Israel’s enemies need little excuse to criticize—and more often condemn—the world’s only Jewish state. Their baseless accusations of apartheid, genocide, slaughter and European colonialism seemingly respect no requirement of proof or rules of evidence.
Thus, despite Israel’s superb record of civil liberties, elections, rule of law applied to all citizens and equal opportunity at all levels of society, the country receives outsized doses of vitriol for its alleged lack of democratic values.
Such condemnation, of course, is rarely fact-based but rather springs from ignorance and, in too many cases, irrational bigotry. These attacks are usually targeted at presumed treatment by Israel of its Arab citizens … as well as, especially, of non-Israeli Arabs living in surrounding disputed territories.
In stark, refreshing contradiction to unsupported accusations against Israel, the new “Democracy Index 2021” by the EIU—Economist Intelligence Unit—ranks Israel twenty-third among modern democracies, scoring it higher than the United States, Spain, Italy and some 139 other nations.
The index ranks countries according to 51 criteria, covering each nation’s performance according to its 1) electoral process and pluralism; 2) functioning of government; 3) political participation; 4) political culture; and 5) civil liberties.
Israel’s 2021 ranking shows consistent improvement in its democratic processes compared with the first such report in 2006 when the Jewish state came in at No. 47. In the current report, Israel was lauded for its inclusion of an Arab party in today’s ruling government coalition.
No surprise, since Israel’s robust democracy has a vibrant electoral tradition, stable governing institutions, high political participation among its citizens, a vigorous, even boisterous political culture, and broad, equal civil liberties for all its citizens.
Unfortunately, even as Israel’s democracy improved in the past year, the EIU noted that democracy globally actually deteriorated. This was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it said, which caused “an unprecedented withdrawal of civil liberties,” including “a huge extension of state power over large areas of public and personal life.”
In contrast to Israel, the next highest ranking Middle East nation was Tunisia, which only reached 75th place—and then not as a democracy, but as a “hybrid regime.” The Palestinian-controlled territories were ranked as a frankly “authoritarian” regime, at No. 109.
Like all countries in the index, Israel’s performance in the EIU evaluation was based on the health and performance of democratic institutions among its citizens.
While critics often unfairly blame Israel for a lack of democratic freedoms in Judea and Samaria (“the West Bank”) and Gaza, they ignore the fact that the Oslo Accords give governance responsibilities over Palestinians in those territories almost entirely to their respective dictatorships—the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Unfortunately, neither of these Palestinian governments holds regular elections, supports basic civil liberties—like freedoms of speech, assembly and religion—or enforces rule of law. Neither respects women’s equality, and both violently persecute members of LGBTQ and religious minorities.
Anti-Israel commentators also usually neglect to acknowledge that Palestinians have been waging a terrorist war against Israel’s existence since the state’s birth in 1948. Much of Palestinian suffering results from Israel defending itself against these unrelenting attacks, as well as the Palestinian refusal to accept offers of land for peace and a state of their own.
Israel is often also faulted for the passage of its “nation-state law” in 2018—which declares that the country exists to fulfill the Jewish people’s “right to self-determination.” This attack, however, is a red herring, attempting to discredit a statute that in no way limits Israel’s democratic liberties.
Note that this law does not infringe on the rights of individual Israelis, including its two million Arab citizens. Like many other nation-states, it merely formalizes symbols of its people—in this case the Jewish people—such as the flag, national anthem and holidays.
Note, too, that while the nation-state law declares Hebrew to be the national language, this is not different than in the United States, in which English is the mother tongue. Nor does Israel’s nation-state law establish any official religion—unlike some seven European countries that declare state religions in their very constitutions.
All of this is to point out that Israel can be a proud nation of the Jewish people while still cherishing and implementing one of the most diverse and freest democracies on earth. In fact, some would argue that it is precisely Jewish values that fortify and help guarantee Israel’s robust democracy.
In short, no matter what slanderous accusations Israel’s enemies employ, the Jewish state objectively remains one of the strongest and most successful democracies on earth. Tiny Israel provides political freedoms and economic opportunities unmatched by the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations.
Note finally that the suffering and political plight of the Palestinians has little to do with Israel and is in fact almost entirely the result of authoritarian governance by its terrorist dictatorial regimes and their obstinate refusal to make peace.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.