Tunisia is the Middle East’s greatest success story, according to the findings of the V-Dem Annual Democracy Report 2019.

One of the world’s most regarded annual reports on democracy and good governance, the V-Dem Report is produced by the V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

While Tunisians can be proud of the prospect of democracy in their country, Israelis have little to be proud of. A country that has long prided itself, however misleadingly, of being ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’, has lost the title to Tunisia, a small North-African Arab nation of just over 11 million people.

Understandably, Tunisians might find their overall ranking ahead of well-established democracies less meaningful, considering that the politically unstable country is still undergoing a painful democratic transition. However, considering that the country has registered a sizable improvement in every democratic aspect examined by the V-Dem Report, Tunisia truly deserves the title of “the star pupil of democratization of the past ten years.”

Israel, however, has been, once more, exposed for its charade democracy. Since it was established atop the ruins of the Palestinian homeland, Israel has relentlessly touted its democratic virtues while excluding millions of Palestinian Arabs from any form of democratic participation.

There are 5 million  Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Not only are they denied the right to exercise any form of real democracy, they are also denied their very freedom of speech, expression, and movement.

Meanwhile, 2 million Palestinian Arabs, who are citizens of Israel, are treated as second or third-class citizens, subjected to numerous discriminatory laws that aim at curtailing their political, cultural, and economic aspirations and rights.

In fact, the institutional racism and fear-mongering against Arab minorities in Israel has been the rallying cry among most of Israel’s political parties, whether of the right, center or left. No wonder, then, that Israel has recently received its worst rating ever in the Freedom House’s ‘Freedom in the World 2020’ Report.

According to the report, Israel was classified among the world’s 25 “declining democracies”, which, unsurprisingly, include the United States as well.

In its report, Freedom House had many harsh words for right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, described as “at the vanguard of nationalistic and chauvinistic populism.”

“Netanyahu has taken increasingly drastic steps to maintain the loyalty of far-right groups, entrenching and expanding West Bank settlements at the expense of the moribund Palestinian peace process, banning foreign activists based on their opposition to such policies, and enacting a discriminatory law that reserved the right of self-determination in Israel to the Jewish people,” the report stated.

This partly explains the significant drop in Israel’s score of six points in the democracy index since 2009, seen by Freedom House as “an unusually large decline for an established democracy”.

Here, one is left to ponder why the belated acknowledgment in Israel’s undemocratic credentials, despite the fact that Israel would have scored poorly in all indexes of democratic standards at any point in the past.

Certainly, Netanyahu has managed to decimate any Israeli claim to true democracy, thanks to his government’s assault on civil liberties and freedoms even within Israel’s Jewish constituencies. But was it fair that Israel was still classified as a ‘liberal democracy’ when millions of Palestinian Arabs and other minority groups were the main and perhaps only victims of Israel’s institutional racism and discrimination?

In other words, it seems that Israel began losing its democratic accolades when Netanyahu dared upset the socio-political equilibrium among Israel’s Jewish, not Arab population.

Be that as it may, the jig is up. If the Freedom House report was not clear enough regarding Israel’s failed democracy, the V-Dem Report is more damning and detailed.

According to the Swedish report’s ‘Political Corruption Index’, Israel is the 35th most politically corrupt country, followed immediately by Botswana in Southern Africa. Interestingly, the United Arab Emirates is six spots ahead of Israel in that category, and one spot ahead of the United States.

If that score was not bad enough, it was actually Israel’s best performance in all other indexes: Israel occupied the 51st spot on the ‘Liberal Democracy Index’, 53rd in the ‘Egalitarian Component Index’, 55th in the ‘Electoral Democracy Index’, 57th in the ‘Liberal Component Index’ and 76th in the ‘Deliberative Component Index’. It gets worse.

Particularly revealing is Israel’s score in the ‘Participatory Component Index’, where Israel claimed the 80th position, lagging behind Congo, Zambia, Somaliland and Myanmar – the latter being the focal point of international attention over its massacres and ethnic cleansing campaigns of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the Southeast Asian country.

This is not in the least surprising as Israel has long perceived its Palestinian Arab population, in fact all Palestinians, as a ‘demographic bomb’, whose diffusion can only happen through exclusion, marginalization or outright ethnic cleansing.

The Nation-State Law of 2018 was not an innocent attempt of a country eager to define itself (oddly enough, seven decades after its founding), but a deliberate attempt at laying the legal ground for a prolonged system of apartheid.

Netanyahu has summed up this sentiment perfectly when he exclaimed, prior to the March 2015 general elections that “the right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”

In Netanyahu’s mind, in fact, by the calculation of mainstream Israeli politicians, the participation of Arabs in the democratic process is a threat that must be eliminated, exactly as their increasing numbers are also a demographic threat that has to be thwarted at any cost.

In truth, neither the Freedom House nor the V-Dem Institute are conveying new information regarding Israel’s democratic status. Israel never deserved the badge of democracy, which it used to rationalize all of its wars, sieges, and mistreatment of Palestinians, in the first place.

Now, even that false pretense of democracy is lost, likely forever. According to the very democracy standards created by Western institutions, Tunisia is now the only democracy in the Middle East.

More important than badges and titles, however, is the fact that Israel should now be exposed for its crimes against Palestinians without such long-overdue criticism having to be filtered through Israel’s false democracy discourse.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net


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