Israel is the Middle East's Only Free Nation

Introduction

We live in an era in which the Jewish people, having suffered a catastrophic national defeat greater even than the one recorded in the book of Lamentations, went on to write a chapter of its history at least as remarkable as any in its sacred canon.

In a single decade, bereft of 1/3 of their number, and without the obvious aid of divine intervention, Jews redefined "miracle" as something that could be enacted through human effort. Over the past six decades, the vitality and civilizing restraint of the Jewish way of life, honed in almost 2,000 years of exile, have been made manifest in the regained conditions of a thriving Jewish polity -- one that simultaneously has been under relentless and, lately, spiraling pressure from all sides.

Israel transformed from the historic home of the Jewish people -- who have lived on that land for 4,000 years ("Jew" comes from "Judea") -- to the modern Jewish homeland in 1948. But what rights and liberties are granted to Jewish and non-Jewish citizens within Israel's borders? Anti-Zionists maintain that Israel is a religious government run by anti-gentiles intent on taking over the world.

Do their claims have any merit? We seek to share the facts here and now. To dos, we first look to an impartial organization that tracks human rights worldwide. Freedom House is a non-government organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world. The organization was founded in 1941. Of 197 countries surveyed on a wide variety of freedom of press issues, Freedom House found 66 nations rated "free," 72 "partly free" and 59 "not free" in 2012. In its 2012 and 2013 rankings, Freedom House ranked Israel as the only Free country in the Middle East and North Africa. The analysis measured the legal environment in which media operates, political rights, access to information, and dissemination of news.

Israel's System of Government

As the world's only Jewish state -- also the only state with close to a majority-Jewish population -- Israel is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system, proportional representation and universal suffrage. The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel's unicameral legislative body. Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. Israel is divided into six local government districts: Central District, Haifa District, Jerusalem District, Northern District, Southern District, and Tel Aviv District.

Despite its Jewish Majority, Israel Protects Minority Rights

An important element of a free country is how it treats its minority citizens. Jews, who are a minority in every country but Israel, are particularly sensitive to this issue.

Israel has a multi-party political system in which numerous political ideologies are represented. Both Jews and non-Jews (Arabs) serve in the Israeli parliament and on the Supreme Court.

All Israeli citizens are eligible to vote. According to the FreedomHouse report, "After Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, the Arab residents were issued Israeli identity cards and given the option of obtaining Israeli citizenship, though most choose not to seek citizenship for political reasons. These non-citizens can vote in municipal as well as PA elections, and remain eligible to apply for Israeli citizenship." So not only do Israeli citizens vote, including the over 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, but non-citizens are also able to vote.

When Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1969, she became the world's second elected female leader in modern times. Israel supports minority rights for women -- it is ranked as the only free nation for women in the Middle East -- as well as homosexuals.

Israel has two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic. Israel legally recognizes 13 non-Jewish religious communities, the largest being Muslims. The next largest minority population is the Christian population.

In 1984 and again in 1991, Israel airlifted 22,000 Ethiopian Jews at risk in their native country to safety in Israel. The nation is not a society with perfect harmony -- there is some racism -- but it is being addressed through public policy and education/awareness.

Modern Israel is Shifting Toward Greater Liberty

Born in collectivism, Israel has been progressing, albeit slowly, toward greater economic freedom. Trade liberalization, financial market reforms, increased privatization and decreased regulation have been part of this historical retreat from socialism.

According to Sam Lehman-Wilzig, a professor at Bar-Ilan University, "As Israel became more closely linked to the U.S. from an economic and especially a cultural perspective, Israelis began to view the American way of doing things as more modern and progressive than their own traditional approach. Indeed, in the late 1970s and early 1980s the chief economic guru and media star was none other than Milton Friedman, who visited Israel and whose ideas were eagerly sought after by government and public alike."

Continues the professor, "A second reason was that with the election victory of the economically liberty-minded Likud, the 'establishment' was no longer perceived as being intrinsically paternalistic. Private initiative and personal volition had been given philosophical legitimacy for the first time in Israel ... The population became predominantly middle class, with far less need of all-embracing social welfare programs which were a huge burden on the personal pocketbook. The Israeli public had come of age: economically able to go it alone, and psychologically willing to stand on its own two feet."

Israel has the highest standard of living in the Middle East. Israel has the third highest rate of entrepreneurship -- and the highest rate among women and among people over 55 -- in the world. Israel's $100 billion economy is larger than all of its immediate neighbors combined. In proportion to its population, Israel has the largest number of start-up companies in the world. Israel is ranked #2 in the world for venture capital funds, only behind the United States. And outside the United States and Canada, Israel has the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies.

Finally, Israel leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce, with 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 85 in the U.S., over 70 in Japan, and less than 60 in Germany. With over 25% of its work force employed in technical professions, Israel places first in this category as well.

Jews and Israelis Face Threats from Outside of Israel

Prior to Jewish control of Jerusalem in 1967, Jews were forbidden to pray at their second most holy site, the Western Wall of the destroyed Temple. The Temple Mount, which is the foremost Jewish holy site in the world, is currently controlled by Muslims and Jews are forbidden from worshiping there. Additionally, Jews are banned from visiting Saudi Arabia or living in Jordan. When Jews are accused of pursuing racist policies in Israel, the opposite is actually true: It is others who have pursued racist policies against Jews.

The following countries refuse to accept an Israeli passport, so Israeli citizens (including Arab Israelis) cannot visit them: Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Djibouti, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Just seventy years removed from the Holocaust, neo-Nazi parties are currently rising in Greece, Hungary, and the Ukraine. Poland and Denmark recently outlawed Jewish ritual slaughter, required for Jews to eat kosher meat. Bulgaria, France, and Hungary have seen large anti-Jewish protests recently. And the Scandinavian countries are working diligently to outlaw male infant circumcision, required for all Jewish eight-day-old males.

Israel has absorbed a great many persecuted minorities from around the globe, always welcoming them with open arms. These include refugees from former Soviet states, African refugees, and people with Jewish ancestry from countries all throughout the world such as India and Peru.

Israel remains the only free nation in the Middle East. Defend it.




***