Democracy and rights
Abbreviated as ISR by Abbreviationfinder, Israel prides itself on being “the only democracy of the Middle East” and it is high ceilinged to express all kinds of views. In practice, the country’s Jewish population benefits in many contexts, while minorities may find it more difficult to assert their rights. It is most troublesome for the Arabs living under Israel’s military occupation.
Israel lacks constitution but has a number of constitutionals with a strong impact (see Political system). In 2018, the Jewish character of the country was established. This has led to some criticism within the country and sharp external questions; one-fifth of the country’s population (occupied areas counted) belongs to non-Jewish minorities.
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But the country is known for its rich party flora and open debate. Arab parties are also represented in Parliament and Arabs with citizenship have the right to vote. In the parliamentary elections in March 2019, almost half of these voted – almost 15 percentage points less than in the previous election. Disappointment of how the state treats its minorities is believed to have been a reason, and calls for electoral boycotts from the Arab world may have contributed. But already in the next new elections, the same autumn, the turnout of Arabs rose. Arab small parties, like others, can increase their influence by entering into alliance alliances.
Palestinians in areas occupied by Israel are living with dual democratic barriers: they have local autonomy with a Palestinian authority that works poorly or not at all (a remnant of the failed 1990s peace process), while Israel, for its part, claims land in the areas at the same time as violating the rights of the population.
The proportion of women in politics and social life varies greatly. In the kness, a quarter of the members are women, but the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties avoid having female candidates. Among the 15 members of the Arab Party Alliance after the 2020 elections are four women, one of whom is mentioned as the first in the kness wearing Muslim headscarf.
Some laws apply to everyone in Israel and are questioned by many, such as the fact that it is not possible to give in to civil law. Homosexuals are protected by law against discrimination, but large groups in society are on religious grounds completely against LGBTQ rights. The trade union movement had a stronger influence in the past, as long as the Labor Party was state-bearing.
Property purchases are one of the areas where it is easier to be Jewish than Arab. In 2018, Israeli press reported what happened in a Galilee community when half of the highest bids in a new residential area came from Arabs: the mayor halted the continued expansion.
In recent years, Israel has been shaken by a series of corruption scandals involving both a former president and several ministers, but in international comparison, Israel has usually placed itself in an intermediate layer. The Transparency International (TI) organization, which considers it common for politicians and officials to receive bribes, ranked Israel 35 out of 180 in 2019 in its annual assessment of the degree of corruption in the world’s countries, see list here. It was a definite improvement, but so could have been prosecuted against the country’s incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the list was published.
In a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute ahead of the 2018 municipal elections, only 17 percent of the interviewees responded that they believed that there was no corruption in their place of residence. The Times of Israel newspaper noted that there had been a large number of corruption investigations against mayors (about the equivalent of municipal councils) in recent years.
Freedom of expression and media
Newspapers are published in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Russian. They cover a wide political spectrum, apply scrutiny journalism, and allow for open-ended debate. In recent years, news editions have been added such as English-language The Times of Israel and Ynet News, which publish only via the Internet.
A state-run etheric media company founded with the British BBC as a model has been replaced with a new, IPBC, also known as KAN, after a long and bitter debate. The political right had long been dissatisfied with the public service company’s reporting. In 2016, a statement by Minister of Culture Miri Regev (Likud) drew attention: “What is the point of the new company if we do not control it?” Critics who opposed the changes claimed that the government-funded channels would be deprived of their political independence.
The first advertising channels were started in 1993. The army has its own radio broadcasts.
Military censorship is applied, which can prevent mass media from reporting sensitive efforts. The censorship agency rarely gives publicity to its work, but it does happen: In November 2018, censors urged citizens not to disclose information about an event in Gaza when a soldier was killed by an elite force (see Calendar).
Human rights organizations criticize an increased tendency to also limit the freedom of the media to report on brutality directed at protesters.
Israel was ranked 88 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Ranking for 2020, see list here.
For Palestinian journalists in the Occupied Territories, the problem is twofold in the media area as well: Their work is made more difficult by both Israel and the reluctance of Palestinian rulers, who exercise self-government in Occupied Territories, to accept free media.
Judicial system and legal security
The judiciary is considered strong and capable of resisting political pressure. There are three state court systems, two of which are civil: secular courts and religious courts. Under the Ministry of Justice, the secular courts with the Supreme Court are supreme. Several special courts, including a labor court, supplement the system.
Family law decisions – such as divorces, custody and inheritance – are handled by the religious communities. The Jewish courts are subordinate to the Ministry of Religion, but their decisions can be enforced by the same authorities that enforce other judicial decisions, such as the police.
In military courts, military personnel are tried, but also Palestinians accused of security breaches. A military appeals court is usually the highest court, but if a trial permit is granted, a case can be brought to the Supreme Court.
In 1962, Israel executed Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann. The death penalty remains, and there are proposals to tighten the law to make it easier to sentence the death penalty for terrorist offenses.
There are recurring targeted murders, for example, of leaders in militant Palestinian movements, carried out by the Israeli military. In international criticism of Israel, the actions have been equated with extrajudicial executions. Ronen Bergman, historian and security reporter, has examined such actions – and the political considerations made – in the book “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations”.
Israel applies administrative detention (imprisonment without trial), a method sharply criticized by human rights organizations.
In Israeli prisons, at the end of 2019, there were at least 4,554 Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza who were jailed for security reasons, according to the B’Tselem organization, which cites information from the Prison and the Army. In addition, 484 Palestinians were jailed for staying illegally in the country. Palestinians must apply for a permit in order to travel between the occupied territories. Cogat, a unit within the Israeli Defense Ministry, is reviewing the applications. Refusal is often made even for those who are going to seek care, according to human rights organizations. In 2017, 54 sick Palestinians died while awaiting leave, states the World Health Organization (WHO).