and advocacy groups. Israel is a social welfare state with a federally subsidized universal health care system, as well as subsidized childcare. The death penalty is prohibited, with the one exception of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Israel also has an independent judiciary with a liberal reputation, and is the only place in the Middle East where it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence proclaims that there must be “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
- The 1951 Women’s Equal Rights Law outlawed discrimination against women and states that women must enjoy equal rights.
- Israel is the only country in the Middle East to have elected a female prime minister, Golda Meir. The current president of Israel’s Supreme Court is a woman, and she is the 2nd woman to become president of the Supreme Court (after Dorit Beinisch)
- The government provides free abortions for Israeli women aged 20 to 33 regardless of the circumstances. However, Israeli abortion rates are actually significantly lower than most Western countries.
Ethnic and Religious Minorities
- Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population is steadily growing, largely because of the freedom Christians enjoy. The Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today.
- Arab citizens serve in parliament and on the Supreme Court.
- The Arab community in Israel maintains its own religious courts and has its own, state-funded, Arabic-language schools and media that operate independently.
- Arabic is one of the two official languages of the country. By law, government services are offered in Arabic to all citizens.
- Israeli Arab Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran serves as the chairman of the Central Election Committee and oversaw the recent elections.
- In 2012, a poll found that 68% of Israeli Arabs prefer to live in Israel than anywhere else. A 2014 poll found 65%of Israeli Arabs feel proud to be Israeli.
- Since 1992, Israel prohibits employment discrimination against gay people.
- Israel currently has two openly gay members of the Knesset: MK Itzik Shmuly (Zionist Union) and MK Amir Ohana (Likud)
- Israel grants spousal benefits to same-sex couples with regard to hospital visitation rights, taxes, inheritance, etc. Same sex couples also qualify for common-law marriage status
- Since 2008, same-sex couples can adopt children, and lesbian couples receive the same fertility benefits
- Gays have been allowed to serve openly in the IDF since 1993, whereas in the US, the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Act was only repealed in 2010.
- Transgender soldiers have served openly in the IDF, whereas in the US they are banned.
Women in Israeli Politics, Government, and the Judiciary
- Israel is the only country in the Middle East to have elected a female prime minister, Golda Meir.
- The current president of Israel’s Supreme Court is a woman (Miriam Naor), and she is the 2nd female president of the Supreme Court. Additionally, 4 of the 15 current Supreme Court Justices are women.
- The first female president of Israel’s Supreme Court was Dorit Beinisch, who also served as the first female State Attorney of Israel from 1989 to 1995
- The current chief of the Bank of Israel, Karnit Flug, is the first woman to head the organization.
- The #2, #3, and #4 MKs in the center-left Zionist Union party are all women. Slot #5 is a gay man.
- Recently, several of Israel’s major political parties have been led by women. Tzipi Livni was leader of the Kadima Party from 2008-2012, and is currently co-chair of the Zionist Union with Isaac Herzog.
- Shelly Yachimovich was leader of the Labor Party between 2012 and 2013.
- The leftist party, Meretz, has been headed by 2 women including the current head, Zehava Gal-On since 2012, and Shulamit Aloni, from 1993-1996
- Since 2009, the number of female MKs in the Knesset has been steadily increasing. The last election brought a record number of 28 female MKs to the Knesset.
Statistics on Israel’s Arab Minority
- There is a 29% increase in the number of Arab members of Knesset, including a doubling of their number in Zionist political parties. The Joint List party, a combination of four Arab political parties that united to pass the electoral threshold, became the 3rd largest party in the Knesset, with 14 seats. http://en.idi.org.il/media/3987336/IDI-2015-Elections-Aftermath-21.pdf?utm_content=buffer1f027&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
- Arab turnout for the recent elections reached 63.5%, polling data shows. It was 56% in 2013. http://www.jpost.com/Israel-Elections/Arab-sector-turnout-for-recent-elections-reached-635-percent-polling-data-shows-394878
- Israeli Arab Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran serves as the chairman of the Central Election Committee. He oversaw the recent elections. http://www.jpost.com/Israel-Elections/Israeli-Arab-Supreme-Court-Judge-to-oversee-Israeli-elections-384078
- Arabic is one of the two official languages of the country. By law, government services are offered in Arabic to all citizens. http://www.goisrael.com/Tourism_Eng/Tourist%20Information/Discover%20Israel/Pages/Languages.aspx
- There are dozens of independent Arabic news sources: newspapers, radio, TV, and websites that operate freely.
- Freedom of religion: Arabs are free to practice the religion of their choice. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_religion_in_Israel
- Arabs maintain their own religious courts and have their own, state-funded, Arabic-language schools and media
- In July 2013, the government launched a new affirmative action campaign, encouraging companies, particularly in the high-tech sector, to hire Arabs by paying 25% of their salaries for the first two and a half years of employment. The goal is that once Arabs are integrated into companies across Israel, discrimination will gradually reduce. http://fathomjournal.org/israels-arab-citizens-2/
- A poll in 2008 found that 77% of Israeli Arabs prefer to live under Israel than under the Palestinian Authority http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/68-percent-of-Israeli-Arabs-oppose-recent-wave-of-terrorism-poll-finds-382755
- In 2012, a poll found that 68% of Israeli Arabs prefer to live in Israel than anywhere else. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4239288,00.html
- A 2014 poll found 65%of Israeli Arabs feel proud to be Israeli. http://www.idi.org.il/media/3823043/democracy_index_2014_Eng.pdf
- In 2013, the valedictorian of Israel’s MIT, Technion University in Haifa, was an Israeli Arab woman. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-bletter/guess-whos-valedictorian_b_3602610.html
- Winner of the second season of Israel’s The Voice was a young Israeli Arab woman named Lina Makhoul http://www.haaretz.com/life/arts-leisure/israeli-arab-wins-second-season-of-israel-s-the-voice.premium-1.511525
- In 2013, Israeli Arabs comprised 12% of students pursuing undergraduate degrees in Israel http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/On-My-Mind-Tackling-Israeli-Arab-education