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Democracy and democratic backsliding

Democracy and democratic backsliding

An academic course sponsored by the Israel Political Science Association

Is Israeli democracy under threat? And if it is not, why are many citizens worried about this possibility and go out to the street to express their protest? Is there a way to identify and indicate 'erosion' or 'democratic backsliding'? In order to answer these questions, which are at the heart of the public and political discourse in Israel, we need to first define what democracy is, and is it possible to talk about the minimum necessary to define a country as democratic? In democracy, is the main issue the 'rules of the game' such as: the rule of law, the majority decision, elections, and fair procedures, or is the main thing in democracy a political culture based on the idea that "humans are born equal and free"?

The Israeli Political Science Association offers a course called "Democracy and Democratic Backsliding""

In this course we will focus on the democratic dilemmas that are on the public agenda, such as freedom of expression, fake news, extremism, violence, populism, social movements and protest, polarization, privacy, surveillance and more. This is not a theoretical discussion relevant only to researchers in the ivory tower.

The course participants will be partners in identifying the various dilemmas and challenges facing democratic societies. We will examine how the various concepts can be measured empirically, we will identify the existing sources of information, while critically discussing the limitations that exist in the various research tools.

The course is part of a collaboration between various universities and colleges in Israel led by the Israel Political Science Association and based on a model of an international course that includes dozens of institutions and is based in the US. As part of this collaboration, the course will use a variety of interviews and online lectures by the best researchers in Israel. The purpose of the course is to understand the state of democracy in the world and in Israel and in particular to understand and evaluate arguments regarding democracy and democratic backsliding from a historical, conceptual and comparative perspective. The course will discuss the question of the phenomenon of democratic backsliding and the way it is manifested in different countries as a key to evaluating the claims regarding the backsliding or strengthening of democracy in Israel.

About the teaching staff

Prof  Uriel Abulof

 Tel-Aviv University

Uriel Abulof is an associate professor of political science at Tel-Aviv University, teaching at Cornell University. Abulof studies the politics of fear, happiness and hope, legitimation, social movements, nationalism, and ethnic conflicts. Abulof published over sixty peer-reviewed academic articles, and several books and edited volumes, including The Mortality and Morality of Nations (Cambridge University Press) and Living on the Edge: The Existential Uncertainty of Zionism (Haifa University Press). Abulof introduces “political existentialism” as novel approach in the social sciences. He directs various public projects, including Double-Edged, a Psychology Today blog, the Sapienism initiative, and the edX award-wining online course, HOPE.

Prof Gal Ariely

Ben-Gurion University

Gal Ariely is associate professor at the Department of Politics & Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His research interest is democracy and national identity

Prof. Sigal Ben-Rafael Galanti

Beit Berl College
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Prof. Sigal Ben-Rafael Galanti is a professor of political science and the president’s advisor for gender equity at Beit Berl College. She holds the Berl Katznelson Chair for the Study of the Labor Movement. She was a Fellow at Tokyo University (2001), Waseda University (2005), and Krakow Pedagogic University (2014). She Chaired the Israeli Association for Japanese Studies. She specializes in democratization, and Japanese and Israeli politics. Lately her research interests are de-democratization processes and populism.


Her recent publications include  ‘The Israeli National Camp’s Political Rhetoric of Debasement as a New Nationalist Populist’ (in Political Debasement, 2023); (2020) ‘Innovations in Israel’s Civics Textbooks: Enlightening Trends in Non-Western Democracies’ Israel Studies Review, 35(3), 52-71; Visions of Democracy and Peace in Occupied Japan (2020); Japan’s Multilayered Democracy (2015, edited with Nissim Otmazgin and Alon Levkowitz); ‘The Post-Crisis Kibbutz and Its Relations with the Political Arena’ (in The Metamorphosis of the Kibbutz, 2020). E-mail:

Prof. Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler

Reichman University

Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler is an Associate Professor at ​the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, Reichman University. Her work focuses on the processes underpinning political extremism and violence, with a particular emphasis on Israel. Using quantitative methods along with large-N analysis, she aim to elucidate the socio-political motivations behind political extremism and the conditions under which political extremism poses threats to democracies.


Her research has appeared or is forthcoming in, Journal of Peace Research, British Journal of Political Science, European Journal of Political Research, Foreign Affairs, Comparative Politics, Political Psychology, Electoral Studies, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Terrorism and Political Violence, and other outlets. Her book "The Israeli Settler Movement: Assessing and Explaining Social Movement Success," co-authored with Prof. Cas Mudde, was published with Cambridge University Press in 2021.

Dr Nurit Hashimshony-Yaffe

Academic College of Tel Aviv Yaffo

Dr Nurit Hashimshony-Yaffe is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Government and Society at the Academic College of Tel Aviv Yaffo, where she also serves as Head of the Department of Political Science. Nurit holds a PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she took her first steps in field research in Africa (Nigerian Civil Society under Military Regime). Her research interests are sustainability and politics; renewable energy industries in marginalised areas, centre-periphery relations (Kenya),  Covid- 19 social effects in Drylands areas, and sustainable financing.

She was part of COST Action and participated in several European projects and in a worldwide research group   “Socialities and Mobilities “dealing with COVID-19 effects in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East ( coordinated by Bayreuth University). Her research “Impact Economic Models in Israeli Higher Education”  was funded by the Rothschild Foundation ( 2022).

Prof. Osnat Akirav

Western Galilee College
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Professor Osnat Akirav is an associate professor in Political Science at the Western Galilee College, Israel. The head of the Galilee research institute (which she was one of the establishers) at the Western Galilee College. She holds a PhD from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and postdoc from UCSD. In 2016 she was a visiting scholar at Stanford university. Her specialization is in legislative studies, setting the agenda, candidate selection methods, local government, gender and politics, minorities and politics, research methods and Israeli political system. She has many publications on the representative behavior in local government and in parliaments. She served 10 years as local council representative.


Prof. Akirav has won several competitive research grants and research awards including ISF and GIF. In 2010 and in 2015 she received a prize for outstanding teaching in political science from the American Political Science Association and in 2012 she received Edmond Safra award for outstanding achievement and excellence. In 2012 and 2016 she received a prize for best article from the Israeli Political Science Association. In 2015, 2018-2022 she received a prize for excellent researcher from the Western Galilee College. Since 2019 she serves as the vice president of the Israel Political Science Association (ISPSA). And, in 2020 she was nominated to the Western Galilee College president' advisor for gender fairness.


Since 2008, Akirav is a voluntary academic advisor and lecturer at WePower – a non-profit, non-partisan Israeli NGO. In March 2018 she delivered a speech about "Women’s Political Participation" at the annual conference organized by the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) of the United Nation in New York city. In 2022 she received the New Pioneers award from the Union Sefaradi Mundial for her contribution to the Israeli society.

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