15 February 2007 - Freedom House survey
Regarding Israel and apartheid, I just re-discovered the annual Freedom in the World survey, compiled and published by Freedom House, a non-governmental organization devoted to promoting human rights around the world. It was founded in 1941 by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a response to Nazism. Later, it spoke out with equal fervor for the U.S. civil rights movement and against communism.
The survey examines every country in the world, as well as disputed territories such as Kashmir and Tibet, and measures political rights and civil liberties in each. These two indicators are scored on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being the most free and 7 being the least free. Countries are then grouped into categories based on their average scores: Free (1.0 to 2.5); Partly Free (3.0 to 5.0); and Not Free (5.5 to 7.0).
The methodology of the survey is worth a closer look. In its research, Freedom House applies basic standards of human rights, “irrespective of geographical location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development.” The questions cover every political and social feature you might wish to examine if you wanted to know whether a particular state—say, Israel—was an “apartheid” state.
Interestingly, though Freedom House mentions economic conditions and covers such rights as the right to form labor unions, it does not wade into the muddle of socioeconomic rights, which invite moral relativism about political and civil rights. And unlike most rights organizations, Freedom House considers the negative impact of non-state actors such as terror groups, and the positive impact of NGOs.
In 2005, Freedom House issued a special edition entitled Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa, which draws from the 2004 survey results. Eighteen countries are included, and the book provides a detailed, no-nonsense summary of the human rights situation in each. Not surprisingly, the region as a whole is far less free than the rest of the world: only 2 percent of its residents live in freedom.
And where do they live? In Israel, of course. Out of all the countries in the region, only Israel was classified as “Free.” Twelve countries—two-thirds of the total, representing eighty-six percent of the region’s population—were “Not Free,” and five countries were listed as “Partly Free.” Three countries—Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Libya—received the lowest possible ratings on the Freedom House scale.
Little has changed in the most recent survey. Israel’s rating has, in fact, improved: its political rights remain at 1 while its civil liberties rating has risen from 3 to 2, “due to a marked decrease in terrorist attacks in 2005, as well as a surge of civic activism surrounding the country's ‘disengagement’ from the Gaza Strip.” The rest of the region remains almost as miserable and oppressive as ever.
Freedom House also monitors the Palestinian Authority, and the most recent survey, which covers the period after Arafat’s death but before the election of Hamas, upgrades the PA from “Not Free” to “Partly Free.” It notes: “While Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip led to greater freedom for Palestinians, these freedoms were limited by the anarchic-like conditions that took hold in September 2005.”
The Freedom House survey, though relying on the subjective judgments of experts and researchers, is about as objective as a comparative study could possibly be. And its results make clear that Israel is far and away the freest, most democratic and rights-upholding country in the Middle East. Most of the other countries have ratings near those of apartheid South Africa, which hovered around 5 and 6.
It might be argued that Israel bears some responsibility for the fact that the PA has such low ratings. And the survey is honest about the effects of Israeli occupation on Palestinian freedom. But it also notes that much Palestinian suffering is self-inflicted, including government corruption, suppression of the media, attacks on Christians and churches, officially-sanctioned incitement and internecine violence.
The Freedom House research simply reinforces Pogrund’s argument that Israel is demonstrably not an apartheid state, neither within its 1967 borders nor in the occupied territories. Furthermore, if judged by an objective standard, almost every other country in the region would be considered an apartheid state. Not one of them upholds basic political rights or civil liberties. The metaphor must be inverted.