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Israel stripped of ‘liberal democracy’ status by prominent global index

March 20, 2024 at 2:57 pm

Several flags of Israel flying outside the historic Old City of Jerusalem in Israel [Getty]

Israel has been stripped of its “liberal democracy” status by a prominent global index which measures the democratic health of countries. The downgrade means that for the first time in 50 years Israel has been demoted to the level of less democratic countries.

V-Dem is a leading international database for measuring the type of democracy found in over 200 countries. The database classifies countries into four categories: Closed autocracies, electoral autocracies, electoral democracies and liberal democracies.

On its website, V-Dem states that it provides a multidimensional and disaggregated dataset that reflects the complexity of the concept of democracy as a system of rule that goes beyond the simple presence of elections. The group distinguishes between five high-level principles of democracy: electoral, liberal, participatory, deliberative and egalitarian, and collects data to measure these principles.

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The V-Dem rating is not based solely on a country’s electoral system, but also on other aspects that define a democracy, such as the independence of the judiciary, the level of academic freedom, the openness of civil society and freedom of expression in mass media. V-Dem has been examining the nature of systems of government and the quality of democracy in every country in the world since as far back as 1789.

In its methodology, V-Dem does not appear to have taken Israel’s rule over five million Palestinians and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza into consideration. Nearly every major human rights group has accused Israel of the crime of apartheid, pointing to the discrimination faced by non-Jews. Israeli leaders have also stated that their intention is to control all of historic Palestine from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and not grant self-determination to the Palestinians.

The 2024 V-Dem Democracy Report, published last week, does not appear to have taken these factors into consideration. Nonetheless, it still downgraded Israel based on the practices of the apartheid state within the Green (1949 Armistice) Line.

“This is primarily due to substantial declines in the indicators measuring the transparency and predictability of the law, and government attacks on the judiciary. Among other things, Israel’s Knesset passed a bill in 2023 stripping the Supreme Court of the power to invalidate laws, thus undermining checks on executive power. Indicators that are in substantive decline also include freedom from torture.”

V-Dem’s classification is determined annually based on responses provided by experts to a series of hundreds of questions regarding different aspects of a country’s democratic nature.

The category of “electoral democracy”, to which Israel has now been added, means that the right to vote is preserved, but not the commitment to equality, minority rights, freedom of expression or the rule of law.

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