Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Think Israel’s a police state? Try Iran

Think Israel’s a police state? Try Iran

Kamyar Attarian 

Last week, Israel’s Central Election Committee banned Balad Party MK Hanin Zoabi from running for re-election. Already in Israel, and, despite her unapologetic support for militancy against Israel and adamant refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a strong flurry of criticism has erupted from the usual corners, which will soon be overshadowed by a barrage of international criticism. Once again we will hear the hackneyed slogans in so many words that “Israel is a fascist, apartheid police state.” But I know this is not true, because I actually come from a police state – Iran.

Until last year, however, I was fortunate enough to have escaped the intrusions of my government. This changed when my father received a call in the middle of the night from the Ministry of Information’s feared security apparatus, demanding that he go to their office immediately where he was interrogated for seven hours because one of my several hundred Facebook friends resides in Israel and has published several pieces in Israeli newspapers. Fortunately, I was out of the country at the time.

While in Israel Hanin Zoabi went unpunished for her participation in the illegal attempt by the Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation to break Israel’s blockade on Gaza, which resulted in the injury of several Israeli soldiers. As a citizen of Iran, I face at the very least prison (if I return) for merely being Facebook friends with someone who lives in Israel.

While Arab representatives have been allowed to travel repeatedly to designated enemy states such as Syria at the behest of its government officials, I could face the death penalty in Iran on suspicion of being a spy for merely visiting Israel.

In Israel, even an Arab who engages in treason may be let off the hook. Take for example the case of Azmi Bishara, an elected representative of the Knesset who traveled to Syria on several occasions to declare his support for Israel’s enemies. It did not stop there. In Israel’s 2006 Second Lebanon War, Bishara acted as a spy for Hezbollah. The evidence against him was overwhelming and included wiretapped conversations discussing his spying activities. But rather than force Bishara to face justice,Israel turned a blind eye as he fled to Egypt.

Compare the case of Bishara to the cases of Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karaoubi, the leaders of Iran’s democratic movement. At the start of last year’s uprisings throughout the Arab world, they were swiftly placed under house arrest, not for any true crimes, and certainly not for collaborating with Iran’s enemies, but out of fear that they would be inspired by the events in the Arab world and once again stand firmly against Iran’s oppressive regime.

Iran, however, is not the state targeted most by “human rights organizations.” It’s Israel, and ever increasing attention is being directed at Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens.

Some argue that because Israel claims it is a democracy, it should be scrutinized more than other countries. But this reasoning is absurd. My country, like every other oppressive country in the world claims to uphold the most enlightened standards of human rights and dignities. One needs only to look at my country’s constitution.

The much talked about list of alleged discriminatory laws against the Arab minority in Israel is equally asinine. These laws include Israel’s designation as a Jewish and democratic State, the Law of Return and mandatory military service for Jews but not for Arab Christians or Muslims. Yet one would be hard pressed to find an instance where a court of law in a democratic country has ruled that similar laws or practices are discriminatory.

And these laws are on the books in some democratic country. Hungary’s constitution “recognize(s) the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood.” In fact, when the EU Constitution was being drafted, there were considerable calls for referencing Europe’s Christian heritage.

Six EU countries, including Germany,France and Spain, have repatriation laws granting those of the states’ heritage a path to citizenship.

As for military service, if anyone is being discriminated against it’s the Jews in Israel who, unlike Israel’s Arab citizens, do not have the right to opt out of military service. Arabs are of course allowed to enroll in the military of their own free will.

As someone who has spent nearly his entire life in a country where all people are oppressed by their government and religious minorities such as the Baha’i Faith are executed simply because of their beliefs, I can say with absolute certainty that in Israel Israel’s obsessive critics have done absolutely nothing to improve the rights of mankind. Israel is an electoral democracy, and is recognized as such by Freedom House, which produces the most respected analyses on democracy in the world. Any criticism and pressure on Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens will at best only lead to a marginal improvement in global human rights. Their attention should be directed to places where it matters – like my country for starters.