Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Global Peace Index again ranks Israel close to last

Once again, Vision of Humanity compiled the Global Peace Index, which defines "peace" in bizarre ways - and, of course, ranks Israel close to last among all countries.

This year, Israel's position changed from 141 out of 144 countries to 144 out of 149, which they say is an improvement of two places.

The US is ranked 85th, on the lower half of the scale. 

While Israel is ranked as more peaceful than Somalia, Iraq and Pakistan, it falls below the Congo, Lebanon and even Yemen, with its ongoing multiple conflicts.

As with previous years, the "experts" who compiled this list create a flawed methodology that pretends to be objective but is filled with estimates that they pretty much make up.

The most notable change in individual scores was Israel's ranking for "disrespect for human rights." Unlike most of the qualitative scores, they actually give a specific definition of what each score means in this category. This is how they define the rankings:

• Level 1: Countries under a secure rule of law. People are not imprisoned for their views and torture is rare or exceptional.
• Level 2: There is a limited amount of imprisonment for non-violent political activity. However, few persons are affected and torture and beatings are exceptional. Politically motivated murder is rare.
• Level 3: There is extensive political imprisonment, or a recent history of such imprisonment. Execution or other political murders and brutality may be common. Unlimited detention, with or without a trial, for political views is accepted.
• Level 4: Civil and political rights violations have expanded to large numbers of the population. Murders, disappearances, and torture are a common part of life. In spite of its generality, on this level political terror affects those who interest themselves in politics or ideas.
• Level 5: Terror has expanded to the whole population. The leaders of these societies place no limits on the means or thoroughness with which they pursue personal or ideological goals.

Now, the worst one can say about Israel - even including the territories as part of Israel, as this survey appears to do without actually saying so - is Level 2. (If you consider assassinations of terrorist leaders to be "politically motivated murder," you might be able to argue that Israel was a Level 3 in previous years, but I am unaware of any targeted assassinations in 2009.)  There is no way that you can say that in Israel "murders, disappearances, and torture are a common part of life" (level 4) or that it ranks as the worst in the world in disrespect for human rights, with the government terrorizing the entire population (level 5).

Yet Israel is ranked as Level 5 - worse than the 4 it received in previous years. (For comparison, Syria, Yemen and Iran are rated as to getting a 4, Egypt and Saudi Arabia a 3.5, Libya a 3. North Korea was one of the few countries besides Israel to be rated a 5.)

They mention this in the text, and give the reason for the score - without referring to their own definition:

There was also a substantial fall in the level of respect for human rights to a score of 5, although this indicator refers to 2008 and so includes the incursion of the Israel Defence Force into Gaza – a conflict that resulted in an estimated 1,417 Palestinian casualties (official Israeli sources put the death toll at 1,166) and 13 Israeli fatalities.

Is this objective science? Of course not. Many of the indicators they rank countries on (such as electoral process, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, civil liberties, corruption perceptions, freedom of the press) are "qualitative assessments" made either by the Economist Intelligence Unit or other "experts."

Rankings like these  are only as good as the data that is used, and when a large percentage of that data is subjective, then the conclusions cannot be anything but deeply flawed. If anything, these results reflect the cumulative effect of years of worldwide demonization of Israel affecting the supposed impartiality of the experts whose opinions form the backbone of this index.

Not to mention the assumption that countries that, for example, export weapons are by definition less peaceful than countries that don't. Syria doesn't have a very big weapons industry; Israel does - and that is just one reason why Syria, with its repressive military government and explicit support for terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah, is ranked at 115, way above Israel. Not only is the data bad, but the very assumptions behind the data are wrong.

Not that this stops the media from referring to this Peace Index as an authoritative source.

(See also my post about this from last year.)