Protestors, dressed like women in the patriarchal dystopia of “The Handmaid’s Tale” TV series, participate in a July 25, 2023 protest in San Francisco. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Protestors, dressed like women in the patriarchal dystopia of “The Handmaid’s Tale” TV series, participate in a July 25, 2023 protest in San Francisco. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Global index cites judicial coup as it downgrades Israel from ‘liberal democracy’

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This article originally appeared on HaaretzSign up here to get Haaretz’s free Daily Brief newsletter delivered to your inbox.

As a result of the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul and repeated attacks by ministers on the country’s justice system, Israel has been downgraded from a “liberal democracy” to an “electoral democracy” by one of the world’s most important indices for assessing the nature of a country’s governmental system.

For the last 50 years, Israel has been in the highest tier of the rankings, but as of this year’s downgrade, Israel is now on an equal status with countries like Poland and Brazil.

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.

The 2024 V-Dem Democracy Report, published last week, stated, “Notably, Israel lost its long-time status as liberal democracy in 2023. It is now classified as an electoral democracy – for the first time in over 50 years. 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.”

The legislation that the report referred to, which was passed in July, sought to strip the court of the power to review the reasonableness of government decisions. Despite what the report states, it would not have “stripped the court of the power to review all laws.” This refers to a separate bill that the Netanyahu government proposed but did not pass.

In addition, it should be noted that on Jan. 1 of this year, the High Court invalidated the reasonableness law that was passed in July, leaving little left of the judicial overhaul legislation proposed by the government, although its intention to push through regulations and legislation hostile to liberal democracy remains.

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.

The V-Dem rating is based not 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 April of last year, Haaretz reported that scholars from Political Scientists for Israeli Democracy were predicting that Israel’s V-Dem rating would drop as a result of the judicial overhaul. “The V-Dem Index is probably the most serious index of the strength of a country’s democracy,” Dr. Assaf Shapira of the Israel Democracy Institute said at the time.

Michael Hauser Tov

Haaretz political reporter