Often, the leaderships of Turkey and Israel are compared to those of Europe. Prior to introducing the topic, the question itself begs two other important questions that will set the context of this essay. First, what do the terms “leadership” and “democracy” imply? In democratic systems, the idea of the executive is so intertwined with the overall system of governance that one is unable to differentiate between the two. Second, one must question what we mean by “Europe”. Democratic leadership variation, while existing among all states part of the European continent, is particularly pronounced between members and non-members of the EU.
If we are to compare the governments of Turkey and Israel to those of the liberal democracies of the EU, they fall short in several respects. This essay will demonstrate that these shortcomings are primarily the result of the ubiquitous exclusion of minorities from the political realm. Furthermore, specific to Israel is the lack of reconcilement of the ethnic Jewish state and the western liberal constitution. Specific to Turkey is the intervention by military leaders in politics to restore the secular Ataturkian ideal. In comparison to non-EU member states, this essay will show that, in some respects, Israel and Turkey have better-developed democratic systems.
The concept of leadership in a democracy is intertwined with all aspects of government. Aspects of leadership cannot be fully compared unless systems of governance themselves are compared. To qualify this statement, I will present a three-tiered conceptual definition to build up the idea of democracy, providing points of comparison between EU member states, Israel and Turkey, and EU non-member states. At an initial level, I will first explain the role of the electorate in democracy. At a secondary level, I will present the idea of a parliamentary system. Finally, at a tertiary level, I will explain the concept of liberal democracy.
At its most basic level, democracy is a political system for establishing leadership through free and fair elections. In the prevailing definition, representative democracy bestows the responsibilities of leadership on the candidate who wins a majority of the electorate’s votes. Inherently, voting rights are extended to all citizens of eligible age. As will later be put forth, Israel and Turkey exclude significant portions of their citizenry from the political process. Thus, leadership in those countries cannot be discussed without highlighting this fact.
In parliamentary and senate democracies present in all EU member states, Turkey and Israel, leadership is divided into two levels incorporating a system of checks and balances. A parliamentary democracy is one where popularly elected parliamentary representatives appoint executive leadership. Leadership is subject to the constraints of an elected legislative body. In a senate democracy, the electorate selects the executive, who also remains subject to the constraints of elected representatives. Additionally, elected representatives in both systems have their own legislative power, subject to constraints of executive leadership. Therefore, in such a system, leadership is divided between an executive and popularly elected representatives, each with degrees of law-making power subject to the other’s approval. Thus, again, comparison of executive rule alone, and not the entire political process, would exclude an entire level of leadership.
Finally, in a liberal democracy, leadership at both the executive and representative levels is subject to the rule of law. A constitution, as is present in Turkey, Israel and all EU states, establishes constraints on the degree to which the will of the majority can be exercised at the expense of minority rights. The nature of constitutional liberal democracy does not allow for the separation of leadership from government itself. Comparing leadership alone would ignore this fact.
Having established definitions for democracy and areas of comparison between countries, the statement “democracies in Europe” must be questioned. The question implies that leadership in all democracies in Europe is essentially the same. Empirical research abounds to prove the contrary. European democracies vary in a great number of ways. Within the EU, compound polities such as Germany, Spain, Belgium and Italy and simple polities like Britain, France and Greece can be differentiated on an authority diffusion basis (Schmidt 2004). More important to the context of this essay, is that political competition, leadership constraints and minority rights vary to a great deal between EU member and non-member states. EU member states generally provide good examples of the classical democratic definitions previously provided. Political comparison to EU member states, thus, can be taken as a proxy for comparison to the ideal definitions of representative, parliamentary and liberal democratic systems. Most EU non-member states in Europe can be said have been under totalitarian communist rule, and either remain under authoritarian rule or are imperfectly functioning democracies. Unsurprisingly, the distribution of these states has a strong geographical bias towards Eastern Europe. While there are formerly communist countries now part of the EU, the political prerequisites for membership impose a certain degree of democratic uniformity. Therefore, such Eastern European states that have become members of the EU also significantly differ in political processes from those that have not. Then, the use of the term “Europe” for comparison is unwarranted. This essay will compare Turkey and Israel’s democratic leaderships to EU member states and EU non-member states separately.
Prior to making comparisons, the democratic characteristics of Turkey and Israel must be elaborated in light of the definitions that were previously made. Subsequent comparisons to EU-member states will qualify the usage of the adjective “imperfect”. Turkey can be said to imperfectly adhere to prior representative, parliamentary, and liberal definitions. Universal suffrage was established in 1933 for individuals at least 18 years of age. 550 members of the unicameral National Grand Assembly are elected to four-year terms, and have the constitutional authority to elect a prime minister through a vote of confidence. The largely ceremonial head of state is also appointed by the parliament. Executive power rests with the prime minister, while legislate power is exercised by the National Grand Assembly.
According to our definitions, Israel can also be referred to as an imperfect example of a representative, parliamentary, liberal democracy. While no explicit constitution exists, the Basic Laws of Israel serve as a proxy. Membership to the 120-member unicameral parliament, the Knesset, is determined every four years by elections. Universal suffrage is, in theory, the right of all citizens. The parliament elects a member supported by a majority to exercise executive power as the Prime Minister. As is the case in Turkey, the elected president is largely a ceremonial role.
In some ways, Israel and Turkey’s democratic leadership can be thought of as similar to that of the EU member states. Representative, parliamentary, and liberal systems all exist to degrees. However, in comparison to EU states, Turkey and Israel’s democracies have substantial shortcomings in the areas of full electorate participation and minority rights protection. Additionally, the military in Turkey has had a historical habit of intervening in politics at the expense of the democratic establishment. Turkey’s democratic shortcomings are, among a host of other issues, used to support the argument that it should not become a member of the European Union.
In Western European democracies, citizenship is the only prerequisite for full participation within the social and political framework of the state. The granting of equal opportunity to all citizens is the underlying principle of the system. Leadership at both the executive and representative levels is elected without the exclusion of any citizens on any basis. Israel and Turkey have both been unable to reconcile their ethno-nationalist identities with their democratic responsibilities. Both states have systematic measures excluding ethnic minorities from exercising power in the political realm. In Israel, being Jewish, above holding citizenship, is the basic requirement for the enjoyment of full membership within the system. The Arab minority in Israel, which makes up approximately 20% of the state’s population, is largely underrepresented in political leadership. Of the 120-member Israeli Knesset, only 12 members are Arab, or a representation figure of 10%. Therefore, Israeli Arabs have access to leadership benefits only to an extent of half their population figure. Moreover, the access of Arabs to political representation is also unequal. The Druze are afforded much greater privileges than other Arab groups due to their historical military intervention in support of Israeli Jews. Among the Arab leadership in the Knesset the Druze are considerably overrepresented. Majalli Wahabi of Druze descent, the current deputy speaker of the Knesset, briefly became Israel’s acting President in February 2007. No other member of non-Druze Arab descent has even held either position.
Similarly, in Turkey, exclusion of the Kurdish minorities from representation in the political leadership has been systematic and indoctrinated. Like Israel, Turkey came into being in its present form in the aftermath of the First World War. Following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, Ataturk, father of the Turkish nation, established the state on a Turkish ethno-nationalist basis. As a result, being Turkish, rather than simply being a citizen, is the yardstick measure for access to full benefits of political participation. Like the Arab minority in Israel, the Kurdish population in Turkey constitutes an estimated 20% of the total population¬¬. In the National Grand Assembly of 550, Kurdish representation numbers 24. At a rate of 4.36%, Kurds are five times underrepresented in the leadership and no Kurd has ever been a head of state. Historical armed conflicts with Kurdish populations and current military tensions with the PKK in the Kurdish autonomous region of Northern Iraq have heightened anti-Kurdish sentiment. Social attitudes serve as evidence that this precedent of underrepresentation is unlikely to change.
In their constitutions, Western European democracies set forth the rights of minorities and constrain the extent to which the will of the majority may be exercised. Checks on the power of the majority are legally binding at both representative and executive levels of leadership. Inalienable individual rights for all citizens, including minorities, are established in the constitution and cannot be denied by any majority-elected leadership. Constitution and legislation in Israel and Turkey are significantly different from Western Europe in this vein. In fact, a constitutional amendment in Israel denies the extension of equal rights to minorities. The 1985 amendment to the Knesset Basic Law designates Israel as the state of the Jewish people only, to the exclusion of all other state parties. Lists, or political parties, that do not recognize the preeminence of the Jewish people in the Israeli state risk being outlawed if they seek representation in the Knesset, the legislature of Israel. As stated by Rouhana and Ghanem, Israel “excludes ethno-national groups who do not belong to the dominant ethnic group from the national goals of the state and offers the dominant group preferential treatment anchored in the state’s legal system.”
In Turkish legislation, the recognition of distinct minority groups itself is prohibited. The Southern Kurdish minority have been historically termed “mountain Turks” in legislation. The words “Kurd” and “Kurdistan” were banned and replaced by Dagli Türkler, `mountain Kurd' and Dogu, 'the East' (Hassanpour). The use of the Kurdish language was banned in schools, official settings and non-music broadcasts through Article 26 of the 1982 Constitution. The ban was repealed in 2002 as Turkey embarked on reforms targeting future EU ascension. Therefore, granting of a distinct identity for the Kurds is blatantly non-existent and was actively suppressed by the Turkish legal and political systems.
In Western European democracy, an existential separation between military and the leadership exists. In such countries, the military exists to serve the government. This is not the case in Turkey, where military leadership has historically been as salient to politics as democratically elected leadership. Unlike Western European armed forces, the Turkish military owes allegiance to the Ataturk and his ideals for a secular democratic state in the abstract. Ataturk, himself a military officer, insisted on the development of secularism to counter, what he believed were, anti-modern strains in Islam that impeded development (Kinross 1964). Since the establishment of democracy in Turkey, the military has acted as the custodian of secularism often at the expense of democracy. Since 1960, the military has toppled four elected governments. Additionally, the threat of military involvement has lead to entrenchment of a secular ruling elite, to the exclusion of more devout, and often poorer, Muslims. The recent presidential approval of Abdullah Gul, an observant Mulsim, has once again stirred up democratic tensions in Turkey. Military disapproval without intervention in this scenario posits a potential change in precedent.
Prior to comparing Israel and Turkey to non-EU member states, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland must be excluded from the discussion. These three countries, while not part of EU, exhibit the similar democratic characteristics that EU member states do, rendering comparison redundant. Non-EU member states in Eastern Europe include Belarus, Moldova, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, Ukraine and Russia. In many ways, Turkey and Israel adhere closer to the previously established levels of democratic leadership than these states. The Russian constitution lacks the checks constitutional checks and balances on leadership and bestows the president with the power to issue decrees that subsequently become law. As a result, the Russian parliament remains relatively weak. Additionally, elections are competitive essentially only for places in parliament and President Putin has been increasingly criticized as being undemocratic. Leadership in Israel and Turkey experiences a healthy degree of leadership turnover, and as the rise of the Turkish conservative AKP shows, elections have seminal impact on policy. Belarus is another example of an Eastern European country that has compares unfavorably to Turkey and Israel in democratic leadership. President Lukasheko has continually tampered with the nation’s democratic process. His 1996 amendment to the 1994 constitution diminished executive constraint and afforded him the power to remove members of parliament. Parliamentary and presidential elections in 2000 and 2001 respectively have been marred by corruption and, according to human rights watch, were not free.
In conclusion, this essay compares the democratic leadership of Turkey and Israel to that of European democracies. Comparison to EU member states can serve as proxy for comparison to the given definitions of democracy themselves as EU membership prerequisites impose such a high degree of democracy. In comparison to these states, Turkey and Israel both experience shortcomings, stemming from lack of minority representation in politics and exclusion of minority rights from legislation. Therefore, this essay states that the use of the term “imperfect”, with respect to Israel and Turkey’s democracies, is warranted. There is no indication that this systematic mistreatment of minority groups will end in the foreseeable future. Additionally, the military in Turkey has historically maintained a high degree of intervention in civilian politics to preserve secularism at the expense of democracy. For having such democratic shortcomings, among other reasons, Turkey’s ascension to the EU is hotly contested. In comparison with Eastern European non-EU states, Turkey and Israel have democracies that more closely adhere to the definitions. While some may be argue that the examples presented are not of ‘democracies’ in the conventional sense, all the Eastern European states mentioned have embarked on democratization drives and have implemented versions of electoral representation, parliament, and liberalism. Ultimately, it is concluded that the leadership of Turkey and Israel is neither the same as EU member states nor non-member states.