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The ruling coalition in Israel's parliament is planning to change some laws related to its judicial system (see 2023 Israeli judicial reform for details). In major Israeli media outlets, this change is termed a "coup". For example:

The term "coup" is very strong, and brings to mind a forceful military change of government, whereas in fact there is nothing forceful or military in the reform - it is just a sequence of changes of the law, that are discussed and voted legally in the parliament.

My question: are there other instances, in other countries, of major media outlets using the term "coup" for a reform performed legally in the parliament?

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  • This looks like politically-motivated sophistry rather than a legitimate question. You can guarantee at some point somewhere in the world somebody in the media has said any conceivable combination of words. Especially in recent years when pretty much everything is a fascist or a coup or war or racist or nihilistic or evil. But it doesn't prove whether what happened in Israel is a coup or not.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 17:19
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    He's not calling it a coup, he's saying the newspapers are.
    – C'est Moi
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 17:40
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    The headline question appears to be answered in the affirmative by the body text of the question. I'm not sure that the body text question really asks the intended question either, which is really something along the lines of "Is it fair and proper to call these circumstances a coup?"
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 21:36

2 Answers 2

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DW, 2015

A silent coup in Poland?

[...]

But the decision of what is just and what is unjust will rest in new hands.

Only a few days after the swearing-in of the new Sejm - the lower house of the Polish parliament - the ruling PiS party pushed through both houses of parliament an amendment that would vindicate the president's legal maneuvering.

Representatives and senators of the PiS voted in an nighttime session to appoint replacements for five recently nominated constitutional judges.


Fairly cited academic article, doesn't use coup in title, but highlights that one person's "[constitutional] revolution through the ballot box" is another's "constitutional coup". Particularly when among the measures the constitutional court is [allegedly] packed and its old rulings [thus] undone.

De-democratization in Hungary: diffusely defective democracy

[...]

Never in the history of the European Union has an election in a member state resulted in political, legal, economic and administrative changes of this magnitude in such a short period.” For Orbán, this was a “revolution through the ballot box” while for others it amounted to a “constitutional coup d’état”. Freedom House continues to classify Hungary as a free country, but only barely. Between 2010 and 2016, Hungary deteriorated from the perfect score on political rights and civil liberties to the threshold of a partially free country. Hungary is in the top ten of countries where freedom has declined most in the past ten years, ranking between Venezuela and Nicaragua. [...]

The Constitutional Court, once one of the most independent and active in the region, has been packed by the government and stripped of many of its powers. To undo previous rulings against the Fidesz government, these were included in the new constitution itself. Jurisprudence based on the old constitution is no longer valid. By consequence, the Constitutional Court has stopped being an effective check on government.


https://merip.org/2018/12/turkeys-constitutional-coup/

Turkey’s Constitutional Coup

[...] the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) put in place a set of constitutional amendments that effectively repealed the democratic character of the republic. And they accomplished this constitutional coup in the name of saving democracy. [...]

In retrospect, however, it was the AKP that regretted the judicial restructuring of 2010. Having strengthened the autonomy of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HCJP) and limited the role of the executive in appointments, the government found itself blindsided in December 2013 by a criminal probe into cabinet ministers and their relatives on corruption charges being investigated by the very judges and prosecutors that were ushered in following the amendments.

Treating the investigation as an attempted judicial coup, and declaring that the judiciary had been infiltrated by its opponents from the Gülen movement, the government immediately introduced legislative changes to limit the powers of the Council while simultaneously removing or transferring hundreds of judges and prosecutors, replacing them with more reliable pro-government appointees. This legislation was manifestly unconstitutional and was eventually invalidated by the Constitutional Court, but since such rulings do not have retroactive effect the individuals reassigned or removed were not restored to their positions. Further legislative changes followed, not only reversing the gains in judicial autonomy from the 2010 amendment package, but politicizing judicial elections to the point of abrogating the independence of the judiciary altogether.

Almost everything [political] is a coup in Turkey :-0 I mean note the nice double meaning of "judicial coup" here.


While it's not uncommon to finds that [qualified] coup term in academic analyses (like the previous two quotes) or in opinion pieces in Western newspapers, I wasn't able to find much of an example of it being used so loosely by Reuters or AP in their news reporting. I suspect the reason is that AP's style book blog considers it improper in such a setting, given that they quote a stricter definition

a sudden, organized seizure of political power or an attempt by a faction or group to seize political power suddenly outside of the law.

Emphasis mine. Albeit that post relates to the US Capitol events in 2021; it doesn't explicitly touch on "constitutional coups".

OTOH Reuters did use "constitutional coup" quoted in a headline (relating to Nepal), when one of the actors involved used it. The Times of Israel coverage you've linked to is similar in that regard, i.e. "regime coup" is in quotes in the headline, and it's clearly attributed.

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    Note that in all your examples news outlets in one country call what happens in another country a coup. In OPs example Israeli news outlets call the actions of their own government a coup. I would assume these kind of situations are a lot more rare.
    – quarague
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 9:08
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    @quarague The political situation in Israel is... complicated. For these purposes, suffice to say that the government and the media are not aligned on several major issues. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 13:44
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    @quarague Selection bias. Israeli opposition media publishes in English due to the country's ties with American Jewish communities and immigration. The Hungarian, Polish, and Turkish opposition publishes in their native languages so the content is harder to access for those who don't speak those languages. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 10:45
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For reference, there is a dramatic change of power towards authoritarian rule in the Israeli reform proposal under discussion. You state that “there is nothing forceful or military in the reform”, but there are two separate things to look at. One thing is the change itself (the content of the laws), the other is the implementation of the change (which has been nonviolent so far).

Even if the reform is passed non-violently its content could spell a passage from democracy to authocracy. For reference see the Acerbo Law in Italy and dozens of similar moves.

Now referring to a sweeping constitutional change as a “coup” has to be seen in context to the fact that you cite national media, not scholarly works, and with reference to the lexicon of Israeli politics.

As for the first point there is some language barrier in looking at national newspapers of other countries, but I was able to find very rapidly some Polish media calling 2015-2016 events “a coup” (pucz), and my guess is that some more research would easily find results in Hungarian, or Turkish media.

As for the second point the word “coup” has been already used by supporters of the current Israeli PM to refer to his trial and to possible changes of leadership inside his party. So the word has been already diluted to easily encompass a broader meaning than “forceful military change of government”.

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  • Comparing the Israeli judicial reform (political majority elects judges, supreme court's ability to nulify laws is impaired) to the Acerbo Law in fascist Italy (biggest party, even 25% of votes, gets 2/3 seats in the parliament), is somewhere between imcomprehensible ignorance, radical leftism and maybe antisemitism.
    – Jacob3
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 19:56

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