The New York Times’ Israeli ‘elected autocracy’

In an “elected autocracy,” how does the opposition beat out the coalition, only to become the opposition once again?

The New York Times distribution truck. Credit: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.
The New York Times distribution truck. Credit: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.
Tamar Sternthal
Tamar Sternthal
Tamar Sternthal is director of the Israel office of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

The Gray Lady’s great thinkers must think very little of their lowly readers, seeing them as either supremely ignorant or severely memory-impaired.

How else can we account for the fact that just seven months after Israel conducted completely free and fair elections, narrowly voting out a broad, diverse Israeli government in favor of a fully right-wing coalition, The New York Times’ opinion writers have dubbed the Jewish state an “elected autocracy”?

Reflecting on the U.S. visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the group of self-described “opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values” opined: “How the United States manages its relationships with elected autocracies, from Poland’s Law and Justice government to Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition in Israel and Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in Turkey, is one of the most important strategic questions of American foreign policy” (“The India Quandary,” June 22).

Rachid Tlemcani, then a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explained in 2007 the characteristics of “electoral authoritarianism,” which could be either autocratic or oligarchic: “Elections are the lifeblood of democracy, but not all elections are democratic, as is often the case in the Arab world in which electoral authoritarianism and subsequent violence still haunt the scene.”

“Electoral authoritarianism characterizes regimes that present an illusion of multi-party democracy at the local and national levels while effectively stripping elections of efficacy,” he went on. “The result known in advance, elections can be held frequently. In Algeria, for instance, officials have been able, against all odds, to organize more than 12 polls during the civil strife that broke out when the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win the 1991 and subsequently cancelled legislative elections. Under electoral authoritarian regimes, elections are subject to such state manipulation as to strip them of value. Arab officials have become very sophisticated in this. Rulers devise discriminatory electoral rules, exclude opposition forces from entering the electoral arena, and restrict what passes to the public via mass media. Means may change but the ultimate goal remains the same, electoral manipulation becoming the most stable institution upholding authoritarian rule.”

Now consider what the Times editorial board had to say just six months ago about the 2022 Israeli elections (“The Ideal of Democracy in Israel Is in Jeopoardy“): “Israeli elections can be dramatic, and its five elections within four years have been full of political surprises and firsts, including the first time an independent Israeli Arab party joined a governing coalition. This series of new governments and the sometimes tumultuous process of forming them are part of Israel‘s proud tradition as a boisterous and pluralistic democracy.”

In what imaginary world do political surprises and firsts coexist with electoral authoritarianism, in which the results are always, reliably and forever preordained? In an elected autocracy, how does the opposition beat out the coalition, only to become the opposition once again, all within the space of some 20 months? 

The extreme dissonance between Israel’s thriving democracy and the New York Times’ “elected autocracy” allegation indicates that when it comes to the Jewish state, the paper’s opinion journalists are informed by longstanding anti-Israel values as opposed to expertise, research or debate.

Actual research by Freedom House, for instance, which appears to have been published this past March, ranks Israel as a free country. Its 2022 report states: “Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a multiparty system and independent institutions that guarantee political rights and civil liberties for most of the population.”

On electoral processes, Israel scored top marks, with Freedom House consistently ranking the Jewish state 4/4 for all of the relevant questions: “Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?”

“Elections are typically free and fair,” Freedom House said of Israel. “The Central Elections Committee (CEC) is responsible for ensuring the fairness of elections. It is composed of delegations representing the various political groups in the Knesset, supported by a professional staff, and chaired by a Supreme Court judge. Elections are generally conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner, and all parties usually accept the results.”

Freedom House concluded: “The conduct of the 2022 elections was generally perceived as fair and successful.”

If only The New York Times’ editorial board would perform so well.

Originally published by CAMERA.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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