May 24, 2012
DOHA, Qatar – B’Tselem USA Director Uri Zaki joined fellow experts on policy in Syria, Libya, Israel, and the occupied territories this week on a panel at the “Enriching the Middle East’s Economic Future Conference,” also known as the 12th Doha Forum. The panel addressed minority affairs in Middle Eastern countries.
Zaki addressed the different levels of minority issues in the Israeli society, starting with Ashkenazi and Sephardic backgrounds, new immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia vis a vis veteran Israelis, religious and non-religious Jews, the more recent problem of African refugees and labor immigrants, and of course the issue of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Furthermore, critical issues have emerged in the 45 years of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank.
“Israel is a unique case where on the one hand, Israel in itself is representing a regional ethnic and religious minority of Jews. The minority within it, the Arab community, is part of the regional majority,” Zaki said. “In addition, minority Jewish ethnic populations, ultra-religious communities, and the recent issue of African refugees and immigrants add subsequent challenges.”
“The biggest challenge Israel faces in this context, however, is the military occupation of the West Bank. Palestinians there are subjected to Israeli military law while Israelis who reside the West Bank are subjected to the Israeli civil law – enjoying the rights and privileges that a democratic country offers, a situation that creates an obvious distortion – and tension between the two communities
When asked whether Israel can really proclaim the status of a democratic nation, given the discrimination its Arab citizens face, Zaki continued, “The situation is far from being satisfactory, and this is perhaps the most significant social issue in Israel. But we are seeing it being addressed in a truly democratic manner – through legislation, judiciary precedents and supervision, Israeli media coverage and debate, as well as an active civil society. Within its sovereign borders, Israel is absolutely a functioning and robust democracy.”
The Doha Forum offered an overview of issues regarding democracy, development and free trade in the Middle East. The meeting discussed critical political, economic, social, financial, strategic, and human matters. It was held May 20–22 at the Doha Sheraton Hotel, and was attended by more than 600 participants representing more than 84 countries and organizations.