Contained in the report attached herein is an in-depth and thorough discussion of the regime type in Israel. It was written by Attorney Eitay Mack based on the consultative opinion of Dr. Tamir Magal. Its steering team consisted of Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal, Prof. Naomi Chazan, Prof. Aeyal Gross, Dr. Maha Karkabi-Sabbah, and Prof. Orit Kedar.
In recent years, parts of the Israeli public and others around the world became of the opinion that the rule of law and the state’s democratic institutions, such as the Knesset, the courts, and the media, faced a real threat.
Zulat’s report shows that Israel has never been a model of a liberal democracy. In other words, its regime has been a hybrid of both democratic and authoritarian components, which at different periods has tilted toward one of those extremes.
The flaws in the regime and its inherent deep tensions have afflicted the State of Israel since its inception. To illustrate this, we will briefly refer to the authoritarian tendencies in the first decades of the state when the Mapai party was in power. The report shows that the democratic crisis did not begin only because of this or that prime minister but due to historical, political, social, and economic circumstances, both in the domestic and international arenas. The report’s focus on the reigns of Mapai and Likud stems from the similarity between the authoritarian tendencies of both parties and from the fact that these are periods that shaped the character of the regime.
An intensification of the authoritarian elements took place at the turn of the 21st century, during the tenures of Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert, until the elections of March 2009, when Netanyahu was re-elected prime minister. This process, which redoubled against the backdrop of the second intifada, was largely influenced by the changes in the balance of political power in Israeli society after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Thus, in parallel with the expansion of the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and rule over the Palestinian people, Israel saw the surge of delegitimization and discredit of the judiciary, the gatekeepers, the Left camp, and Israel’s Arab citizens.
The report deals extensively with Netanyahu’s second term as prime minister, during which the democratic space contracted. It affirms that, in order to entrench his and the Likud’s rule, Netanyahu took advantage of existing authoritarian elements to follow in the footsteps of Mapai and of many prime ministers who preceded him. In addition, he spearheaded radical legislative and public moves that broke the rules of the political game. Among other things, the process of diminishing the status of Basic Laws was accelerated; various steps were taken to reduce the Knesset’s powers and its ability to oversee the executive (such as reducing the government’s dependence on the approval of the state budget, increasing the use of the Economic Arrangements Law, and toughening the requirements for overthrowing the government via a no-confidence vote); efforts were launched to undermine the status and independence of the gatekeepers supposed to check and balance the executive branch (the “Rule of Clerks” campaign), undercut public confidence in the Attorney General and the judiciary, weaken the media’s independence and performance, reduce political competition by means of delegitimization, and enact legislation aimed at removing the Arab public and the Left from the political arena.
The final part of the report contains operational recommendations for dealing with authoritarianism. The report’s steering team formulated 15 proposals designed to update and reinforce existing legal provisions in order to strengthen the democratic foundations of the regime, deal with its authoritarian elements, and preempt the dangers that have grown acute in recent years. The proposed legislation will not solve all the problems of the regime in Israel, but if passed, they may help strengthen the protections of human and civil rights, facilitate the struggle to curb authoritarian tendencies, and tilt Israel’s hybrid regime in the democratic direction.