Several Israeli government ministers on Sunday sharply responded to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over her critical comments on the status of women in Israel and Knesset bills that would restrict left-wing organizations.
Speaking to a closed forum in Washington on Saturday, Clinton criticized recent legislative attempts in Israel to restrict left-wing organizations and expressed shock over growing discrimination against Israeli women. She mentioned cases of IDF soldiers leaving during performances of female singers and the fact that females sit in the back of buses in certain places in Israel. Clinton said that some of these phenomena reminded her of Iran.
Clinton voiced deep concern over what she called the growing exclusion of women from Israel’s public life.
Referring to the decision of some IDF soldiers to leave an event where female soldiers were singing, she said it reminded her of the situation in Iran.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Clinton’s comments were “completely exaggerated”.
“Israeli democracy is alive, liberal and breathing,” Steinitz said at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. “I don’t know many better democracies in the world. It is of course necessary to fix things sometimes. The matter of excluding and segregating women is completely unacceptable and needs to be put to a stop, but there is a great distance between this and the argument that there is a threat to Israeli democracy.”
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said that elected officials should concentrate on what is happening in their own countries. He added, however, that he shared the concern over the dignity of women. He said that the government should take steps to demonstrate its commitment to equality between men and women.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that the Knesset passes laws after thorough checks.
“Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East,” Yishai said. “I assume that everything done here will be done within the law and I am not concerned by that.”