Summary: Israel is by far the most liberal country of the entire Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). It is also probably the most liberal country from Western Europe to Australia and down to South Africa.
Diversity of population. Israel has a diverse population. The majority, 75%, are Jewish, about 20% Arab Muslims, and the balance of 5% a mix of Christians, Baha’i, Druze and others. Almost all of the MENA region is 90%+ Muslim, with a large number being almost completely Arab Muslim (Morocco; Tunisia; Iran; Yemen; Iraq; Jordan; Turkey; Algeria; Gaza and EGL; Saudi Arabia; Libya; Egypt; Syria). Lebanon is the only other country in the region with some diversity.
Equal Justice. Israel administers its legal system to all levels of society. Consider that both a former Prime Minister and President were sentenced to jail for general crimes such as bribery and sexual assault (as opposed to a method to remove a dictator). They were afforded no special privileges compared to ordinary citizens.
Women’s Rights. Women in Israel have full rights of equality including the ability to vote, inheritance, walk in public alone, drive, etc. These are rights that are not found in much of the MENA region. Saudi Arabia has virtually no rights for women. The new 20th Knesset will have 29 women– 24% of the parliament, significantly higher than the 16% of women in the US congress.
Free Speech, Assembly and Press. Israel permits freedom of expression. Freedom House ranked Israel as the only country in MENA with a free press for several years, and just added Tunisia. The MENA region continues to be the most repressive in terms of freedoms in the entire world, such as Turkey which leads the world in jailing the most journalists.
Freedom of Religion. Israel allows people of all faiths the freedom to practice their religion. This compares to much of the MENA region which has criminal laws against apostasy– changing one’s religion from Islam to something else- even though such right is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A growing number of countries in Europe have begun to restrict freedom of religion including bans on minarets at mosques, head coverings in public and permitting kosher and halal foods.
Gay Rights. According to a gay rights group, ILGA, Israel was the only country to get a perfect score on gay rights in the region between Western Europe, South Africa and Australia. For example, Israel permits gay couples to adopt children and serve openly in the army , something which many western countries do not permit. In some MENA countries such as Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania, gays are actually publicly executed by the government.
Environmental Matters. Israel is a “green” country. It leads the world in recycling plastic, having surpassed Europe in 2012. It created the first commercial wind farm in MENA and the first permanent bike sharing program. It leads the word in drip irrigation technology. It was one of only two countries in the world to have more trees entering the 21st century than it had in the 20th due to forestation efforts.
Open Public Office. People of all backgrounds and faiths are allowed to serve in the Israeli government, to become Prime Minister, serve in every branch of the military and Supreme Court. The new 20th Knesset will have 17 Arabs – 14% of the parliament. This compares to 8% black representation in the US Congress. Many countries, like Syria, restrict the participation of people who are not Muslims from participating in public office.
Death Penalty. Israel only has a single reason for sentencing someone to death – crimes against humanity – which it has carried out only once: fifty years ago for Adolf Eichmann for his role in the Holocaust. Much of the MENA region uses capital punishment for a range of offenses including: apostasy; adultery; drug trafficking; being gay; murder; witchcraft; and prostitution.
The Arts. Israel is the only country in the MENA region to have both an opera house and a ballet company. Opera exists in Israel, Oman and Syria and ballet companies are in Israel, Tunisia, Egypt, UAE and Iran.
Animal Rights. Israel became only the third country/ entity (after the European Union and Norway) to ban the sale of cosmetics that were tested on animals.
Human Body Rights. Israel permits full control of a person’s body including tattoos, body piercings and prostitution. More neighboring countries are enforcing bans on tattoos and piercings such as Turkey. Lebanon and Israel are the only countries in MENA that permit and regulate prostitution.
Protecting Women. Israel passed a law that bans the use of underweight models to prevent women from becoming anorexic.
Universal Healthcare. Many countries in the Middle East provide universal healthcare including: Israel; Kuwait; Bahrain; and UAE.
Israel. An open society in the middle of the Middle East.
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