Israeli Self-Criticisms: the "Or" Report
by Alan Dershowitz
A remarkable report recently issued by an Israeli commission appointed by the Israel Supreme Court to investigate police handling of riots which resulted in the deaths of 13 Israeli-Arabs 3 years ago, provides a model for appropriate criticism of Israel. The ?Or Commission,? named after the Supreme Court justice who chaired it, issued a scathing rebuke, not only of the Israeli police and political leaders, but also of the systematic discrimination against Israeli Arabs that precipitated the riots and contributed to the police over-reaction to the violence. The report pulled no punches in criticizing leading Israeli politicians, including then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, both of whom are staunch advocates of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It went so far as to recommend that Ben-Ami be permanently barred from holding a security position in any Israeli government.
Beyond its criticisms of individuals, the report pointed to ?deep-seated factors? that contributed to a perception - - both among Arabs and Israelis - - that Israeli-Arabs are second-class citizens in the Jewish state. The current Minister of Public Security has asked the Israeli government to adopt the Or Commission?s findings in their entirety.
No other country in the Middle East and few countries in the world would permit this kind of public self-criticism of its actions. Israel is a vibrant democracy with freedom of the press and a long tradition of self-criticism. Indeed, most of the books published by Israeli writers are deeply critical of Israeli policies and actions. That is why I decided to write ?The Case for Israel,? since few Israelis ever bother to make the case for the embattled democracy. Most Israelis take for granted the basic arguments justifying Israel?s right to exist and to defend its population against terrorist attack. But outside of Israel - -particularly in Europe, Canada, Asia and even on some American university campuses - - this case is being increasingly challenged. One-sided critics of Israel see only the bad and not the good.
They see that Israeli-Arabs are often treated as second-class Israeli citizens, without also seeing that the average Israeli-Arab is treated far better by the Israeli government than the average non-Israeli-Arab is treated by Arab and Islamic government. Israeli-Arabs have the longest life expectancy, the best health care, the lowest infant mortality, the most freedom of expression, the best educational opportunities and the most freedom of religion of any Arabs or Muslims in the Middle East. The only court in the entire Middle East from which an Arab can expect justice is the Supreme Court of Israel, which frequently rules against the Israeli government and military in lawsuits brought by aggrieved Arabs.
Israeli-Arabs suffer by comparison only with Israeli Jews. That is not good enough for a democracy, committed to equality of all citizens, as the Or Commission correctly concluded. But nor can the comparisons with other countries be ignored by outside critics of Israel. Inside critics are always entitled to demand more of their own government and need not look to other countries for comparison, but outside critics may not properly impose a non-comparative double standard on one country without comparative criticism of others.
In making comparative criticism, it must also be remembered why Israel has more than a million Arab citizens, while Jordan does not have a single Jewish citizen, and Egypt, Iraq and other Arab nations which had large Jewish populations for millennia, now are essentially Judenrein. The majority of Arabs who lived in what became Israel after the UN partition of 1947 remained in Israel, where they were accorded citizenship, whereas Jordan enacted a law expressly prohibiting Jews from becoming citizens; and Iraq, Egypt and other Arab states essentially expelled their Jewish populations. Moreover, during the massive Arab attack that greeted the establishment of Israel, Arab and Palestinian armed forces systematically murdered the Jewish residents of captured towns after they had surrendered. The object of the war was genocide, not the creation of Jewish refugees or a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state against the Jewish residents of Israel. Even if Israel can be faulted for contributing to the Palestinian refugee problem, it is far better to be a live Palestinian refugee than a dead Israeli prisoner. Even today, the Palestinian Authority contemplates an eventual Palestinian state with no Jewish citizens or residents and an established Islamic religion.
So continue to criticize Israel for its imperfections, as the Or Commission has done. I certainly intend to, as I continue to criticize the imperfections of all governments, and most especially my own. But if you are not an Israeli, and do not want to be accused of applying an invidious double standard to the Jewish nation, then make sure your criticism is comparative, contextual and constructive.
Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. His latest book is The Case for Israel.