Clinton criticism sparks Israeli anger
Mon, December 5 2011 10:02 | 1109 Views
Jerusalem (ANTARA News) - Israeli ministers reacted angrily on Sunday after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she feared for the future of Israel`s democracy and the rights of women in the Jewish state.
Israeli lawmakers, particularly right-wing members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s government, have in recent months championed a series of bills criticised by local rights groups as an attempt to rein in left-leaning NGOs and journalists.
Among the most controversial of the proposed laws is one that would limit foreign funding for certain NGOs -- legislation that leftist activists say targets groups opposed to Israeli occupation that report on violations of Palestinian human rights.
A senior State Department official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Clinton "is concerned about the NGO law" and Israeli "conservative comments on women."
Clinton`s remarks, reportedly delivered behind closed doors Saturday at the Saban Forum in Washington, made headlines in most Israeli newspapers.
Top-selling Yediot Aharonot said Clinton had described shock at hearing that some buses in Jerusalem were gender-segregated and that some religious Israeli soldiers refused to attend events where women would sing.
The comments sparked a quick backlash in Jerusalem, where Israeli ministers holding a weekly cabinet meeting accused Clinton of hyperbole.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz called Clinton`s remarks "totally exaggerated," Israeli media reported.
"Israel is a living, breathing liberal democracy," he said.
Steinitz reportedly acknowledged that gender segregation was a problem in Israel, "but to claim there is a threat on Israeli democracy is a big stretch."
Environment Minister Gilad Erdan also acknowledged some concerns about growing calls for gender segregation by Israel`s ultra-Orthodox community, but suggested Clinton direct her attention elsewhere.
"Elected officials all over the world should first worry about their problems at home," he said.
And Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, defended the Jewish state, saying it remained the "only democracy in the Middle East."
"I assume that whatever will be done here will be within the measure of the law," local media quoted him as saying.
The NGO bill has already attracted international criticism, and Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, had relayed Washington`s concerns about the legislation to Netanyahu`s staff.
A similar message was relayed by Germany`s ambassador several weeks earlier, the newspaper said.
Editor: Jafar M Sidik
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