Israeli Democracy is Under Strain

Eitan Tzelgov, Lecturer in Politics, discusses the results of yet another Israeli election and their implications for the future of democracy in Israel.

Israel held its third election within since April 2019 earlier this week, and the electoral campaign was characterised by unprecedented levels of personal, negative campaigning. Blue and White–the largest party in the liberal-secular bloc—used a personal campaign against Benjamin Netanyahu (the Israeli Prime Minister who has been indicated in November 2019 for charges including breach of trust, accepting bribes and fraud). Netanyahu–Leading the nationalist-religious bloc–chose a strategy reminiscent of other right-wing, populist leaders: attacks against the mainstream media, the judiciary, and ethnic minorities.

The election results indi​cate that while Benjamin Netanyahu’s party increased its power since the last election, parties opposing him have secured a small majority in parliament. In response to this political arithmetic, Netanyahu is now using his dominance in Israeli political agenda and media to question the legitimacy of Arab Israeli Voters and political parties.

The Zionist political establishment in Israel has always had a complicated relationship with Arab citizens and the parties representing them, and these parties have never taken an active part in ruling coalitions. However, by questioning the legitimacy of Arab citizens’ votes and the role of their elected representatives in democratic institutions, Netanyahu is pushing Israel further down a slippery slope. Normalising this sort of discourse by political leaders can have long-term consequences for the quality of democracy. Unless these processes are stopped, Israel risks becoming a procedural democracy: a country in which leaders are not held to account and minorities’ views are ignored or even prosecuted.

Dr. Eitan Tzelgov is a Lecturer in Politics (Quantitative Methods) at the University of East Anglia.

Image credit: Chatham House

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