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Opinion

Israel’s human rights record murky

Palestinians and African refugees face hardship and discrimination in the Jewish state

This week, a guest columnist denounced the American Studies Association’s (ASA) boycott of Israeli universities, and he is absolutely right in doing so. He pointed out that this organization paints itself as hypocritical for not rebuking Syria, China or Russia, all of which routinely violate human rights.

Also, boycotting Israeli universities limits academic freedom, which is a fundamental tenet of freedom of speech, a key principle of any democracy. Even though the ASA claims that it’s censuring Israel partly because of its treatment of Palestinian scholars, academia should steer clear of politics.

However, in the course of his argument, the author makes some claims that are simply not true. To begin with, Israel is not a defender of human rights. While it’s indisputable that Israel, like any country, has the right to defend itself against attacks from terrorist groups, like Hezbollah and Hamas, there’s no justification for Israel’s treatment of African “migrants.”

After the passing of a controversial law in December permitting Israeli officials to detain undocumented people indefinitely, they’ve arrested hundreds of these so-called “migrants,” most of whom are actually asylum-seekers fleeing from Eritrea and Sudan. These officials dismiss this, saying that these refugees are looking to boost their economic opportunities. Last month, after African refugees protested this cruel treatment, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees requested that Israel “stop treating asylum-seekers as infiltrators.”

Let’s evaluate another of the author’s claims. He argues that Israeli Arabs undoubtedly have “the best quality of life the Middle East has to offer.” Sure, Israel doesn’t suffer from the instability that much of the Arab world faces today, but this statement could not be further from the truth.

Israelis treat Israeli Arabs like second-class citizens. Israeli Arabs are underrepresented in higher education, have fewer opportunities for advancement and face poverty at a rate two times greater than that of Jewish families. If Israeli citizens marry Palestinians, even those who live in the illegally settled West Bank, they cannot live with their spouses in Israel under current law. It seems hypocritical that a country does not consider someone born in an area it illegally colonized a citizen.

Israeli law offers citizenship to all Jewish people, regardless from which country they come. It does not offer this same provision to any Palestinian refugee, even if he or she can establish a property claim.

This treatment of Israeli Arabs is similar to the treatment of Jewish people outside of Israel. Very few Arab countries house large Jewish populations, with most having immigrated to Israel, Europe, or the United States. One of the main exceptions is Iran. Despite its virulent rhetoric, Iran ensures that the Jewish minority has representation in Parliament. The Islamic Republic of Iran does have discriminatory laws against non-Muslims, though, so life isn’t easy for Iranian Jews.

Although it’s an atrocity that Arabs and Jewish people receive discriminatory treatment in each other’s countries, perhaps the biggest human rights issue vexing Israel is its treatment of the people of Gaza and the West Bank, who desire an independent state of Palestine. This issue is obviously fraught with complexities, among them Jerusalem, settlements and rocket strikes. However, for the umpteenth time, Israel and Palestine are trying to negotiate a solution. Will they succeed? Probably not. On the one hand extremists on both sides are justifying violence and bastardizing their religions in order to justify their political aims. On the other hand, a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution. Palestine deserves sovereignty, and the state of Israel deserves recognition and security. No matter how difficult it is, both goals are worth fighting for.

Neither Israel nor Palestine can claim innocence in this conflict. Both sides have massacred non-combatants indiscriminately, violated human rights and contributed to the volatile status quo. While politicians beat their chests and assert their dominance over each other, innocent Israelis living close to the border fear rocket strikes, and Palestinians suffer from poverty and overcrowding in cities without the ability to move freely. This is something that no one should stay silent about.

Editor’s Note: Guest Columnist Justin Hayet’s column, “American Studies Association Israel boycott is unjust,” can be found here

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.