The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clintons criticisms about Israeli treatment of women, while the Obama Administration remains silent on truly horrific abuse of women in some Arab and Muslim countries. Earlier this month, at a Saban Center forum in Washington D.C., Secretary Clinton criticized recent attempts by the Israeli government to restrict donations to non-government organizations (NGOs) by foreign governments and said that attempts in some parts of Jerusalem to separate men and women on buses was reminiscent of Rosa Parks. She also said the case of some Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers who refused to remain to listen to a performance by female singers was reminiscent of the situation in Iran (Hillary Clinton concerned over Israeli democracy, BBC, December 4, 2011).
The absurdity of Clintons comments have been aptly described by Haifa University academic Steven Plaut, who wrote, The Obama administration is largely silent when it comes to the plight of women in the Muslim world, but keeps condemning the only country in the Middle East that has a woman chief justice, plenty of women in its parliament, more women MDs and than men, countless women army officers and court judges, and which has had a woman as head of state, something the US has never had. Israel is also the only country in the world where a panel of judges, two of them women, put a former president in prison for alleged rape and sexual abuse of women … Women university students in Israel have been the majority out of all undergraduate Israeli students since 1980, reaching 58% of students in 1999. That is without including teachers colleges in the computation, where women are a far larger share. Women students are the majority of students, not just in the fields of education and humanities, but also in such non-traditional fields for women as biological sciences and agriculture. Women are a majority of medical students, 48.3% of law students, and 39% of physics students, according to the latest survey. There are also oodles of women students in math, engineering, and computer sciences. Women students are also a small majority of those pursuing MA and PhD studies (Womens Rights and Double Standards, FrontPage Magazine, December 30, 2011).
The Obama Administration has been remarkably silent on the genuine, desperate plight of women in many Arab and Muslim countries. For example, in his lengthy June 2009 Cairo speech, addressed explicitly to the Muslim world, President Obama only very briefly referred to womens rights and, even then, mainly in terms of a more generalized, global problem – he did not speak about the honor killings, the vile practice of subjecting baby girls to genital mutilation, the polygamy and harsh discriminatory provisions of sharia law, which are a particular problem in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Unlike Hillary Clinton speaking of Israeli women, President Obama did not express deep concern for the serious and tragic plight of so many women in the Middle East or criticize the regimes that tolerate or, worse, impose, such vicious practices.
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, It is astonishing and hypocritical that Secretary Clinton criticizes Israel, of all counties in the Middle East, for harming the rights of women. One would have expected that such blunt – and inaccurate – expressions of criticism and concern for women would be accompanied by strong, repeated and incisive criticism of Muslim majority states for their truly appalling violations of the rights of women. In fact, Hillary Clinton and indeed the Obama Administration has been largely silent on such issues.
The very small number of cases regarding women on Israeli buses to which Secretary Clinton referred are appalling, but truly isolated incidents occurring in one anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem. This has nothing to do with Israel in general, let alone Rosa Parks. These incidents are neither sanctioned nor encouraged by the Israeli state or population at large – quite the contrary, such acts have been almost universally criticized and the Israeli authorities are in the process of dealing with them. If there is one country in the Middle East in which such occurrences are anathema and opposed by the government and population at large, it is Israel.
To express concern for Israeli democracy and human rights because of isolated cases like these is absurd. It is as if one started expressing concern for democracy and human rights in the U.S. because a tiny minority of skinheads and various sects here abuse women. No one thinks to criticize the U.S. for this, because everyone knows such cases do not reflect the reality of the U.S.
The situation in which certain religious IDF soldiers absented themselves from a performance by women reflects a personal choice by those soldiers who, for religious reasons, do not wish to hear women singing. This is a restriction they impose on themselves. It is not a restriction that is imposed on others or which in any way prevents the female performers performing and being heard by those who wish to hear them and as such called for no comment by Secretary Clinton. Orthodox Jews often separate the sexes in public functions. This is not something resented by religious Jewish women concerned. There is no issue here of oppression of women desperately struggling in the teeth of danger and intimidation for a form of equality they want but which is denied them. How can Secretary Clinton possibly claim that this issue compares to the state-enforced restrictions of women in public life in some Muslim states?
Sadly, there appears to be a reason for this misguided and tendentious focus on the rights of Israeli women – President Obama and Secretary Clintons hostile attitude and policies towards Israel. During his presidency, President Obama has picked unnecessary fights with Israel. More than once, he has criticized and even condemned Israel for building homes for Jews in eastern Jerusalem, while happily ignoring Palestinians honoring and celebrating terrorist Jew-killers. The Obama Administration has rarely criticized Palestinian incitement to hatred and murder, even when specific cases of such incitement have been brought to its attention by the Israeli government.
Despite Israeli concessions – a 10-month freeze on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria that Secretary Clinton herself at first described as unprecedented, in-principle acceptance of a Palestinian state, and despite no Palestinian concessions nor even Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, President Obama accused it of not making bold gestures. And let us not forget that President Obama this year sprung a new policy of calling for Israels withdrawal to the1949 armistice lines, with agreed swaps, without prior consultation with Israel and on the eve of Prime Minister Netanyahus visit to Washington. He also proposed that Israel withdraw from the strategically vital Jordan Valley – something never publicly proposed by any previous U.S. president.
This is not the usual behavior of the United States towards a long-standing, trusted ally. The Obama Administration has a record of criticizing Israel while being silent on the real transgressions of Israels enemies, such as the Palestinian Authoritys words and deeds. It seems likely that Secretary Clintons jaundiced focus on Israeli women is part of the same pattern.