Is Israeli Democracy Really Collapsing?

Article Summary
Israel has scored very low in several ''democracy ratings'' recently, writes Ben-Dror Yemini, mostly because of its legal reaction against the leaking of confidential documents. But is it misleading to judge a country at war with western-world criteria?

The outcry about the "collapse of democracy" has become a routine ritual. A recent New York Times editorial voices deep concern over Israel's fragile democracy  following the withdrawal of Kadima [center party] from the coalition on July 17. And it isn't only the outcry. Israel is not ranking too high when evaluated on the measures of democracy and freedom of speech. Thus, for instance, "Reporters Without Borders," a French-based international NGO that advocates freedom of the press and freedom of information, has lowered Israel's ranking on its press freedom index to the 92nd position, after Kuwait, Mauritania and Mozambique.

This is obviously a joke. Israel's ranking on the organization's press freedom index has been lowered, among other things, due to the treatment accorded by the State of Israel to Anat Kam [the Israeli soldier convicted of stealing and leaking thousands of classified Israel Defense Forces (IDF) documents and sentenced to four and a half years in prison]. However, the authors of the New York Times editorial should be reminded, for instance, of the case of Bradley Manning, a United States Army soldier accused of leaking [classified material] to WikiLeaks, who has been imprisoned for two years now and is still awaiting his verdict. He is standing trial before a military tribunal and can only dream of a sentence similar to that Kam received. And another case in point, this one too taking place in the United States: Pulitzer Prize winner, New York Times journalist Judith Miller spent a term [of three months] in jail for refusing to reveal her sources [in the Plame Affair, also known as the CIA leak scandal]. The United States is ranked 47th on the press freedom index.

The same holds true with reference to the measure of democracy. The Economist [the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which is an independent business within The Economist Group], for instance, has ranked Israel at the quite undignified position of 36th on its democracy index.

In this case, various motions for bills, for the large part inane and uncalled-for and only a few justified, submitted by right-wing Israeli parliament members, have provoked the high-pitched campaign deploring the "collapse of democracy," although most of them did not even reach first reading.

The top positions on the democracy and press freedom indices have been landed by countries like Finland, Iceland and Norway, which are not facing any existential threat and do not have to cope with a propaganda mechanism that uses the ideal of freedom of speech to promote a crusade aimed at negating the very right of existence of the state. Given the circumstances under which Israel has to operate, all these rankings are the end product of that same misleading propaganda mechanism, rather than true manifestations of any real undermining of democracy.

Found in: united states, iran

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