Financial Times, Israel and “autocracy”

We do not take political positions, including on the extraordinarily contentious judicial overhaul plans of Israel’s government.  However, as our mission is to promote accurate reporting about Israel, we will continue to push back against clear distortions and factual errors within British media reports about the legislation in question.

As such, whilst most of a recent Financial Times editorial (“Israel’s alarming plans to erode judicial powers”, Feb. 23) is consistent with the concerns of a large number of Israelis about the bills championed by justice minister Yair Levin, the word used by editors highlighted in the following paragraph demands scrutiny:

The potential damage is not just constitutional. The shekel slumped to a three-year low on the back of this week’s votes. Business leaders and bankers worry about a flight of key workers and capital from a country perceived to be marching towards autocracy

The word “autocracy” refers to a system of government of a country in which one person has complete power.

The legislation in question – which, depending on the final text, would make it more difficult for Israel’s High Court to overturn Knesset legislation deemed to be at odds with the country’s Basic Laws – would, critics claim, erode the checks and balances (separate branches of government empowered to prevent the accumulation of too much power by any one single branch) on political power.

By weakening Israel’s judiciary, more power would be vested in the Knesset, or, more precisely, the coalition leaders of the government.  It would also, opponents of the legislation fear, weaken the country’s quasi-constitutionally guaranteed human rights, which are the hallmarks of liberal democracies.

But, the word “liberal” (as in the small L variety), meaning, as defined by Francis Fukuyama, “generally accepted rules that put clear limits on the way that the state can exercise power”, before the word “democracy” is important.

Both liberal and illiberal democracies share one thing in common that’s extremely important in the context of the Financial Times claim: they’re both, by definition, (electoral) democracies, in that they maintain free and fair elections.  So, Israel, if the laws being proposed are passed, would remain a democracy, and would certainly not become an autocracy.

Indeed, the Israeli organisation most active in opposing the propose changes to the judiciary, the Israel Democracy Institute, has framed what’s at stake as an erosion of Israel’s liberal democracy – not the end of the democracy itself.

Further, if you search through the site of Freedom House, the word “autocracy” (which is often synonymous with “authoritarianism”) is reserved for countries which lack meaningful elections, don’t permit media outlets critical of the government, stifle dissent and lack basic human rights protections  – countries like China, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, and Gaza.

Words have specific meanings, and we hope that the Financial Times will strive to be more precise with their terminology when contextualising the “judicial revolution” being debated in Israel’s legislature.

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  1. says: NORMAN COHEN

    Let’s be clear here the demonstrations are not against the judicial reforms as even Lapid is on record as saying they are needed. No the demonstrations are in fact what we saw in Washington on January 6th 2002 and amount to an attempt at insurrection following a fair and free election which in this case the left lost. Even if the Government announced today that it was shelving the reforms the demonstrations would continue as nothing short of regime change by fair means or foul is the object of those orchestrating the public disorder and threats of civil war.

  2. says: Sid+Levine

    FT reporters have closed eyes, deaf ears and a problem – they do NOT understand a word of Hebrew – so those staffers that feed them material give them their own take on the situation. Of course the FT editor Kahlef is no friend of Israel.
    Note should be taken about the FT’s failure to report on recent events in Lebanon and Egypt in this same fashion, if at all>

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