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The global focus on the threat to democracy is mostly on unrepentant, repressive regimes. That's the case in Russia, where the Kremlin crushes opposition at home and tries to abrogate it abroad. And it's seen in China's silencing of Hong Kong while it amplifies its bellicosity toward Taiwan.

But the dangers are manifest in many democracies themselves. Including in Israel and Mexico, where the crowds marching recently reflect alacrity that those countries' customs and institutions are at risk.

In Mexico, demonstrators pressed President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to maintain National Election Institute funding for fundamentals, including local election offices and officers, training to conduct elections; and sanctions for candidates who decline to report campaign spending. Many Mexicans fear that such cuts could devolve the country back to its one-party status — a specter rejected by López Obrador, who seems set on leveraging his popularity to push through the proposals.

In Israel, demonstrators pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to curb the independence of the judiciary through a series of so-called reforms, one of which would alter the composition of the committee that selects judges from an independent body to one beholden to the government, with another ending the Supreme Court's check on bills passed by the Knesset (Israel's parliament).

Both bills have rapidly advanced with the backing of Netanyahu's slender coalition, which includes several religious and nationalist extremists. Exacerbating the tension, many in and beyond Israel believe Netanyahu's primary motivation is to dodge charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust leveled against him.

The proposals and resulting protests in both countries show "it's not just Hungary or Russia where the people's voice is getting strangled," said Orde Kittrie, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Kittrie, an Arizona State University law professor and former State Department lawyer, said Mexico's president "appears to be trying to hollow out institutions that oversee elections."

The main institution targeted, said Michael Abramowitz, president of the democracy advocacy organization Freedom House, has been considered "very nonpartisan" and a "very reliable and important arbiter of the health of elections."

The Biden administration has correctly, albeit cautiously, called out these two U.S. allies.

"Today, in Mexico, we see a great debate on electoral reforms on the independence of electoral and judicial institutions that illustrates Mexico's vibrant democracy," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. "We respect Mexico's sovereignty," reassured Price, adding: "We believe that a well-resourced, independent electoral system and respect for judicial independence support healthy democracy."

The administration's response on Israel came from President Joe Biden himself, in a statement to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that read: "The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary. Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained."

There's "a limit on the judicial question of where the United States can and should play a role as a friend of Israel," said Daniel Kurtzer, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel for four years during the George W. Bush administration. The Biden administration's counsel, continued Kurtzer, "has been well advised."

But just as a true friend can tell another the truth, the U.S. should level with Israel, however difficult using candor could be. And not just about the judicial issue but also what Kurtzer calls the three simultaneous crises Israel faces.

"There's the question of reforming the judiciary and its impact on Israel's democracy," he said. "The second has to do with the significant uptick in violence directed at Israelis by Palestinians, but in ways that are quite different than the past," including "lone-wolf attacks." The third crisis, Kurtzer continued, is Israeli "mob violence against Palestinians that has gone unrestrained by the authorities and, in fact, as in the most recent case, supported by some members of the coalition." (Kurtzer also noted the inflammatory aspect of expanding settlements.)

"The three crises," concluded Kurtzer, "in some ways are unrelated, but they constitute a real challenge to the whole system."

And those are just the domestic dynamics. Internationally, Iran's ramping up nuclear enrichment to near-breakout levels extends Israel's existential crises.

"This really adds to the seriousness of what's happening internally in Israel, as the external threat is now more serious than it's ever been before," Kurtzer said. He added that Jerusalem and Washington, while not in sync with each other's "red lines" regarding Tehran, have dampened the acrimony over their approaches, at least publicly.

America's ability to influence Israel's approaches is compromised by history and histrionics, Kurtzer noted.

"Our own politics have become accustomed to the acceptance of 50 years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; there's no other way to explain it," Kurtzer said. "The main responsibilities lie with the parties in Israel for its activities such as settlements, and with the Palestinians for their activities such as terrorism and failure to advance peace proposals.

"But as an outside party, especially with the role we have played, we also bear responsibility. And silence is an indictment of us when we don't do anything. The question becomes: Do our politics allow the United States to do more? Israel today is mostly a domestic political issue in Washington. It's not a foreign-policy issue."

The U.S. politicization of this geopolitical issue is particularly acute now. Not only because the U.S. is riven with divisions on nearly every issue but because Netanyahu hasn't hewed to Israel's longstanding nonpartisan approach to Washington but instead cultivated closer relations with Republicans.

Domestic politics in Israel over the proposed judicial changes haven't been as static.

"There has been really strong pushback that has crossed party lines," said Abramowitz, including opposition from "people who would normally be considered part of [Netanyahu's] larger camp." This includes Israel's innovative, influential high-tech sector, which has warned that investment may go elsewhere. And former security officials outspoken against the judicial proposals have cautioned that even members of Israel's military may go elsewhere. (In fact, at least 250 officers signed a public petition that they might stop showing up for duty if the government doesn't reverse course.)

Whether Netanyahu or López Obrador will reverse course isn't clear. What is clear is how so many Israelis and Mexicans want to defend their democracies.

"The protests are heartening because they do suggest something that we have contended for a long time: that there is still a huge demand for democracy and democratic values and democratic rights," Abramowitz said.

That demand needs reinforcement from every democratic nation, including the U.S.

Just as Jerusalem and Mexico City must look inward, so must Washington. Sure, statements from the State Department, the president, and Congress can and should be deployed to defend democracy abroad. But protecting it at home is just as essential.

"It's very important that democracies like the United States, in particular, live up to their ideals," Abramowitz said. "In many countries around the world, many individuals around the world are looking to the United States, even though that may not seem so popular now. But when the United States does not live up to its ideals, that's noticed around the world."

Indeed, it's time for the U.S. to be a beacon again.