Israel’s Thin Democratic Veneer Begins to Slip

Joseph Dana
4 min readMar 8
Israeli reserve soldiers, veterans and activists protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, against the government’s planned reforms, February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Cracks are starting to appear in Israel’s robust public relations strategy. It has taken decades for the Israeli government to convince supportive governments in the West, most notably the United States, that the country was a full-fledged democracy. The apparent hurdle has been the unavoidable reality of Israel’s control of millions of Palestinians. In the face of this glaring inequality, the country has managed to market itself as the Middle East’s only democracy. This core talking point for Israel’s supporters worldwide is now at risk.

Israel’s recently elected government — the most openly right-wing in the country’s history — is pushing a proposal that would effectively remove the power of the Supreme Court. With a simple majority, the Israeli parliament could overrule the Supreme Court and set unchecked laws on everything from free speech to voting rights. The proposed law, which has passed the first of three readings in parliament, includes a provision that laws passed by the parliament are unreviewable by the Israeli court system. According to Israeli law professor Gila Stopler, the stage has been “set for the deepest and most dangerous constitutional — and even existential — crisis in Israel’s history.”

As noted above, Israel is not a full-fledged democracy because it denies millions of Palestinians under its control rights on both sides of the green line. Thus, the fever pitch around these judicial reforms is that they will affect the country’s Jewish citizens, who have full democratic rights. Even if these reforms fail to pass, Israel will remain a half-baked democracy in which rights are granted based on ethnicity and religion. If Israel passes the judicial reform, it will just erode the democratic process for a select group of its citizens.

The politicians driving this historic overhaul have long argued that the Supreme Court is an unabashedly political body hiding behind a veneer of judicial legitimacy. Over time, the Supreme Court has been one of the only government bodies that has pushed back against aspects of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. This isn’t to say that the Supreme Court has an anti-occupation bias. Instead, the court has ruled in favor of Palestinians regarding issues such as the Israeli separation barrier and other land takeovers. Perhaps more importantly…

Joseph Dana