A Sad Day for Human Rights

Human Rights Day, as celebrated in the Knesset yesterday, was not a good day for human rights. A day after the Knesset passed the big brother law, which established a huge police database of communications information, all but two of the Knesset committees abandoned their usual practice of dedicating deliberations to the topic of the day, as most of them do on days dedicated to the elderly or disabled. The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee did discuss the annual Association for Civil Rights in Israel report, but decided to spend a large portion of the time on the human rights of the settlers.

The most significant human rights event of the day was the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee meeting, which discussed the ACRI report on police violence. The head of the police investigations department, Herzl Shviro, surprised the participants by saying police regularly cover up for their colleagues.

"A police officer will cover up for his friend. He'll say, 'I didn't see.' We do not have the cooperation of involved police officers."

ACRI lawyer Lila Margalit reported that just 3 percent of the 4,900 complaints reported to Shviro's department result in a criminal indictment. However, Shviro pointed out that a file is opened in only about 1,700 of the complaints, of which 22 percent lead to either criminal indictments (8.5 percent) or disciplinary charges.

The cabinet ministers didn't express too much enthusiasm for the day either. Although one element of days like Human Rights Day is the advancement of related laws, the ministerial committee for legislation merely found a new way to empty the day of content. Instead of deliberating laws on their merits, it announced that from its perspective, all the bills could be turned into motions - a particularly disparaging approach. The ministerial committee did just that on Sunday for several human rights-related bills, six of them initiated by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash).

Representatives of the bureau of Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, who heads the committee, attributed the decision to the large number of bills brought before the committee.

The discussion of human rights at the Knesset was pathetic, to say the least. The plenum was almost empty, and some of the speakers addressed topics that are important but not completely relevant, like the shortage of hospital beds. Moreover, Friedmann did not bother to show up, sending Science, Culture and Sports Minister Raleb Majadele in his place. His bureau said the minister is very active in advancing human rights.

Most of the speech that Majadele read in Friedmann's place concerned trafficking in women, and aside from the brief opening that dealt with anti-Arab racism, one could have asked if Majadele got confused.

The dignity of the Knesset was recovered somewhat by the heads of the human rights lobby, Khenin and Zahava Gal-On (Meretz-Yachad), who submitted a report yesterday morning on legislation in 2007 that violates human rights. In addition to the big brother law, the report cited a law to prevent gay rights marches in Jerusalem; the Jewish National Fund Law, which allows only Jews to lease JNF land; and the Citizenship Law, which limits family unification.