Israel has several institutions similar to other democracies: Elections, parliament, government and a Supreme Court. But they do not function as independent or equal branches of governments and lack transparency. There are five core reasons why Israel is not a Democracy:
First, Israel does not have a Constitution and is unable to draft one since the concept of a “Jewish State” contradicts democratic principles of pluralism, secularism and equal rights.
Second, Israel does not separate religion and government. It routinely passes religious laws on issues of family, marriage, divorce and immigration to prevent non-Jews from immigrating or to remain in the country in order to give Jews priority.
Third, Israel does not give most of the Palestinians the right to vote. It controls the West Bank and Gaza but does not recognize the Palestinians population there as citizens. The argument that they are not part of Israel does not wash any longer in light of over 50 years occupation and a massive settlement project.
Fourth, Israel does not separate between the executive and the legislative branch. All of its government ministers including the Prime Ministers are also members of the legislative branch. This dual capacity violates separation of power, a prerequisite of a functioning democracy.
Fifth, Israel does not have an independent supreme court. The controlling party (thus the prime minister) has significant influence in appointing supreme court judges.
A truly independent court is created by a Constitution not by the legislature. Without one the supreme court does not have guidance to determine the constitutionality of laws. Since the highest court was created by the legislators in Knesset, which has the power to expands and constrict its judicial scope, it is not free to pass judgment on their laws.
All of this gives the prime minister significant power. He is elected by a small segment of the population, he is not bound by a constitution, he has a decisive power in passing legislation to benefit his own political and personal agenda. He has the power to intimidate the Supreme Court and guide their decisions.
The prime minister and his coalition have major influence on all three branches of government. This results in lack of transparency and lack of accountability.
On February 14, 2018, the NY Times chronicled corruption by Prime Ministers Rabin, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu. Wikipedia has a separate page under the title “List of Israeli public officials convicted of crimes or misdemeanors” with a long list of Israeli politicians including the President, Prime Ministers, government ministers and chief rabies. Most of them for fraud bribery and breach of trust.
Israel’s lack of democracy goes beyond personal corruption by its leaders. It is manifested in its inability to make peace with the Palestinians and many of its neighbors. The lack of transparency and the prevailing system to escape scrutiny enables its leaders to use the security threat too frequently to serve their own personal interest. Many have said that in a true democracy the politicians restrain the military but in Israel it’s the other way around.