COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS REPORT OF ISRAEL
16 February 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today considered the combined fourteenth to sixteenth periodic reports of Israel on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Introducing the report, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the situation in the Middle East remained complex and highly volatile. Against that backdrop the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a pressing conflict in which the Government of Israel continued to seek a just and negotiated resolution. Israel's legislative, judicial and governmental organs had shown a genuine concern for protecting human rights in general and the elimination of racial discrimination in particular. In 2011 a joint inter-ministerial team was established to review and implement the concluding observations of all human rights committees. Israel had taken unprecedented measures to eliminate racial discrimination, including a series of Basic Laws such as the Expansion of Adequate Representation for Persons of the Ethiopian Community in the Public Service and the Prohibition of Violence in Sports. The Government had taken concrete steps to address the needs of the Bedouin, Druze and other Arab-Israeli minorities, including the adoption in 2011 of the recommendations of the Prawer Report for solutions to the Bedouin housing situation in the Negev. The Government had adopted affirmative action measures to enhance the integration of Arab and Druze populations into the civil service. The advancement and promotion of women in the Arab population was a priority for the State of Israel. However, the Government was mindful of the need to refrain from imposing social changes within various Arab and Israeli communities and the approach thus far had been focused on empowering the Israeli and Arab minorities by affording them more opportunities.
During the discussion, Experts noted with concern that the Convention was not be applied in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and asked if the State party would reconsider reviewing its opposition to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Questions were raised about the lack of enforcement in the cases of incitement to racial hatred, the disparity in access to education among Arab and Israeli children and whether Israeli law recognized the International Labour Organization's Convention 169 on the minority Bedouin of the Negev. The Committee repeated that the wall erected in the West Bank promoted racial segregation and could be seen as a form of apartheid. The Committee urged Israel to establish a national human rights institute to monitor and assist the State to implement the obligations of the Convention.
In concluding remarks, Ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yar, said that he agreed with some of the remarks made by the Rapporteur. He understood that the core of many of the issues related to the political situation, and that he looked forward to the day when peace would come between Palestinian and Arab people.
The delegation of Israel consisted of representatives of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Prime Minister's Office, and the Israel Defense Forces.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Thursday 16 February, when it will consider the combined fifteenth to twentieth periodic reports of Kuwait (CERD/C/KWT/15-20).
The combined fourteenth to sixteenth periodic reports of Israel can be read here (CERD/C/ISR/14-15).
Presentation of the Report
AHARON LESHNO-YAAR, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the situation in the Middle East remained complex and highly volatile. Against that backdrop the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a pressing conflict in which the Government of Israel continued to seek a just and negotiated resolution. Israel's legislative, judicial and governmental organs had shown a genuine concern for protecting human rights in general and the elimination of racial discrimination in particular. In 2011 a joint inter-ministerial team was established to review and implement the concluding observations of all human rights committees headed by a Deputy Attorney General from the Ministry of Justice. The Ambassador cautioned that the data, statistics and information relating to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was not available to the Government of Israel, as the Palestinians were in control of that area. The Government of Israel believed that Jewish and democratic values were not antithetical but complementary, and noted that Israel was a robust and vibrant democracy with a free and independent national and international media, a diverse and active civil society, and a vigorous and vocal academic community.
Israel had embedded human rights principles in a series of Basic Laws, which provided a constitutional basis for the protection of human rights. Recent legislation had been more wide-ranging in scope and radical in its underlying basic principles. A recent example was the 2011 Expansion of Adequate Representation for Persons of the Ethiopian Community in the Public Service, which increased the already existing affirmative action scheme applicable to individuals who were either born in Ethiopia or who had one parent born in Ethiopia. Another significant legislative development was the 2008 enactment of the Prohibition of Violence in Sports Law, which aimed to promote safe and peaceful participation in sporting events by broadening the definition of racist displays and facilitating training of security personnel, as well as by expanding their responsibilities and authorities. In 2008 the Penal Law was amended to explicitly prohibit participation in gatherings in which racism was promoted, incited or encouraged. In the judicial realm, approximately 2,000 petitions were filed to the Supreme Court each year on numerous issues, including those related to minority rights. The Supreme Court upheld the Jerusalem District Court decision against two defendants on charges of violence and assault of an Israeli Arab with a sentence to three years' imprisonment. The Court noted that the offence was racially motivated, which demonstrated how Israel's Supreme Court together with lower courts had played central roles in protecting human rights.
The Government of Israel had taken unprecedented measures to eliminate racial discrimination. Concrete steps had been taken to address the needs of the Bedouin, Druze and other Arab-Israeli minorities, while giving due consideration to their respective cultures and traditions. Concerning the Bedouin in the Negev, a significant step was taken in 2011 with the adoption of the recommendations of the Prawer Report for the provision of comprehensive and integrative solutions to the Bedouin housing situation in the Negev. The housing plan was based on the recommendation of the Goldberg Committee, and included consultations with representatives of various segments of the Bedouin community as well as comments made by civil society organizations on the Committee's Report. The Government adopted a comprehensive economic development plan geared to the Bedouins in the Negev with a budget of USD 297.3 million.
Since 1994, the Government had taken affirmative action measures to enhance the integration of Arab and Druze populations into the civil service by issuing tenders for mid-level positions solely to members of those minorities. In the civil service, the number of Arabs, Druze and Circassians rose from six per cent in 2007 to 7.8 per cent in 2012. In 2010, 11.09 per cent of all new employees integrated in the civil service were Arabs, Druze and Circassians. Data had indicated an increase of 19.4 per cent in the number of Arab employees holding senior positions between 2006 and 2010. There had also been an increase in the number of Arabs serving in the judiciary, including nine Arab women serving as judges and three Arab women serving as registrars. The advancement and promotion of women in the Arab population was a priority for the State of Israel. However, the Government was mindful of the need to refrain from imposing social changes within various Arab and Israeli communities and the approach thus far had been focused on empowering the Israeli and Arab minorities by affording them more opportunities.
Questions by Experts
GÜN KUT, Country Rapporteur for Israel, said the population of Israel was estimated at nearly eight million. However various legal and political social regimes were applied to people living in different areas, such as within the green line, where Israeli and Palestinian citizens numbered about 6.6 million; in East Jerusalem where 500,000 Israeli citizens lived; in the Golan Heights with its population of 2,000; in the West Bank with about 200,000 individuals and in Israeli settlements and Area C of the West Bank with 57,000 residents. The Rapporteur noted with concern that all people in the country were not treated fairly and that separate sectors were being maintained for Jewish and Arab housing throughout the country. He added that a significant number of complaints filed by Arabs against Israeli law enforcement officials had not been properly investigated.
Israel was a vibrant and diverse society both by culture and religion, in terms of the diverse origins of the people who had settled there. However the report had only focused on measures to integrate the Ethiopian community; what about the tensions and possible discriminatory practices that occurred against and among other ethnic minorities?
The Rapporteur asked for more information from the Israeli delegation on the new Ministry of Minority Affairs, which had limited resources. The Israeli report seemed to lack sufficient incorporation of non-governmental organizations' experience and knowledge. Could the delegation provide more information on the Knesset Code and how it worked in practice? What was the performance of the Government since 2008 on hiring women and minorities? What mechanisms in land policy distribution prevented discrimination? The Rapporteur also asked about public political discourse and for a status update on the case of the King's Torah.
Concerning the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Rapporteur asked why Israel insisted that its human rights obligations could not be implemented in areas it fully and effectively controlled: the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
An Expert expressed concern about interment without trial, which contributed toward the institutionalization of racism against minorities. An expert asked about Israel's closed position on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and whether the Government would now consider rationalizing and reviewing its position on that declaration.
An Expert requested more information on the complexities of the intersecting forms of discrimination that women suffered, for example, violence experienced by children and girls which might lead to them not attending school. Non-governmental organizations had told the Committee that Arab women in Israel received salaries that were 35 per cent less than the salaries of Jewish women. What plans had the Government designed and implemented to rectify that situation? There was a wide disparity in access to education enjoyed by Arab and Israeli children. Some schools were separated by ethnicity; if parents so desired could there be a mixing of ethnic minorities in different schools?
Did the concept of discrimination in Israel in both law and practice include indirect and direct discrimination? In recent years the Committee had referred to structural discrimination; had Israeli law and practice incorporated that concept? In a complex society such as Israel there were many intersections of racial and ethnic identity to which structural discrimination could apply. An Expert noted that forms of speech and conduct were a part of a wider definition of discrimination, and asked about the prosecution of speech that incited racial hatred in the courts. Although cases of overt incitement were prosecuted, indirect racist speech could be more dangerous because it allowed racism to creep into everyday language. How effective was the specialized service in the State Attorney's Office to prevent the spread of racism on the internet?
Had Israeli law recognized the International Labour Organization's Convention 169 regarding the Bedouin of the Negev, in terms of their claim as a minority population for the right to access land?
The Committee stood by its previous recommendations that construction of the wall erected by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories should cease, and that the Convention could indeed be applied to the Occupied Territories despite the State parties' position that that was not the case. Experts asked about legal rational for the conclusion that the Convention could not apply in the Occupied Territories; was it because the Government was not in control of the territory?
An Expert asked for an update on the State party's multiple-year plans to promote the construction and development of sewage systems for minority populations. Committee Experts said that segregation among the Jewish and Arab population in the West Bank was not normal and expressed concern about reports that preferences in allocation of resources in the West Bank were given to the settlers, especially water, rather than to Arabs. The humanitarian situation in Gaza was a concern for the Committee.
The Committee encouraged and urged the State party to establish a National Human Rights Institute to monitor and assist the State in implementing the obligations of the Convention.
Response by the Delegation
AHARON LESHNO-YAAR, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said he appreciated the spirit of dialogue and free exchange that characterized the interactive discussion, and was pleased that the Committee had devoted most of their comments on Israel proper and not only on the problems occurring in the Occupied Territories.
Mr. Leshno-Yaar informed the Committee that the previous night (Wednesday 15 February 2012) terrorists from the Gaza Strip again fired four missiles on Israeli civilians, and reminded the Committee that the High Commissioner for Human Rights had defined such actions as war crimes and called for them to cease.
In explaining the Israeli position on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, Mr. Leshno-Yaar said that the conference was an open scar for Israel because the process was marked by ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism. In preparation for the Durban Declaration, many nations had met in Tehran to produce an outcome document which accused and targeted Israel as perpetrating racism and apartheid in its treatment of the Palestinians. In defending Israel's position, the Ambassador quoted from a report by Justice Richard Goldstone which explicitly stated that there was no apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Ambassador furthermore called on the international community to abandon the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and to build a new coalition to combat racism.
There were several reasons, from legal considerations to practical realities, why Israel could not extend the Convention to include the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Convention was never intended to apply to areas outside of a country's national territory. The Palestinian people were subject to the Code of Armed Conflict under the Geneva Convention. Israel's disengagement initiative in Gaza in 2005, with the full withdrawal of all Israeli forces and the dismantling of Israel's administrative structure, showed that Israel had no effective control of Gaza, which was under the administrative control of Hamas. In the West Bank the vast majority of the Palestinians, over 95 per cent, were under Palestinian jurisdiction.
Regarding the barrier wall, Israel had built that temporary, non-violent, security fence to decrease the number of terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Regulation 43 of the Hague Convention provided the legal basis for the self defensive act of building the separation barrier. Israeli Arabs forming 20 per cent of the population resided on the Israeli side of the fence, which was evidence that the barrier was not based on race but on citizenship.
Concerning claims of apartheid within Israel, the delegation stressed that such accusations were a conscious effort to demonize the country. A great deal had been accomplished toward integrating Arab Israelis in Israel. Arab Israelis had the right to vote, could receive medical care, could choose where they lived and worked, and could be found holding senior positions in every sphere of Arab Israeli life. In no way was that similar to the situation of apartheid in South Africa. The delegation stressed that minority populations had a high degree of recourse to address discriminatory practices. As to claims of apartheid within the West Bank, the delegation said that Israel functioned in the West Bank according to international humanitarian law and that every Palestinian had the right to access the Israeli Supreme Court which supervised Israeli actions in the West Bank.
Despite the security threat from the Gaza Strip, Israel worked with the United Nations to ensure that 20,000 tons of civilian goods were delivered to Gaza every week. The delegation noted that unemployment rates in the Gaza Strip had dropped to its lowest level in the last decade, while in 2011 economic growth had increased. There were 64 projects in education, and many more in construction and agriculture. 100 work permits were granted every day and there was an 80 per cent increase in the daily quantities of goods leaving Gaza.
Freedom of movement in the West Bank was not an absolute right but was balanced with other rights. It was never racially motivated but rather guided by overriding security reasons. Over 90 per cent of roads in the West Bank were open to all; only roads leading to Israeli settlements were restricted, and many restrictions applied only to Israeli citizens who were not allowed to enter Area A. A permit regime was developed for all Area C zones along the border; in 2009 over 9,000 permits allowing entry from the West Bank into Israel were issued to balance the needs of all local residents. Regarding planning in the West Bank: Areas A and B were under the administration of Palestinian authorities and planning decisions in Area C were determined by Israel.
In 2009 a juvenile military court had been established in the West Bank, and in 2011 the age of minority was raised from 16 to 18 years which increased the level of protection given to minors in the West Bank.
The delegation stressed that non-governmental organizations were considered to be important partners of the Government in managing cultural and religious differences with minority populations. The Ministry of Health met regularly with eight non-governmental organizations to discuss healthcare provisions, partnerships which had increased the minority populations' access to health services. The disparities in health with minority populations were often due to differences in cultural attitudes.
Concerning the resources allocated to Arabs, between 2007 and 2011 the Government constructed 7,900 classes at all school levels and 38 per cent of those were for Arab school children. A policy of preferential financing was introduced to improve school attendance and in both primary and secondary education a greater portion of the budget was dedicated to Arab students than to Israeli students. Jewish and Arab families had the right to register their child in the school of their choice within the area where they lived, regardless of the language of instruction.
The Government had allocated USD 1.3 billion in the budget for closing the gap for minority economic development. The major priorities were to increase access to higher education, open employment centres, subsidize day care and provide micro finance. Already 77 per cent of women from the minority sector who had university degrees were employed and 95 per cent of all day care in minority areas was subsided. Furthermore, 22 employment centres were planned of which five had already been opened, which provided a one-stop-shop where minorities could both improve their skills and be placed in a local job. Sewage was a major issue and the Government was working to provide a solution for all minorities; to date four minority municipalities were connected to the main sewage system, with more planned for connection.
The Foreign Workers Law had recently been amended to redistribute its enforcement powers in minimum wage standards and other areas. Foreign workers were allowed 90 days to remain in the country while they searched for alternative employment. The Arab population must be appropriately represented in all Government organizations. A database of potential Arab candidates had been developed and there was now appropriate Arab representation among 60 per cent of Government organizations. Four per cent of all Arab directors were now women, which was a significant increase from the 2007 figure of 1.9 per cent.
Actions or speech to incite racial hatred could be indicted and to date there were no cases of incitement to racial hatred on the internet. Israel placed great value on freedom of speech and the use of criminal measures was limited to those cases where mens rea could be proved. In 2011 and 2012 restraining orders were issued against a large number of Israeli citizens to prevent them from entering the West Bank. Recent police data showed that 141 cases of violence of Israeli offenders toward Arabs were opened in 2011, and 290 cases were opened and 83 indictments were served in 2010. An additional 80 police officers had been transferred to the West Bank to fight those offences.
Questions by the Experts
Committee Experts noted with surprise the delegations' comments on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. The Declaration of Durban was negotiated by State Representatives and although the negotiations were difficult there were no offences as described by the Israeli delegation. An Expert said that it could not be denied that the Durban Declaration was one of the most important anti-discrimination documents available to people who had been victims of discrimination and that it should not be rejected as a whole.
An Expert agreed that there were differences between the situation in Israel and the policies in South Africa, and not so long ago in the United States, of racial segregation professed by the national authorities. However the situation in the West Bank required a critical examination because what was emerging was a kind of de facto segregation with unequal distribution of resources and great burdens of inconvenience between separated enclaves. Israel had a responsibility to ensure that there was equal treatment among all peoples.
The Committee expressed concern about the condition of people arriving in Israel from Ethiopia, who worked in unskilled areas in Israel and were disadvantaged in terms of their access to housing, health and education. An Expert asked for more information on how effective Government measures had been in improving those people's situation.
Concerning the West Bank, an Expert said that if the Israeli Government exercised control in an area then it also had a responsibility to uphold human rights treaties in that same area. It was not possible to separate international human rights law and humanitarian law, especially as the Rome Statute protected human rights under humanitarian law in times of war and peace, alongside protocols one and two of the Geneva Convention.
The primary reason for the conflict among Palestinians and Israelis, and the ongoing feeling of discrimination the Palestinian population felt was due to socio-economic factors and the wide discrepancy in the economic gap between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
There were questions about the definition of ethnic minorities applied in the report. Could more information be provided on inter-ministry coordination of economic development policies for minority groups? Considerable information was missing on the application of articles in the Convention toward different communities and Experts asked for more data instead of just sample cases. An Expert asked again about the principle of indirect discrimination in the law and for more clarification on the rejection in Israeli law of practices concerning indigenous peoples.
Response by the Delegation
The Ambassador countered the Expert's comment on the Durban Declaration by stating that Israel was cited in the declaration as engaging in racism and therefore he stood by his earlier comment.
The delegation said that the Basic Law of Human Dignity provided sufficient guidelines to protect human rights, and the courts provided safeguards to ensure that the rights of all citizens were fully protected. Other institutions such as the Ombudsman and the National Council for the Child provided sufficient assurance and therefore a national institute for human rights was not necessary. The Ombudsman dealt with complaints relating to ethnic issues. To increase access to the Ombudsman, the Office opened several reception branches in towns with a high concentration of Arab, Bedouin, Russian and Ethiopian populations.
Concerning the housing situation in the Negev, the delegation noted there had been considerable participation of the Bedouin community during the development of the Prawer Plan and the Minister in charge was responsible for formulating recommendations that incorporated all views. Every housing demolition had a right of appeal and most had occurred because about 70,000 Bedouin chose to live in unauthorized villages which were not connected to water, sewerage and electrical grids. The area in which many Bedouin lived was considered to be State land, as their lifestyle had changed from nomadic to semi-nomadic. Bedouin were not characterized as a minority population because the designation of minority in Israel was based on religion, and therefore minorities were non-Jewish.
Significant resources were allocated to integrate Ethiopians into society, particularly for children who were given longer in school so they could catch up on their work. From 2008 to 2010, the number of Ethiopian students who had achieved the baccalaureate had increased to 31.6 per cent in public schools and to 46.2 per cent for those in private religious schools. The teaching language in Arabic schools was Arabic; the teaching language in Jewish schools was Hebrew. In cities with a population mix, such as Haifa, there was an opportunity for students to attend either an Arabic or Jewish school, and there were also bilingual schools.
A delegate stressed that collaborative efforts with non-governmental organizations had helped to tailor a solution for services to the Ethiopian population. The rate of asthma among Ethiopians was high and a special clinic had been developed to provide training and care to those people. The Government had developed training courses for health professionals on the characteristics of the Ethiopian culture so that they could respect the unique culture of this population.
Israel had never claimed it had no responsibility for the civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories but only that a different set of rules applied to those areas. There was a common understanding that all core human rights treaties were territorial bound and that applied to sovereignty. That was not a position unique to Israel as the approach had been applied in the Universal Periodic Review of other countries.
GÜN KUT, Country Rapporteur for Israel, said that the Committee's concluding recommendations would cover a number of issues but one of the most important was the applicability of the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Committee was also concerned about the absence of a general law prohibiting racial discrimination, and also intention to racial discrimination. The Committee was concerned about four groups: the Palestinian citizens of Israel as regarded the citizenship law, planning and zoning; the Bedouin on the issue of housing, land and access to education; vulnerable persons who were a numeric minority in the country regardless of their religion; and migrant workers and their children. The lack of legal enforcement in cases of incitement to racial hatred would appear as a major point in the concluding recommendations because the Committee had grave concerns about the State party's failure to address such issues. Jewish fundamentalism among ultra-orthodox communities was also a concern for the Committee, and Government mechanisms needed to address that trend.
AHARON LESHNO-YAAR, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that he agreed with some of the remarks made by the Rapporteur. He understood that the core of many of the issues related to the political situation, and that he looked forward to the day when peace would come between Palestinian and Arab people.
For use of the information media; not an official record
Document Type: French text, Press Release
Document Sources: Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)
Subject: Convention: Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Economic issues, Human rights and international humanitarian law, Living conditions, Occupation, Palestine question, Population, Racial discrimination
Publication Date: 16/02/2012