Israel Has Improved Rating, but Remains a 'Flawed Democracy'

The Economist's Democracy Index placed Israel at 23rd out of 165 countries in its 2021 report, but shows a worsened 'political culture'

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
Members of the Knesset in 2021.
Members of the Knesset in 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Israel has improved its level of democratic governance, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2021 Democracy Index that ranked it 23rd out of 165 countries and territories.

While democracy has been on the retreat around the world since the start of the pandemic, Israel is rated as more democratic than the United States, Spain, Greece and Belgium, and stands just behind France.

Israel remains the “only one country that is classified as a democracy” in the Middle East and North Africa. Democratic backsliding in Tunisia and Lebanon left the region with “only one ‘flawed democracy,’ Israel, and no ‘full democracies,’” according to the EEIU, a British “global market intelligence” firm owned by the Economist Group, the parent company of news magazine The Economist.

While Israel’s “political culture” worsened as a result of “rising support for strong leadership that bypasses parliament,” it “remains at the higher end of our global rankings” and has exhibited “positive trends” such as the inclusion of the United Arab List party in the governing coalition, the index stated.

“Israel continued to buck the regional trend in 2021. The inclusion of the United Arab List in the broad-reaching coalition that came to power last year represents the first time that an Arab party has been part of government in Israel. This led to an improvement in the electoral process and pluralism and functioning of government categories.”

Despite Israel’s high score, it has long ranked as a “flawed democracy” because while it scores highly on some civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and expression and the existence of a free and robust media, it does much more poorly on others.

Israel plunges beneath the world’s democracies in civil liberties like equality, human rights, religious tolerance, racial discrimination and personal freedoms.

“In other words, if it weren’t for the Chief Rabbinate’s hegemony and the way Israel treats its non-Jewish minorities, especially the Palestinians, it would be a model democracy,” Haaretz analyst Anshel Pfeffer noted after the release of the EIU’s 2018 rankings.

“But based on civil liberties alone, Israel has no right to call itself a democracy, even a flawed one,” he wrote at the time, noting that “no other country on the index has such a massive disparity between its levels of participation, the quality of its electoral process, its strong media and freedom of expression and its dismal civil liberties record.”

“Essentially, Israel is the world’s only high-functioning illiberal democracy.”

For its part, the United States “continues to trail Canada” and “slipped one spot in our global ranking, to 26th position,” remaining “in the ‘flawed democracy’ category, where it has stood since 2016,” the EIU stated.

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