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Israeli Women, Part 2: Island of Progress in a Dark Sea

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Observers like Caroline Glick, Michael Curtis, and popular blogger Elder of Zion have all noted the strange fact that feminists tend to beat up on Israel while giving the Arab (and larger Muslim) world a free pass.

As Glick points out:

if being a feminist means attacking the only country in the Middle East where women enjoy freedom and equal rights, then feminism…has become at best, a meaningless term…. The deception at the heart of the feminist movement is nowhere more apparent than in the silence with which self-professed feminists and feminist movements ignore the inhumane treatment of women who live under Islamic law…. Leading feminist voices in the US and Europe remain unforgivably silent on the unspeakable oppression of women and girls in Islamic societies….

On December 30, 2010, Moshe Katsav, who had served as president of Israel (a ceremonial but significant post) from 2000 to 2007, was convicted of rape and sexual harassment by a three-judge panel. The judges were two Jewish women, Miriam Sokolow and Judith Shevah, and an Arab man, George Kara.

It was an illuminative moment in several ways:

● Whereas in Israel rape, including marital rape, is a felony, most Arab countries explicitly or tacitly allow marital rape; rape is currently endemic particularly in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen; and in many Arab countries the victim of rape is the one who is charged with an offense.

● There could be no parallel phenomenon of a Jewish judge sentencing an Arab defendant, let alone a former high official, in an Arab country, not least because almost all the Jews who lived in those countries had to flee because of persecution.

● Whereas there are very small percentages of female judges in a minority of Arab countries (and none in the rest), in Israel half of all magistrate and district-court judges are women, and for years the Supreme Court has included at least one woman.

Even if it doesn’t fit the warped view of today’s feminists, the difference between Israel and the Arab world on women’s rights (and human rights generally) is night and day.

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Let’s take Israel first. A survey in 2012 ranked Israel 11th among the 59 developed countries for women’s participation in the workplace and 24th for the percentage of women in executive positions. So Israel—smack in the Middle East, a democratic country surrounded on all sides by nondemocracies—not only ranked among the developed countries on these measures but came in well above average and solidly above average.

The proportion of women in Israel’s Knesset (parliament) now comes to 23%. Some comparisons—U.S., 18%; United Kingdom, 23%; France, 27%; Scandinavian countries come in highest in the 40% range. Some Arab countries like Algeria (32%), Tunisia (27%), and Iraq (25%) also score considerably; more typical are Egypt (0%), Oman (1%), Lebanon (3%), and Kuwait (6%). It should also be kept in mind that all the Arab parliaments have limited powers if any as these countries are dictatorships.

Israel has also had a woman prime minister, Supreme Court judges (as noted), and cabinet ministers, phenomena mainly or totally lacking in the Arab world. As I described last week, women are increasingly filling combat and officers’ roles in the Israeli army, phenomena not to be found in Arab armies.

Israeli women are also, as Michael Curtis notes in another article,

the best educated women in the Middle East. Over half have gone to institutions of higher learning. About 60 per cent of university students and graduates are women…. Women constitute about a quarter of university faculty.

Israel is also, by far, the Middle East’s best bet for Arab and Muslim women. Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh puts it in focus:

In Israel…Muslim women are not only allowed to drive and run for elections, but can also reach high positions…. Muslim women in the Jewish state enjoy more rights and opportunities than their colleagues in Arab and Islamic countries.

While female Muslims are being abducted, raped, shot, tortured and forced into unwanted marriages in a number of Arab and Islamic countries, 33-year-old Maria Gharra has just become Israel’s first Muslim woman to serve as a police officer….

Amal Ayoub, 36, is one of the women making waves in biotechnology. The founder of Metallo Therapy, a startup developing gold nano-particles to enhance radiation therapy, she is the first female Arab Israeli high-tech entrepreneur.

Dr. Rania al-Khatib is the first Arab Israeli woman to become a plastic surgeon at Rambam Hospital.

These are only some of the success stories of Arab women in Israel.

Feminists, are you raising the cups to toast Israel? Not exactly. In 2008 Ms. Magazine refused to run an ad showing Israel’s then Supreme Court president, foreign minister, and Knesset speaker—all women. This year, as Elder of Zion notes, CodePink would, if not prevented by Egypt, have come to our neighborhood to demonstrate solidarity—not in Israel but in Hamas-run Gaza, where women’s lives are strictly regulated by Islamic law.

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Yet the Arab world that feminists are so fond of is to a large extent a nightmare for women.

It’s not all bad. As Curtis notes,

[Women] can now vote in national elections in most Arab countries…. In some of the wealthier countries with rapidly growing economies, the number of women [working] as business owners, especially as involves family businesses, and as teachers and scholars, is increasing. Women are being trained to work in these professions, particularly to work outside the home.

But those are only some improvements in what remains, on the whole, a dire situation, as revealed by a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey last year.

Egypt came in worst, with 99.3% of women and girls subjected to sexual harassment; a rise in forced marriages and trafficking, with whole villages economically subsisting from trafficking; and 91% of women and girls subjected to genital mutilation.

Second-worst was Iraq, with only 14.5% of women working, high levels of trafficking and sexual violence, and thousands of displaced women forced to work as prostitutes in neighboring countries. Next came Saudi Arabia, where rape victims risk being charged with adultery, women are not allowed to drive, and they need a male guardian’s permission to travel, study, marry, or even undergo healthcare procedures.

And then there’s Syria, where:

Massive war displacement…has left millions of women and girls vulnerable to sexual violence and trafficking….

* Girls as young as 12 have been married in refugee camps.

* More than 4,000 cases of rape and sexual mutilation have been reported to the Syrian Network for Human Rights….

While these countries were considered the worst cases last year, it is a matter of degree and the phenomena mentioned are widespread in the Arab world. For instance, in Tunisia, which ranked sixth and in some ways is a relatively liberal Arab country, “domestic abuse and marital rape laws are rarely enforced.” Abu Toameh notes a case where

a young woman who was raped by three policemen is about to go on trial for committing an “indecent act.” Her crime: she was sitting with her fiancé in a car when the policemen surprised them and brutally raped her.

That’s Tunisia, one of the better places.

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It’s not only feminists who fail to make a basic distinction between Israel and the surrounding societies. U.S. governmental peace processors, EU officials, along with various and sundry critics and defamers of Israel also depict Israel and the Arab world as morally equivalent—or Israel as a lot worse—in a blatant distortion of reality.

An open-eyed look at the situation of women in Israel and the Arab world will—unfortunately for the latter—reveal something very far from equivalency.