On December 7, 2010, Amnesty International issued a statement (“Israeli rabbis ban home sales and rentals to non-Jews”) condemning “a religious ruling signed by dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis that bans the renting or sale of homes to non-Jews.” Although the press release acknowledged that “the ruling is not official government policy,” Amnesty official Philip Luther criticized the Israeli government for not repudiating the ban.
The central claim is false and reflects ongoing bias. Amnesty’s statement entirely ignores harsh condemnations of this ruling by Israeli government officials from across the spectrum – President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, ministers, the speaker of the Knesset, members of Knesset – the Israeli media, prominent rabbis, and Israeli NGOs.
President Peres declared, “The state of Israel is composed of Jewish citizens and non-Jewish citizens, and we all have the same rights, which include the right to practice any religion.” Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, “Such things cannot be said, not about Jews and not about Arabs. They cannot be said in any democratic country, and especially not in a Jewish and democratic one. The state of Israel rejects these sayings.”
This episode, in fact, demonstrates the strength of Israeli democracy. Discriminatory statements are rejected through democratic processes, a free press, and free speech by other citizens and leaders. Unfortunately, this is an exception, particular in the Middle East, where racist speech and policy are rarely condemned by biased groups such as Amnesty International. Instead of criticizing Israel, Amnesty should welcome the rigorous public debate that has followed the ruling.