Inside Story

Israel: A ‘democratic’ violator of rights?

As Israel severs ties with UN human rights bodies, we ask if it can lay claim to being the only democracy in the region.

On Monday, the Israeli foreign ministry said that it had cut working relations with the UN Human Rights Council.

The Israeli government said it will also prevent a UN team from entering its territory to assess the effects of settlements on Palestinian rights.

‘Other places are worse than us’ is frequently the justification of Israeli officials. There are plenty of policies that they know that cannot be justified, no way to defend certain things that run counter to basic principles of fairness and justice…”

Jessica Montell, executive director, B’Tselem

The move came after the Human Rights Council voted last Thursday to send an independent international fact-finding mission to look into the issue. The vote was by 36 to one, with 10 abstentions.

The Israeli decision came one day after Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a compromise deal between the state and the people of the West Bank settlement of Migron on Sunday.

The deal would have prevented Israel from having to dismantle the settlement following a Supreme Court ruling. The court ordered the demolition of Migron because it was built on privately-owned Palestinian land.

Israel has also been condemned for its use of administrative detention, which is detention without trial, and detainees are prevented from challenging it because they are not given any reason or shown any evidence against them.

Detainees are also not told when they will be released, and although the maximum period is six months, in practice it can be renewed indefinitely.

Israel is a democracy relatively to our neighbours, we have a long history of exercising democratic values…But once you cross the green line and go into the Occupied Territories here applies different laws.”

Akiva Eldar, chief political columnist for Haaretz

Hana Shalabi, a Palestinian prisoner, has been on a hunger strike for more than a month. She is being held without charge in an Israeli jail. Her protest follows that of Khader Adnan whose hunger strike finally ended when he secured a release date in April.

For decades, Israel has had uneasy relations with the UN, in part due to the pro-Palestinian majority in the General Assembly.

The US has used its veto power many times to block anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council.

So, is Israel violating Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Territories? What does this tell us about the Israeli government and its policy of settlement expansion in Palestinian territory? And, does that contradict its claim of being the only democracy in the region?

Joining Inside Story with presenter Hazem Sika to discuss these questions and more are guests: Jessica Montell, the executive director of human rights group B’Tselem; Akiva Eldar, the chief political columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz; and Mark Ellis, the executive director of the International Bar Association.

“Israel should not be looking at the lowest common denominator of what other democratic states so…The most powerful voice will be inside Israel…this is where change will occur. Some of the most significant and important decisions have not come from outside but from within.”

Mark Ellis, executive director, International Bar Association


  • The Middle East represented 76 per cent of the UN resolutions, most of them were critical of Israel
  • In November, Israel suspended its annual $2m funding to UNESCO after the UN cultural agency recognised Palestine as a member
  • Israel described the move as a “rejection of the path of negotiations”
  • Relations with the UN were especially acrimonious over the UN-commissioned Goldstone report, which found evidence that the Israeli military had carried out direct attacks against civilians in the 2009 war on Gaza
  • The report said the assault was in part targeted against “the people of Gaza”
  • Israel refused to co-operate with Goldstone’s team