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Hillary Clinton compares parts of Israel to Jim Crow south

Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton targeted rising religious extremism in Israel, something that could one day open a rift between the US and the Jewish state.

By Staff writer / December 5, 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference following her meetings with Myanmar officials, including President Thein Sein, in Naypyitaw December 1.

Saul Loeb/Reuters

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Hillary Clinton said over the weekend that requirements for women to ride in the back of some Jerusalem bus routes reminds her of segregated busing during the height of the civil rights era in the south. She also said that the country's growing religious right reminds her of Iran, according to press accounts of her closed-door remarks in Washington. 

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Israeli papers reported that Mrs. Clinton expressed her concerns at a Saturday meeting of the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, a think tank funded by US-Israeli billionaire Haim Saban (his fortune rests in the Power Rangers franchise and other shows for children). The State Department confirmed her appearance, but did not release a transcript of her remarks.

According to the Israeli press, Clinton said gender segregation on some Israeli buses reminded her of Rosa Parks; that proposed legislation in Israel to control the funding of left-leaning groups worries her; and that the attitudes of a growing and increasingly powerful ultra-Orthodox community, particularly its attitudes toward women, are reminiscent of Iran.

Her remarks – and the response – are embedded within a growing reality: Culturally the US and Israel are drawing further apart. The ultra-Orthodox right has gone from strength to strength in Israel, with the Orthodox rabbinate having sought and gained influence over policy in Israeli society. At the same time, the country's democracy is increasingly seeking to shut down avenues for nonviolent dissent, whether through the NGO legislation that Clinton referenced or a law passed by the Knesset earlier this year that seeks to outlaw calls for political boycotts on Israel.

I wrote a little bit about this on Friday, in connection with a tone-deaf series of ads that Israel recently ran in a number of US cities warning Israeli expatriates to return home or risk losing their Jewish and Israeli identities. The ads angered a number of prominent Jewish-American organizations.

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