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DC think tank lists Israel as only free Mideast nation, but warns of legal shakeup

Freedom House survey of 210 countries and territories gives Israel 77 out of 100 points; says ‘democratic trajectory’ changing amid coalition plans to weaken judiciary

Source: Times of Israel

Israel is the only nation in the Middle East considered “free” in the annual freedom index published by Washington-based Freedom House, but the think tank warned that the government’s plans to radically overhaul the judicial system may harm its ranking.

Freedom in the World, now in its 50th year, evaluates the state of freedom during the previous year. Each country and territory is assigned between zero and four points on a series of 25 indicators, for an aggregate score of up to 100. The researchers take into account state as well as non-state actors, including insurgents and other armed groups, for a total of 210 countries and territories.

The scores are used to determine ratings for political rights and civil liberties. These ratings determined a country’s overall status as free, partly free, or not free.

Israel scored 77 points — 34 out of 40 in political rights and 43 out of 60 in civil liberties. The detailed scores in each category have not yet been released.

In a summary report, Freedom Index noted that Israel is the only country or territory in the Middle East ranked as “free” in 2022.

But the report added that “election results painted a grimmer picture: former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power at the head of a coalition with far-right elements, and the new government’s agenda posed a direct threat to judicial independence and other democratic principles, as well as to the basic rights of Palestinians.”

Israel is also listed in a section of the report highlighting countries that “featured important developments in 2022 that affected their democratic trajectory, and they deserve special scrutiny in 2023.”

“Israel: Elections resulted in a new government with far-right elements, and critics warned that its policy agenda could undermine judicial independence and other core elements of democracy,” the report said.

Israel’s score has fluctuated between 76-80 points out of 100 in recent years.

By contrast, the West Bank, which is listed under “territories,” scored four for freedom of political rights and 18 for its record on civil liberties. Its aggregate score was 22 and it was listed as “not free.”

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip — also categorized as not free — did worse than the West Bank both on political rights, scoring three, and civil rights, getting eight points. Its aggregate score was a lowly 11.

The Middle East remained the world’s worst-performing region in 2022, the research found.

“Popular demand for greater freedom in the Middle East continues to run up against some of the most entrenched systems of repression in the world, many of which are propped up or shielded by foreign powers — including democracies — with vested trade and security interests in the region,” Freedom House said.

A total of 35 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2022, compared with 34 that registered gains.

This marked the 17th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements, but it was the smallest margin and the smallest number of countries with declines “since the negative pattern began,” the report said.

The number of countries designated as free stood at 84 in 2022, representing 43 percent of the world’s countries. The countries deemed not free numbered 57, and 54 countries were categorized as partly free.