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Acri Study Finds Shortcomings in Guaranteeing Israelis’ Rights

Israel walks a complicated, often conflicted path when it comes to protecting civil rights, according to a leading civil rights group here.

In a 260-page report issued this week, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel examined to what degree the Israeli government affords basic civil rights to the population in general and to specific groups.

The Hebrew-language report found that “Israel basically respects the human rights of its citizens” and that “infractions are sporadic rather than intentional.”

But it adds that the rights of Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza “are violated often and widely.”

Unlike the vast majority of Western democracies, Israel’s security needs — as well its definition as a Jewish state with Jewish as well as civil laws – – often lead to complications and conflicts in the struggle for human rights, the report said.

Among the report’s findings:

Freedom of expression: Although the government’s law- enforcement policy before November’s assassination of Yitzhak Rabin regarding political expression and demonstrations “was restrained and moderate,” after the killing the tendency “to investigate and prosecute extremist elements” was, “on occasion, excessively harsh and sweeping.”

Struggle against terrorism: In its efforts to prevent terror attacks, the government decided on severe measures that involved human rights violations, “most notably torture during interrogation and administrative steps and collective punishment which affect the families and neighbors of terrorists.”

Status of women: The past year has seen a number of legislative amendments that promote gender equality in Israel.

Despite such gains, violence against women continues to increase, and only rarely do Israeli courts impose the maximum penalties on rapists and offenders who assault women.

Further, the problem of “agunot,” women whose husbands cannot or will not give them a divorce, remains a problem because there is no civil marriage or divorce in Israel, “which is a clear violation of human rights,” the report said.

Status of Arab Citizens: Last year saw the continuation of the trend initiated by the governments of Rabin and Shimon Peres to attempt to narrow the “enormous gaps between Jewish and Arab citizens.”

Nonetheless, “Arab citizens face discrimination in almost every field of life.”

Of particular concern was the severe housing shortage in the Arab communities, the result of a long process “of expropriating lands and reducing boundaries of Arab localities while ignoring the needs of Arab citizens in planning and building.”

Lesbians and gays: Although lesbians and gays still face social stigmatization, the amendment to the Equal Opportunities in Employment Law prohibited discrimination against employees on the grounds of sexual orientation.

In addition, the rights of same-sex partners to receive spousal benefits was recently recognized.

Religion and law: “Israelis do not enjoy freedom of religion in the full sense of the term.”

While Israelis are free to hold their own beliefs, all citizens are subject to the religious laws of their communities — regarding marriage, divorce and burial — regardless of whether they are believers.

But advances have been made, including a Supreme Court ruling that the Interior Ministry may not refuse to register as Jews people who undergo non-Orthodox conversion in Israel.

However, “a considerable gap still remains between monies allocated to Jews and non-Jews by the Religious Affairs Ministry” the report concluded.

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