The country of Israel is located in the Middle East surrounded by countries such as Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan to the east and southeast, Egypt to the southwest and the Mediterranean Sea all along the western coast. Jerusalem is the proclaimed capital of this country and it is one of the only proclaimed Jewish nations in the world. During the World War II, many Jews fled to what was known as the area of Palestine which in turn, resulted in tensions to arise between the Jewish and the Arab Palestinians because the Jewish formed a large group known as Zionists (Israel, 2019). When the Zionist group was created, many Arabs resisted this party and when the United Nations attempted to declare Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state, the Arabs declined. In May of 1948, Israel was officially declared an independent state with David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, as the prime minister, which resulted in many wars to follow between the Jewish and Arab-Palestinian nations. The prime minister is the head of power in the nation is Israel, along with a parliamentary system including numerous political parties to form the lawmaking system of the ‘Knesset’ who elects a president to appoint certain key national officials (‘Government: Constitutional Framework’, 2019). Israel proclaims itself as a democracy, but recently, the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has supposedly slowly changed this country into a dictatorship.
There are multiple ways that people can conceptualize democracy and because of this, there are different ways to define a democracy. The ideal democracy should be a government that demonstrates the qualities of being representative, inclusive, accountable etc. One definition is known as Dahls’ Polyarchy and it must fulfill standards such as formulating preferences, signify those preferences and have preferences weighted equally. From these preferences, a dimensional scale was developed to measure democracy based on contestation and participation which are independent of one another (Dahl). These values are subjective, and Dahl believed “no large system in the real world is fully democratized” because of outside circumstances in different countries (Dahl, 8). Another way to define democracy is from Przeworski, which must require these four standards: an elected president and legislature, more than one party running and at least one alternation in power. Przeworski states: “Democracy is a regime in which those who govern are selected through contested elections. This definition has two parts: ‘government’ and ‘contestation’” (Przeworski, 15). He believed that a government can either be only a democracy or non-democracy, not in between. While Pzerworski and Dahl each have different definitions, they both rely on participation and contestation within an ideal government.
Democracies, as stated above, are conceptualized and defined in different ways, but there are also ways to measure democracy with just numbers to better understand the government of that country. Freedom House Index and Polity IV are both very common websites that provide statistics on how democracy is measured in a country. Polity IV and Freedom House Index are ways to measure the regime type based on different types, of contestation and participation. Polity IV measurements are obtained by examining the country’s competitive and public nature of the election process. Furthermore, the constraints and roles placed upon the head executive are examined as well as the regulation of political involvement. A Polity Score is created from subtracting autocracy rating from democracy rating. If the Polity Score falls between six and ten, the country is a democracy. It is a mixed regime if it scores between negative 5 and positive five, and a dictatorship if it scores between negative six and negative ten ('INSCR Data Page', 2019). Freedom House Index measures democracy by conducting yearly evaluations of countries. These evaluations focus on political and civil rights and consequently assigns these two categories a score. This score then labels a country either free, partly free, or not free.
Israel has held a Polity IV score of 6 since 1980 and a Freedom House score of 78 as of 2019, which both indicate that this country is a democracy (‘INSCR and Freedom House’, 2019). Although Israel allows participation from all citizens, including inmates, these elections discriminate against Arab Palestinians (‘Prisoners of the Election’, 2019). According to a recent election on April 9th 2019, the state of Israeli government “...treats Palestinians with similar policies of discrimination and dispossession, including home demolitions, confiscation of Palestinian land and police brutality — regardless of whether we are citizens…”, so although the scores from Polity IV and Freedom House indicate Israel to be democracy, there is a lot of discrimination happening (‘No Matter How Many Palestinians Vote, We Still Can’t Win', 2019). According to Dahl’s definition, there needs to be an equal amount of contestation and participation, but because of the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s racist rhetoric and bigotry against Arabs, these citizens’ votes are illegally not accounted for. Based on Dahl’s scale, this country would most likely be placed in the middle of the dimensional graph somewhere between contestation and participation, but if Israel were based on Przeworski’s scale, it would be a democracy because of his binary definition that he has come up with to fit the exact standards of how a government should be led.
Israel’s population is made up of 21% Arabs, which is 1,907,000 people that are discriminated against when the election takes place because of the Jewish Nation-State Law which is “a bill that enshrines Jewish superiority by claiming that only Jewish people have a right to self-determination in Israel and the Palestinian territories” (‘No Matter How Many Palestinians Vote, We Still Can’t Win,' 2019; ‘Diversity & Growth’, 2019). These elections result in Netanyahu to continue his reign as prime minister, where he previously took on the role from 1996 to 1999 and from 2009-current, but he has been part of the Israeli government since 1988 as a member of the Knesset. Since Netanyahu has been in office for so long and does not follow the normal elections of the citizens, it violates Scheduler’s definition of democracy because, “Netanyahu violates democratic norms”. Israel is a complicated case because of the two very diverse cultures who cannot make peace because of the history that they have.
I believe using the standards put forth by Polity IV, Freedom House, Dahl and Przeworski to measure democracy are ideal ways to come to the conclusion that Israel is a democracy, but it depends on if you are looking at it from a Jewish or Arab Palestinian point of view. From the Jewish point of view, these citizens are treated fairly and live in an environment where they can safely express their views and practices. For Arabs, they see the Israeli government as a dictatorship because of how long the current prime minister has been involved in running the country and discriminating against the Arab people. The Arab Palestinians show up in masses to vote for the candidate they feel fit, and although there are a great number of people that seem to be voting, the same leadership takes precedents. The Jewish citizens, however, vote just as much and seem to support the reign that Benjamin Netanyahu has because they believe that they own the land much more than the Arab Palestinians. The tension between these two cultures has been ongoing for a long time and play a huge role when trying to come to an agreement on land, government officials, religion etc. However, I also believe these measures are not necessarily reliable in that Polity IV and Freedom House are subjective because they create their own standards and scoring system. Israel has been under the same type of government party for many years, and as long as Netanyahu is in power, it doesn’t look like things will be changing for the Jewish or Arab Palestinians anytime soon.
- Dahl, Robert A. POLYARCHY: Participation and Opposition. New Haven and London, Yale University Press https://courseweb.pitt.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-26438120-dt-content-rid-47120202_2/courses/2201_UPITT_PS_0300_SEC1030/S5%20-%20Dahl%201971%20Polyarchy.pdf
- 'Diversity & Growth'. Jewish Virtual Library. Last updated: 27 September 2019. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/latest-population-statistics-for-israel (accessed 30 September 2019)
- ‘Government: Constitutional Framework’. Encyclopedia Britannica. Last updated: 2019. https://www.britannica.com/place/Israel/Government (accessed 30 September 2019)
- ‘INSCR Data Page’. Center for Systemic Peace. CSP. Last updated: 2019. http://www.systemicpeace.org/inscrdata.html (accessed 30 September 2019).
- ‘Israel’. Freedom in the World 2019. Last Updated: 2019. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/israel (accessed 30 September 2019).
- ‘Israel’. History.com. Last Updated: 14 May 2019. A&E Television Networks. https://www.history.com/topics/middle-east/history-of-israel (accessed 30 September 2019).
- ‘No Matter How Many Palestinians Vote in Israeli Elections, We Still Can’t Win’. The Washington Post. Last updated: 20 September 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/09/20/no-matter-how-many-palestinians-vote-israeli-elections-we-still-cant-win/ (accessed 30 September 2019).
- Przeworski, Adam. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990. 2000. Cambridge University Press. https://courseweb.pitt.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-26438124-dt-content-rid-47213635_2/courses/2201_UPITT_PS_0300_SEC1030/S5%20-%20Przeworski%202000%20Democracy%20and%20Development%281%29.pdf
- ‘PRISONERS OF THE ELECTION: THOUSANDS OF INMATES LINE UP TO VOTE AT FACILITIES ACROSS ISRAEL’ The Jerusalem Post. Last Updated: 17 March 2019. https://www.jpost.com/Israel-Elections/Prisoners-of-the-election-Thousands-of-inmates-line-up-to-vote-at-facilities-across-Israel-394181 (accessed 30 September 2019).