Israel’s Imperfect Democracy Alive & Vibrant: Countering The New York Times’ ‘Demise’ Misdiagnosis

The New York Times in a November 16 piece titled, US Allies Drive Much of World’s Democratic Decline, Data Shows, noted that “in that form of government, elected leaders behave more like strongmen and political institutions are eroded, but personal rights mostly remain (except, often, for minorities). US allies often led this trend. Turkey, Hungary, Israel and the Philippines are all examples.”

By repeatedly suggesting that Israel’s days as a democracy are numbered, The New York Times is ignoring clear evidence to the contrary. Moreover, by depicting the Jewish state in such a manner, the publication is adding fuel to incessant efforts by anti-Israel groups and “activists” to isolate and stigmatize the only functional democracy in the Middle East.

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Once an Accident, Twice a Coincidence, Three Times a Pattern

US Allies Drive Much of World’s Democratic Decline, Data Shows is the latest in a series of NYT items that have mischaracterized Israeli democracy, and by extension Israeli society:

Research has shown that while eight out of 10 people will scan a headline, only two out of those eight will read the remainder of the text.

Accordingly, the vast majority of NYT readers are likely to have come away believing that Israel is a sinking ship simply due to the misleading nature of the above-mentioned titles.

Indeed, The New York Times is regarded by many as the “newspaper of record.” The paper claims its digital platforms are the top destination for “opinion leaders” and, overall, reach more than 164 million people. Meanwhile, nearly 60 percent of the outlet’s US audience is apparently made up of impressionable Gen Z and Millennial readers.

As such, when the NYT grossly oversimplifies the complex, nuanced workings of Israel’s democratic system with problematic headlines, millions of people around the world are having the wool pulled over their eyes.

Fact-checking Israeli Democracy

Beyond clickbait headlines, there are the facts.

For example, Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2020: The Annual Survey of Political Rights & Civil Liberties report gave Israel 13 out of 16 points for “political pluralism and participation,” and a perfect score for “electoral process.” On the questions of whether “current national legislative representatives were elected through free and fair elections,” and are “people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means,” Israel again received top marks.

In addition, a study by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance of OECD countries that held elections from 2015 to 2020 is revealing. It found that turnout for the voting age population in Israel averaged 77.9 percent, outpacing established democracies like New Zealand and the United States.

Related Reading: Democracy in Action – Your Guide to the 2021 Elections

In fact, Israel’s democratic system, while imperfect as is the case everywhere else, is older than those of half of the democracies in the world. In a region characterized by authoritarian regimes, the persistence of Israel’s vibrant democratic experiment is noteworthy.

In Israel, this is perhaps most evident by the frequency in which elections are held. A report by the Israel Democracy Institute found that since 1996, the Jewish state has had elections every 2.3 years, a shorter period of time than the 20 other democracies it examined.

NYT Needs a New Spell Checker: It’s ‘Diversity’, Not ‘Demise’

Granted, some have chalked this up to political dysfunction. And it is true that between April 2019 and March 2020 Israel held three national elections that resulted in two stalemates and one short-lived “unity” government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. But the March 2021 vote appears to have ended the gridlock in Jerusalem, with Naftali Bennett having replaced Netanyahu after the latter helmed the country for 12 years.

At no point did Israelis turn on democracy. Neither was there a grab for power by a strongman or a military coup. Rather, citizens continued to exercise their right to vote until stability was achieved

The result: Bennett’s governing coalition is probably Israel’s most diverse ever, comprised of parties from the left and right of the political spectrum.

Ra’am became the first Arab party to join an Israeli government in half a century.

The cabinet is also the most unique in Israel’s history, with nine female ministers, two Arab ministers, two openly gay ministers and a minister with disabilities.

Related Reading: How Stable Is Israeli Democracy?

So, to paraphrase Mark Twain, talk of the downfall of Israeli democracy has been greatly exaggerated by The New York Times.

In reality, the political process over the past two-plus years should have confirmed once and for all that Israel remains open and free.

“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise,” Winston Churchill famously noted. “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

There will be ups and downs as there are in every democracy, but it is still the system of governance that offers individuals the most freedom and opportunity to prosper.

And it continues to be alive and well in Israel.

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