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Rabbi's Commentary

A Beacon of Freedom in a Sea of Oppression

March 27, 2015

Dear Friend of Israel,

Though the resolution voted on and approved last week by the U.N.’s annual Commission on the Status of Women isn’t surprising, it is galling all the same. Of the nine official documents produced by the commission, only one singled out a specific population – Palestinian women – and mentioned a culprit for their many hardships – Israel.

This condemnation is galling for several reasons – first, for what it doesn’t say. There is no report on Saudi Arabia, where women still cannot drive, travel without a male relative, or participate in much of the political sphere, and where one of the largest women’s rights conferences in the Arab world recently took place without the attendance of even one female participant. There is no report on the Democratic Republic of Congo, where sexual violence has been a common tactic of war for years. There is no mention of Yemen, where only half of the women can read and child marriage is rampant. And these are only a few of the instances the U.N. commission simply chose to ignore.

This report also doesn’t acknowledge that Israel has long offered her female citizens – regardless of ethnicity or religion – full freedoms, including the right to vote, freedom of speech, equal access to education and the workplace, and no restrictions on dress. By law, women in Israel are protected from discrimination. Throughout Israel’s short history, dozens of women have served in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament (a record number of women – 28 – were elected when Israelis went to the polls earlier this month), and recently Israel has seen our first female Major General and appointed our first female president of our Supreme Court.

This commission’s condemnation is equally galling for what it does say. The official document mentions challenges for Palestinian women in the areas of economics, employment, education, security, health care, and violence against women, placing the blame directly on Israel, not on a Palestinian culture that encourages victimization, a Palestinian government that is famously corrupt, and the pervasive presence and influence of terrorist groups in the region.

On this issue, the U.N. has proven itself not just ineffectual, but morally bankrupt. Considering the gross human rights abuses taking place around the world – the bloodthirsty ISIS terrorist group’s slaughter of entire communities across Iraq and Syria, Russia’s shameless power grab in Ukraine that has killed thousands and displaced thousands more, the precipitous rise of violent anti-Semitism across Europe – the U.N.’s continued fixation on criticizing Israel is simply perverse.  As a father of three daughters and the grandfather of three granddaughters, I find this commission’s findings offensive not just to Israel, but to the issue of women’s rights, which deserves so much more than petty political posturing and biased reporting. There are very grave abuses of women’s rights around the world, and those are what a commission such as this should be tackling.

I am proud of Israel’s strong track record on women’s rights – and of The Fellowship’s history of supporting shelters, job-training programs, and health care assistance for women in Israel. In Israel’s commitment to upholding the rights of women, both in law and practice, the Jewish state offers a model for the entire region, and stands, as it does in so many other ways, as a beacon of freedom and equality in a sea of oppression.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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