The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) warned Sunday that "the Israeli democracy is in danger". The stark warning was noted in an Association report on discrimination in Israel, published on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the UN human rights decree.
The report examined civil rights observations and breaches in Israel and the territories in 2008, and its finding indicate severe detriment to basic human rights, the likes of the right dignity, privacy, healthcare, education and housing.
The report also warns of new threats of freedom of speech, racism and the erosion of democracy.
According to the team which compiled the report, the problem stems form the lack to true internalization and constitutional anchoring of quality as a value in Israeli society.
Exploring the matter of discrimination, the report states that since the inception of the State of Israel, Israeli Arabs have been subject to discrimination via legislation, the allocation of resources and through the existence of bodies such as the Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund.
With some 90,000 Arabs living in mixed cities, the differences between the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods is evident is all aspects of life and the fabric of the relations between the Arab and Jews living in these cities is riddled with violence and racism, as seen in the Yom Kippur riots in Akko.
The report goes on to note severe discrimination in the allocation of housing land, saying that while the Arab population had grown seven times over since 1948, about 50% of the land previously owned by Arab has been confiscated. Moreover, while 600 Jewish communities have been established since 1948, no new Arab ones have been formed.
Arabs make up 20% of Israel's population, added the report, but the entirety of the Arab authorities' jurisdiction, comes to only 2.5% of the State.
As for the situation in east Jerusalem, the report states that Israel is adamant to keep a Jewish majority in the city by pushing its Arab residents out. Furthermore, 67% of the Palestinian families living in the area – including 77.2% of children – live under the poverty line; compared to 21% of the Jewish families and 39.1% of Jewish children.
An apartheid State?
The West Bank settlements, continues the report, have created a situation of institutionalized discrimination in the area, which houses two separate populations living under two separate and contrasting judicial systems.
The discrimination noted in the allocation of funds and services in the area, said the report, "is in clear violation of the principle of equality and is very much reminiscent of the apartheid in South Africa."
Settler violence against Arabs has been steadily increasing, and abusing Palestinian property has become the norm. From the onset of 2008, said the report, 430 people were killed in the West Bank by the Israeli security forces and over 1,150 were wounded. Many of the casualties were bystanders no involved in the fighting.
According to the ACRI, Israel is making extensive use of administrative arrests measures against Palestinians: By the end of September 2008, Israel had 599 Palestinians in administrative custody.
Furthermore, the restrictions Israel has places on movement across the West Bank often hinders patients from getting to medical facilities and the closing of the crossing is preventing patients from getting treatment in Israel, even if they have the proper permits.
The reports counted 360 checkpoints and roadblocks across the West Bank, and said that an additional 85 random roadblocks are set up every week.
Bias against women, handicapped
The report next examined discrimination against women in Israel, noting that they are still widely discriminated against in the workplace.
Women still make less money than men in all corporate levels and in nearly every profession. Unemployment rates for woman are significantly higher than those of men, and the women's representation in the Israeli academia is 10% lower that the average in any of the European Union nations.
Women, said the report, are still highly exposed to sexual harassment in the workplace and the law enforcement authorities seem powerless against the phenomenon.
As for communal discrimination, the report notes that discrimination between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic populations is virtually nonexistent, with the exception of the ultra-Orthodox school system; however, the socioeconomic gap between the two has grown, which cements the historical notion of discrimination.
The report than tackled discrimination against the handicapped public. Many services remain physically inaccessible to them, and the unemployment rate remains high, compared with the rest of the population.
The socioeconomic state of Israel's handicapped had gravely deteriorated over the past few years, and is now considered the worst among Western nations. The average income of a handicapped person in Israel, said the report, was 70% lower that the average income in the market.
The report further cites that despite progressive labor legislation, employees' rights are still violated, mostly due to lack of enforcement.
The State commitment to an equally-implemented public health system has also lapsed over the years, to the point of having two different caliber healthcare systems – one for the rich and one of the poor.
And what of immigrant assimilation within the Israeli society? The ACRI noted that the wages earned by immigrant from the former Soviet Union is 30% lower than that of Israelis and that the language barrier prompts employer exploitation.
Ethiopian immigrants do not fare better: Their wages are lower than both that of the Soviet Union counterparts and Israelis, and their overall employment rate is 10% lower that that of the entire population. Moreover, 65% of Ethiopian immigrants have active case files with social services.
Ethiopian children have a harder time assimilating in the Israeli school system, added the repot. The community has a 4% dropout rate for students in grades seven to 12; and only 39.14% graduate high school, as opposed to 63.8% of Jewish students.
One step forward, two steps back
Israel, added the report, practices religious coercion, in the sense that it enforces the Orthodox marital decree and does not allow its citizens to marry or divorce in civil procedures.
The ACRI does note one proverbial ray of light in the form of gay rights, saying Israel has a relatively progressing gay rights doctrine compared to other Western counties, and that the Israeli law now allows gay couples the same legal statues as common-law couples.
When in comes to observing freedom of speech and expression, the report a reproaches the Shin Bet for menacing journalists and political activist whose public activities were deems "unacceptable."
Moreover, the threat to cyber free speech has increased over the last two years, following various bills brought before the Knesset. The Israeli Freedom of Information Act is not implemented properly, and the authorities are still hindering access to information.
As for refugee rights, the report said the Israel has yet to formulate a clear refugee policy, and so it has one of the lowest recognitions rates in the Western world.
The ACRI quotes a Refugee Forum report stating that there were 12,500 refugees who sought asylum in Israel in 2008, and that "the ways in which the State has chosen to deal with those seeking asylum varied from disregard and neglect through the odd humanitarian gesture, to taking severe measure of deterrence."