CiF’s Rachel Shabi, Israeli democracy and the anti-Zionist Left’s rank dishonesty

In contextualizing Rachel Shabi’s latest essay at ‘Comment is Free’ – representing yet another anti-Zionist conclusion in search of supporting evidence – “Israel’s treatment of women is hardly that of a democracy“, it’s important to understand her broader view on Zionism and the moral sins of Israeli Jews:

“Most Israelis, in other words, seem to have convinced themselves that their own moral superiority somehow sanctions and justifies their own acts of moral repugnance. As a line of defence, it’s hard to see how this will stand up in court.” The self-defence defence January 23, 2009

“But Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib says there is another factor at play in the overall media [pro-Israel bias]. ‘Even if the Palestinian side came up with proper messages, Hamas has been successfully labelled by Israel as a terrorist group and is portrayed in the western media in a manner similar to al-Qaida,’ he says.  As a result, western audiences are more prepared to sympathise with Israel – because it fits the “us or them” binary to which post 9/11 ears are attuned.” Winning the media war January 10, 2009

“Kfir Brigade’s own former members describe its role in enforcing the Israeli occupation as having turned them into “monsters”. This brigade is the nightmare of bed-wetting Palestinian children and its deeds should be the nightmare of any Israeli who seeks peace, rather than perpetual loathing, between the Jewish and Palestinian peoples of the region.” Bruiting about brutes November 29, 2008

Shabi’s animosity towards Israelis is so egregious that she even expressed disdain for Israelis who fear the Muslim Brotherhood – a group, as we’ve noted continually, whose spiritual leader has literally called for Allah to murder every last Jew on earth.  Shabi actually suggested that such concerns about Islamist movements which consistently advance explicitly antisemitic discourse (and call for Israel’s destruction) represent evidence of Israeli racism.

For those who question my characterization of the MB, here’s the precise quote from a WikiLeaks cable about the group’s spiritual leader, Yousef Al-Qaradawi:

‘In a Friday, January 9, sermon broadcast on Al Jazeera Arabic, Imam Yousef Al-Qaradawi condemned Jews for spreading “corruption in the land,” and for victimizing the Muslim people. He cited the Babylonian Captivity and the Roman conquest as historical examples of God’s punishment of Israel. He said “We wait for the revenge of Allah to descend upon them, and, Allah willing, it will be by our own hands…Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.”

Interestingly, in Shabi’s inversion, theocratic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood – whose views on women and gays are decidedly reactionary – engender greater moral sympathy than the democratic Jewish state.

Shabi begins her CiF essay:

“While we’ve been distracted by alarmism over newly elected Islamist leaders enforcing hijabs and bikini bans in the Arab world, Israel is already embroiled in attempts to rein in this unruly matter of female “immodesty”.

Yes, about those “alarmist” distractions. The Muslim Brotherhood, which won nearly 40% of the vote in the most recent Egyptian elections, do quite more than “merely” call for women to wear the hijab.

Sheikh Qaradawi is on record as supporting female genital mutilation, writing: “whoever finds it serving the interest of his daughters should do it, and I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world.”

Qaradawi also told the Guardian that he supports wife-beating – in certain cases.

In 2004 The Daily Telegraph reported that IslamOnline was asked the following question “Are raped women punished in Islam?”, and a panel headed by Qaradawi replied:

“To be absolved from guilt, the raped woman must have shown some sort of good conduct… Islam addresses women to maintain their modesty, as not to open the door for evil… The Koran calls upon Muslim women in general to preserve their dignity and modesty, just to save themselves from any harassment… So for a rape victim to be absolved from guilt, she must not be the one that opens… her dignity for deflowering…If, after trying her best to resist the attack, she gets overcome by the assailants, she is totally absolved from punishment.”

How considerate. The MB spiritual leader is magnanimous enough to absolve women from the “crime” of being raped if they displayed prior moral conduct. 

Qaradawi also, not surprisingly, supports the death penalty for the “crime” of homosexuality.

Back to Shabi’s take on gender oppression in the democratic state of Israel.

“Last week, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on businesses in the southern town of Sderot signing up to a “dignified” dress code – whereby female employees must be “modestly” clothed. So far 20 stores have adopted this long-sleeves directive.”

Yes, support for female genital mutilation; approval of wife-beating; sanctioning the punishing of women for being raped; and 20 stores adopting the “long-sleeves” directive!  Really, who’s to say which of these are more oppressive?

Shabi continues her tale.

“This is on top of some other instances of an apparent increase in ultra-religious modesty decrees. There have been recent religious pronouncements that men should walk out of army ceremonies where women are singing (immodestly, of course); along with attempts to erase women’s faces from billboard advertising and increased attempts to impose gender-segregated queuing in stores.”

Shabi conveniently fails to note that such religious “pronouncements” merely represent the admittedly bigoted views of certain religious leaders, but have not been adopted or in any way legally codified.

Shabi continues:

“Last week, religiously imposed gender segregation of buses prompted a stand-off, as a female passenger simply refused to move to the back – despite requests to do so from the bus driver and a police officer called in to sort out the dispute.”

However, Shabi omits noting that the police officer refused to intervene on behalf of the Haredi man, and the woman did not indeed move to the back of the bus. While an attempt at such misogynistically-inspired coercion by the ultra orthodox is indeed indefensible, the fundamental lesson of this story is that such gender segregation was not supported by police or civil authorities. 


“Dozens of public bus lines used by Israel’s ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) sector have been gender-segregated for years. Israel’s supreme court tried to reverse this practice a year ago, but balked at actually banning the “women at the back” policy – making it more a voluntary issue.”

However, Shabi mischaracterizes the ruling. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled as follows:

A public transportation operator, like any other person, does not have the right to order, request or tell women where they may sit simply because they are women,” Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote in his ruling. “They must sit wherever they like.”

Further, The Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, which initially petitioned against the practice, praised the High Court’s ruling as endorsing the idea that such segregation is indeed illegal. 

Towards the end of her tale Shabi pivots to her desired and inevitable narrative:

 “Gender rights is one of the cornerstones of Israel’s self-image as “the only democracy in the Middle East”

Pointedly, there is a big difference when it comes to defending another component of Israel’s “only democracy” calling card: freedom of expression. In that frame…large sections of the public seem to have approved the line that any criticism of the country is basically treason.”

Shabi’s broad proposition, which attempts, through various polemical devices, to undermine Israel’s undeniable moral distinction as the region’s only democracy, though intellectually unserious, is thoroughly consistent with the Guardian’s ongoing licensing of such far left agitprop.

Whatever the very real religious-secular divides – as with the other often rancorous (and quite free!) debates over issues pertaining to civil rights – Israel (unlike the surrounding Islamic world) remains an oasis of freedom and opportunity for religious minorities, women, the LGBT community, and even the most marginal and extreme political voices.

In Israel even those advancing the most noxious ideas about the Jewish state are protected.

Evidence regarding the health of Israel’s democracy can similarly be found in the the protection given to certain Arab parties, representatives in Israel’s Knesset who literally call for the end of the Jewish state: that is, citizens who don’t recognize the legitimacy of Israel are free to serve in its democratic legislature.

A further testament to the democratic health of the region’s lone Jewish state is the freedom granted to the nearly 80 human rights organization which operate here.

Additionally, empirical evidence of Israel’s democratic prowess is demonstrated by the systematic human rights review of the region by the group Freedom House, which gives Israel the only ranking of “Free” in the Middle East.

Finally, as NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg recently stated:

By any objective standard, Israeli democracy is as robust and pluralistic as any in the world. There are no restrictions on any form of protest or advocacy, including very fierce and unpopular criticism of the government and military. No other democracy can claim to have greater freedom of expression, despite more than six decades of war and terrorism; threats of annihilation…”

Shabi’s latest polemical assault on Israel represents continuing evidence of the shear dishonesty of the anti-Zionist Left, convinced, with good reason, that if they repeat a lie often enough about Zionism’s immutable sins they’ll continue to find platforms which will legitimize such calumnies. 

That such fertile intellectual grounds for shrill and malicious anti-Zionist thought is so frequently found on the pages of the Guardian should only be surprising to those who evidently still take their comical claim of being a genuinely “liberal” voice seriously. 

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