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.
Clinton's comments are telling, coming as they do in an election year. Her boss, President Obama, has taken flak from American Jews for being insufficiently supportive of Israel and is heading toward what promises to be a dog-fight for a second presidential term. In that context, the fact that Clinton was willing to make these kinds of comments is a sign the administration believes many supporters of Israel in the US share their concerns.
Palestinian activists will be annoyed that her Rosa Parks reference was in regard to Israeli women, not a recent protest by Palestinians in the West Bank against what they say are discriminatory bus policies. But Clinton's criticism was a warning that the "common values" that are often used to explain the close US-Israel relationship are eroding.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz from the prime minister's Likud party said at a Cabinet meeting Sunday that Clinton's comments were exaggerated: "I don’t know many better democracies in the world. It is of course necessary to fix things sometimes. The matter of excluding and segregating women is completely unacceptable and needs to be put to a stop, but there is a great distance between this and the argument that there is a threat to Israeli democracy."