Michael Jackson

Iran, India, and Israel

What do these three countries have in common besides the first letter of their anglicized country names?  I want to look at the theocratic influence in each of these countries purely on an internal basis.  This piece does not address the direct conflict between Iran and Israel, which until recently mainly fought by and against proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis.

First, Iran.  The 1979 Iranian Revolution resulted in the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhoillah Khomenei who established an Islamic Republic. The Islamic Republic is a theocracy with power in the hands of the Council of Clerics.  When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died in 1989 the current leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took over and held the position until today.  The regime has forced many restrictions on women, particularly in the areas of dress code and Islamic law.  It has also persecuted Baluchis, Sunnis, and other minorities.  There are elections, but the theologians in the Guardian Council who control the country prohibit many candidates from running.  Iran ranks very low on all the international rankings of democracies.  After discussing India and Israel, I list the relative rankings of these three countries.

Second, India.  Narendra Modi’s party, the BJP, has been in power for ten years.  During that time it has increasingly pushed a form of Hindu nationalism whose intention is to assert that India is a Hindu society.   The government has changed the status of the predominantly Muslim state of Kashmir.  It has sponsored the building of a temple to Ram on the site of the destroyed mosque at Ayodhya.  It has overlooked discrimination, persecution, and violence directed at Muslims.  The RSS, a volunteer paramilitary organization, aligned to the BJP has instituted violence against Muslims and Christians.  The secular values of India’s founders are being severely compromised. The major difference with Iran is that the government leaders are ethnic religious nationalists, not theologians.  India has free elections but most of the 80% Hindu majority seems quite willing to vote for the BJP and for its anti-democratic policies.  Because of its elections and democratic institutions, India stands much higher in the democratic rankings than Iran.

Lastly, Israel.  Many aspects of Israel differ significantly from all other developed democracies.  There is no civil marriage.  Ben-Gvir, a senior minister, supports the rebuilding of the Temple on the site of Muslim holy places.   The exemption of many ultra-Orthodox young men from the army is a life-and-death issue, especially in times of war when so many secular young men are being killed. Before October 7th, Netanyahu’s government was diverting even more money towards the ultra-Orthodox community.  Israeli control of the West Bank dictates that Israeli residents, being citizens, can and do vote in Israeli elections but West Bank Arabs cannot.  The major threat to Israeli democracy before October 7th that is sure to continue is the attempt to reduce the power of the Israeli Supreme Court significantly.  The proposed reforms, if implemented, will substantially inhibit Israeli democracy and give the religious parties more power.  The democracy and freedom indices listed below show that Israeli democracy is superior to Indian democracy which in turn is superior to Iranian democracy.

The danger to Israeli democracy and freedom is that it may follow the dark path of Indian democracy.  Both India and Israel in different ways are moving in slow but sure steps towards the tragic undemocracy and unfreedom of Iran.

There are four democracy and freedom measurement surveys that I use.  They measure the variables for democracy and freedom a little differently and use different weighting systems but they are consistent in their ranking of India, Iran, and Israel.  They also have a high correlation in their scoring ranking across all the countries they measure..

These are the positions of these three countries on some widely used, standard democracy and freedom indices::

Varieties of Democracy (Sweden)  2023 ranking:   Israel 44th,  India 104th,  Iran 152nd

Freedom House (USA)                  2022 ranking:   Israel 76th,  India 87th,    Iran 173rd

The Economist Institute (UK)        2023 ranking:   Israel 30th,  India 41st,    Iran 154th

Democracy Matrix (Germany)       2020 ranking:   Israel 35th,  India 85th,    Iran 147th


About the Author
Born in London in 1949. Studied Maths at Warwick University. Came to Israel (WUJS program at Arad) in 1971. I became a citizen and served in the army in 1973. Returned to the UK in 1974. Worked in Information Systems. Married an American Orthodox woman in 1977 and moved to America. For a few years I have led a retiree philosophy class.
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