Is Israel a democratic state?
Md. Fakrul Islam Chowdhury of DOT :
In Democracy Index, by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Israel is defined as a Flawed Democracy. It ranked #30 in the worlds, in 2017 which is ranked as the most democratic country in the Middle East ahead of Turkey, defined as a Hybrid Regime, and ranked at #100. Then comes Lebanon, ranked #104. To put it into context “the largest democracy in the world” India ranked at 42, Pakistan at 110, Nepal 94 and Bangladesh is ranked at 92.
However, 66 per cent Arab Israelis who had participated in a poll conducted by Israel Democracy Institute in 2013, do not believe a combination of being both a democratic and Jewish state. However, 75 per cent of Israeli Jews from that same poll believe that the State of Israel can be both Jewish and democratic.
Most critics of the Israel state argues that, Israel can NOT be considered as a democratic state when measured by basic justice criteria.A country that demotes about 20 per cent of people who live within the borders of the Israel state, i.e. the non-jewish/ Muslim/ Arab minorities to second class citizens does not fulfill the basic equality requirement of democracy.
Those who believe that Israel is a democracy responds with the argument that, Its politicians aredemocratically elected, there is freedom of speech , everyone can criticize the Government without fearing to be put in jail or killed for that . There is freedom of belief and for practicing his/her own religion, Universal suffrage, Freedom of movement within Israel, and Universal eligibility to receive a passport, etc.
If one defines democracy as,
1. Government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power vested in the people and exercised by them through their elected representatives under a free electoral system.
And we define a democratic state as,
2. A state having such a form of government for example, India, The United States and united Kingdom, among many others.
Israel certainly qualifies as a democracy according to this definition.
However, if we broaden the definition of democracy and include.
3. A state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.
4. Political or social equality; democratic spirit.
5. Freedom speech for all the citizens regardless of their religious, political or ethnic background.
Then, though Israel is OFFICIALLY the Democratic State of Israel, it’s difficult to put on an argument in favor of Israel being a democratic state.
For example, speaking out against its government amounts to treason, the punishment of which is a death penalty, like a lot of other possible crimes in Israel.
If we take into account a broader definition of democracy then, Israel, does not fit in to it. Because, Israel’s national police, defense, swat, and other State officers, are being proven in many videos taken around Israel, to be involved in extra judicial killing of non-Jewish tourists and even residents, in the pretext of combatting terrorist threats.
Some critics have gone so far as to argue that the Democratic State of Israel is in truth not only an ethoncracy but a totalitarian regime.
It is argued that, in ancient Greece it was possible to maintain a democracy while slaves were shackled in citizens’ basements, but now it is universally accepted that a regime that rules vast numbers of people by denying them basic human and electoral rights, and does all it can to perpetuate its rule, is not a democracy.
Since Israel’s creation its leadership claimed to preserve a balance between what Yossi Klein Halevi calls its “two nonnegotiable identities,” as a Jewish, but also democratic, state. However, a new legislation passed in 2018 has upset that balance and put the “democratic” claim of the Israel state under serious threat.
Titled, “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” the new law elevates the status of Hebrew over Arabic, and encourages “Jewish settlement.” The legislation also omits any reference to democracy or equality for Israel’s Arab minority, who are 20 percent of the population.
The law declares that the “right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” The law also recognizes Hebrew as the language of the state while Arabic, is designated as a language with a special status.
Critics point out that the law has some significant omissions as well. The bill makes no mention of the rights of the country’s Arab minority, nor does it discuss the principle of equality, or refer to Israel’s democratic system of government.
Michael Sfard, in an opinion piece published in Haaretz in June 3, 2017, writes,
“A regime that allows only some of its subjects to take part in politics is not a democracy. True, Israel has an elected legislative branch, separation of powers and freedom of the press (all three of which, it should be said, are currently in danger). But for the past five decades, Israel has ruled millions of people who do not have the right to vote or to be elected to the systems that govern them. Israel not only denies them their civil rights, it plunders their land and resources, and transfers them to the most privileged of its citizens, and deprives them brutally and cruelly of independence and of a say in deciding their future.”
The writer is Consulting Editor, Amader Notun Shomoy