Monday, February 23, 2009

CUPE Ontario endorses Israel Academic Boycott

Yesterday, CUPE Ontario approved Resolution 50, a plan to carry out an academic boycott against Israel and further along their divestment program. The resolution now needs to be endorsed by the 200,000 membership at the annual convention in April. CUPE Local 3903 at York University who were just ordered back to work after a lengthy strike are fully commited to backing Israel Apartheid Week, next week on York's campus. The motivation behind this boycott can only be based on pure feel good emotions rather than an honest attempt to holding by true values and convictions.

This new boycott was propsed during Operation Cast Lead when IDF forces attempted to stop the daily barrage of rockets on Isaeli civilians. During the 3 week war Hamas used schools, hospitals and civilian homes for launching attacks. The initial inspiration of this round of the boycott is when Israel bombed the Gaza University. CUPE choose to leave this fact for the very bottom of their webpage explaining the reason for the boycott.

In their explanation of the boycott section they site the case of "On January 7th, Israeli forces killed over 40 Palestinian civilians who had taken shelter in a United Nations school. " One would expect a boycott lead by the highest level of acadamia would be able to have their facts correct. The incident they are refering to took place on January 6th. The United Nations has already issued a correction that Israel never bombed the school. An Israeli shell landed outside of the school. All of the victims were outside of the school. Even the casualty count from this incident is in dispute. When the dust settles it will probably be revieled that the casualty count is at least 25% less then reported. Of course this will be burried into some report that goes unnoticed by most of the world.

CUPE is claiming that their actions are as champions of human rights. Of all of the incidents in the world why have they choosen this one to be their champion cause? Gilad Shalit has been held hostage by Hamas for over 3 years. He has been denied all of his Human Rights of allowing visitation by the Red Cross and letting his family know if he is alive. CUPE has been silent. Hamas has commited numerous war crimes. They fired thousands of missles into civilian populations, striking schools and kindergartens. CUPE has been silent. Hamas has fought out of uniform and even in stolen IDF uniforms. CUPE has been silent. This is just to name a few, not to mention when Hamas violently removed Fatah from Gaza and tied Fatah supporters to chairs and threw them off of buildings. CUPE has been silent. They have used the fog of war to shoot the legs of Fatah supporters out of fear Fatah would retake control of Gaza after Operation Cast Lead.

There are other conflicts in the world. Darfur, Ethopia, Sri Lanka and more. CUPE Ontario is silent. Ontario has been condemned by the United Nations for providing full funding to schools belonging to one religion and providing nothing to others. When John Tory and his Conservative Party came up with a solution to this inequality, CUPE Ontario was front and centre in condemning the proposal. Tory was the only political leader banned from speaking to the various union groups at their conventions. One can only reach the conclusion that this boycott was not chosen simply out of moral conviction.

The York student government (YFS) was recently overthrown by the students for supporting CUPE 3903 in their strike. The outgoing YFS members blamed the Jewish student population for their dismial. They refused to acknowledge they were turfed for betraying the interests of the students they were supposed to represent. Now CUPE is openly supporting an anti-Israel week on the campus with the largest Jewish population. Instead of fostering an enviornment of acceptance and learning, Jewish students have to deal with a week of intimidation and fear. It would not be surprising if this year someone got hurt.

If CUPE Ontario really wants to divest from Israel they should enable their members to fully boycott all companies that do business in Israel. Coca Cola, Pepsi, RC Cola, Sports Illustrated, Kellogs, Nestle, IBM, Intel, McDonalds, Burger King for starters. They should boycott the Vancouver Olympics for not banning Israeli atheletes. The Canadian Armed Forces just began using Israeli drone planes to help keep soldiers in Afghanistan safe. This should draw immediate protest. Blocking University assistance for Israeli military technology is directly targeted under the ban.

CUPE Ontario sites hundreds groups that they would normally have nothing to do with who support the boycott. Some the boycott Israel websites bring attention to the successes of their boycotts. They site examples of businesses withdrawing from doing business in the Arab world under pressure of the boycott, causing losses of millions of dollars. The same businesses have not closed up shop in Israel. They also claimed a victory in blocking as shipment of Valentines Day flowers at Heathrow Airport. Early that week the Israeli government gave permission to ship flowers from Gaza to the European market. They were probably stopping of shipment of flowers from Gaza and hurting the Palestinians they claim they are trying to help.

Resolution 50 is as hypocritical and backwards as the strikes that have now become a routine part of life at York University. Hopefully the general membership will choose to closely examine both sides of the conflict and vote down this rediculous resolution.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Netanyahu will be Prime Minister, Who will join the coalition?

Tzippi Livni chances of becoming Prime Minister have all but officially been eliminated. President Shimon Peres has been meeting with all 14 parties in the government to seek their recommendation for Prime Minister. The entire right wing block including Yisrael Betaynu has given their support to Netanyahu while, Meretz, Labour and the Arab parties have refused to endorse anybody.

The one glitch is that Yisrael Betaynu made their endorsement on condition that Kadima joined the government. Livni once again stated she would rather sit in the opposition rather than be in a right wing coalition. Peres will host a meeting tomorrow to try to convince both parties to form a National Unity government. Yisrael Betaynu's condition will be meaningless should they fail to agree.

Yisrael Betaynu leader, Avigdor Lieberman has made the argument that the country is best served with a government of Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Betaynu because it would be stable. He is right in that the three parties hold 68 seats on their own. Other parties would be welcome to join the coalition and add further stability. Netanyahu's natural right wing block is 11 seats shy of being able to form a government. Only Labour, Kadima and Yisrael Betaynu can fill the gap on their own. Labour has been ruled out and so are the other Left Wing and Arab Parties.

Yisrael Betaynu has a lot to gain with Kadima in the government. The religious parties are against his major platform planks. They are against reforming the system of marriage and conversions. They are against mandatory national service, which targets the misfeelings towards the Haredi community for their army/national service exemption. In the past Shas has held up attempts at electoral reform. They would lose power in any system that helps deliver more seats to the bigger parties. UTJ is a merger of 3 parties and went into the election with tons of internal fighting. They could only muster in 5 seats. They would also be hurt by most forms of electoral reform.

Yisrael Betaynu still holds a lot more power then people are giving them credit for. Any statements since the election have been to strengthen their influence on the government and their ability to bring in the vision that made them the third biggest party in the country. The Haredi parties need to compromise somewhere to hold a right wing government together. Livni has failed to get any other part to endorse her as Prime Minister. It is time for Kadima to spend some time in the opposition.

What will happen when all the dust settles? It is still too early to be certain.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Who will form the Government?

I received an e-mail today expressing concern about the rumoured deal of Kadima agreeing to terms of Yisrael Betaynu on a possible coalition agreement. I had argued that Yisrael Betaynu would do a better job anchoring Netanyahu to the right then the right wing supporters in his party that he managed to bury far down on the list. Here is my response:

While I share your concerns, I do not read the situation the same way. Under our system, the government is going to be formed based on backroom bargaining. Not knowing exactly what you are voting for is one of the major flaws in the system. Clarifying what might happen after the elections, was one of the main inspirations of having the debate. Anything that may or may not happen before a government is formed is pure speculation.

I believe that Bibi is going to be Prime Minister. Even if Livni gets the tap on the shoulder from Peres she has simply burned down too many bridges during and after the election campaign. Bibi has two options for forming a government. He can build on his right wing block. He could stick to his election campaign and try to form a National Unity government. Yisrael Betaynu, Shas and Labour are the only parties big enough to hold up a Likud/Kadima coalition on their own. If Likud came in with 33-36 seats (which is around where they were polling at the beginning of the election) he could have easily walked away with the promised unity government without any outside help.

I am greatly concerned about the political influence of Gimmel and Shas. The Likud/Shas alliance was well publicized in the closing days of the election. These special interest Haredi parties have a greater level of influence on government policy than their supporters justify. We recently had a Haredi coup on our mikvahs. There is still confusion of the outcome. There have been reports that the Israel Beit Din is refusing to recognize conversions of the Toronto Beit Din. The Toronto Beit Din is known far and wide for their strictness. These are all results of political influence yielded by Shas. Yisrael Betaynu promised to uphold Daati Leumi, Zionist values. I think they have a chance at slowing down the hard right religious shift, that is causing so much controversy. For myself this was a very important but overlooked election issue.

Bibi was given ideal conditions for running away with this election. He now has a lot of unhappy people inside the party that he has to answer to. Hopefully he will use this as an opportunity to refocus on what is important to his party and to Israel. If he had taken 35-40 seats in this election he would not have taken the time to try to fix his broken right wing.

Electoral reform is badly needed. It is the only way to force parties to focus on Israel's greater needs and prevent messes like this form happening in the future. Hopefully this will be the message the new government will learn from this election.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Here comes the Soldiers Votes

The way the election stands right now Tzippi Livni has beaten out Benjamin Netanyahu by 36,321 votes and is up by one mandate. The are all kinds of scenarios being discussed in terms of who will take over the government.

If President Shimon Peres follows tradition he will give Livni the nod to try to form the government. 3 months ago she was unable to form a government which forced the elections in the first place. She has used the election to burn down bridges making it impossible to form a government. If she fails to form the government after six weeks the oppurtunity would than be given to Netanyahu. The winner in this scenario is Olmert. We just can't seem to get rid of him.

At the moment Peres is left with a dilemna of who to choose. If he chooses Livni and the scenario plays out as expected he will have further delayed the forming of a new government, and the worst decision ever for a position that is supposed to be mostly ceremonial. If he goes to Netanyahu right away he abandons his own personal convictions as a member of Kadima, beleiver in all Peace Agreements. He also sets a danger prescedent on the use of Presidential powers.

Relief may come this evening by way of the ballot boxes. Soldiers, diplmats and hospital votes are being counted and results will be released this evening. These 150,000 votes could influence as many as 4-5 mandates. Generally, soldiers tend to be more likely to vote right. It is almost mathematically impossible for Likud to catch Kadima on total votes. It would require at least 75% of the votes to be for Likud if Kadima were not getting any. It is possible the Likud will pick up one more mandate to pull into a tie with Kadima.

Should Kadima and Likud and up in a tie, Peres should take the gift and declare Netanyahu Prime Minister. It is the easiest and most practical escape from this political quandry.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Israel Election Results

Here are the latest election results as of 02:25. This does not factor in any of the vote sharing agreements. There is still a lot of room for fluctuation.

Labour אמת 12
Bayit Hayehudi 4 ב
Agudah/Degel HaTorah 5 ג
Balad ד 3
Chaddash 4 ו
Ichud Leumi 4 ט
Kadimah כן 28
Yisrael Betaynu 15 ל
Likud מחל 27
Meretz מרצ 4
National Arab Party 4 עם
Shas שס10

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Improving Israeli Political Culture

I have been frustrated with some aspects of the political culture in Israel. I have expressed some of these frustrations here before. With 34 parties participating in this election, an all party debate is unrealistic. There is no reason why the major players don't debate each other to further clarify their positions and clear up misconceptions. With polls showing 30% of voters undecided a few weeks before the election I decided to help voters with their decision.

I decided a debate was needed. I teamed up with Rafi G who worked really hard to pull everything together. An online debate between was published this morning on his blog between Danny Hershtall for Yisrael Betaynu and Ariella Cottler for Likud.

This looks like it is going to be a very close election. I am hoping that this will help make a difference.

Israel needs Electoral Reform

The Israeli electoral system is in dire need for change. Elections are supposed to be held every 4 years. The last time a elections were held 4 years apart was 1988. The last time a Government lasted for 4 years under the same Prime Minister was Menachem Begin 1977-1981. As the government is constantly struggling for survival it is unable to focus on long term goals of the country.

Another problem is that it is nearly impossible to get rid of the less productive politicians without bring in criminal charges. Party lists are designed to protect the top party brass making them immune to the shifts in voter accountability. Benjamin Netanyahu was able to push his rival Moshe Feiglen from an almost guaranteed spot in the Knesset to a spot on the list where he had an outside chance of getting. He then fumbled the election campaign which insure he is out of the Knesset until the next election.

Kadimah faced a similar type of challenge getting rid of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. It took a long time to engineer the leadership review. Then they had to convince Olmert not to run. Once Livni took over as chair of the party, she had 28 days to form a government. When she failed to do that elections were called for 3 months later which falls out on Tuesday. During this time Olmert has taken the country to war and tried to negotiate peace treaties that would be binding on future governments. He also regularly made statements that contradicted and undermined where Livni was trying to take the party. The fact that he no longer had the moral authority to continue to govern was completely irrelevant.

Last week, Livni took time to express her support for electoral reform. She specifically pointed out the idea to raise the amount of votes on a non-confidence motion from 61 (out of 120) to 80. She believes that this will allow the Prime Minister to focus on governing and to serve out a full term.

Apparently Livni has not learned from efforts to oust Olmert from the Prime Minister chair. A government needs to the confidence of the Knesset in order to govern. If they are unable to pass legislation because they cannot get a majority of support, it does not matter how many votes are need to oust the Prime Minister. Israel would still be left with a lame-duck Prime Minister unable to accomplish anything because their hands have been tied by the Knesset. Taking away the mechanism of an election to correct such a stalement weakens the Prime Minister.

Israel has the lowest threshold of support in the world for getting into government. It only takes 2% of the popular vote to gaurentee a spot. This allows single issue parties to hold the balance of power in government. Eliminating the smallest extreme parties will allow the main parties to build towards governing from the centre of the political spectrum. Is there really a need for two marijuana parties? The Green Leaf Party and the Green Leaf/Holocaust Survivor party should have enough in common to operate as one party. Raising the bar to 5% would create much more stable government.

Cabinet Ministers are another major sticky point in electoral reform. Minister positions are given out as rewards/incentives for parties to join the government. Cabinet Ministers don't need to be MKs. Yisrael Betaynu has a policy of resigning Knesset seats in order to sit in the cabinet. The empty seats are replaced by those next in line on the party list. Current ideas to reform the system include limiting the amount of cabinet posts and the Norwegian law.

Limiting the Prime Ministers ability to use patronage appointments to suit political means. This lays the ground work for the possibility of a more honest government. The Norwegian law forces all members of the cabinet to resign from the Knesset. This makes the executive branch completely accountable to the legislative branch. Under most political climates this would not be beneficial. Once a bill has been passed through the cabinet there is tremendous pressure for MKs to rubber stamp it through. Forcing legislation to come up through the Knesset helps relieve the pressure.

While it is good that changing the system is important, the biggest issue has not been addressed. Voters need to have the ability to hold their leaders accountable for their actions. In a straight Proportional Representation system it simply cannot happen. Ontario rightfully rejected a form of Mixed Proportional Representation in the last election. It was a system where there are two ballots one for an MP and one for a party. Israel and Mixed Proportional Representation would be a good fit. Combined with raising the minimum popular vote to 5%, we could finally one day see political stability. A stable government helps the government resolve the major issues that have been plaguing Israel for decades.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Israel did NOT Bomb UN School

For almost a month the United Nations has been crying out about that Israel bombed one of their schools in Gaza that was protecting over a thousand civilians from the war. The UN criticized Israel stating that they had provided Israel with GPS coordinates and it should not have been targeted. Israel stated that their troops had responded to be under attack. The UN took extreme offence to that accusation that they would allow attacks to be launched from their property. The mere suggestion that a school would be bombed brought about a tremendous amount of backlash against Israel and Jews around the world.

After repeatedly making the claim that the school was bombed by Israel the UN snuck in a correction to one of their field update reports:

Clarification: While correctly reported on 6 January that Israeli shells landed outside an UNRWA school in Jabalia, resulting in an initial estimate of 30 fatalities, the Situation Report of 7 January referred to ‘the shelling of the UNRWA school in Jabalia.’ The Humanitarian Coordinator would like to clarify that the shelling, and all of the fatalities, took place outside rather than inside the school. According to UNRWA, the number of fatalities is over 40, many of them among the 1,368 people who had taken refuge in the school.

The UN had to know that the school was not bombed and they choose to run with the story anyways as it suited their purposes. While the UN put a lot of effort into publicizing the original story, the same cannot be said for the correction. The people who knowingly aloud the false information to be spread should no longer be employed by the United Nations.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Federal Budget Passes

The federal budget has been passed, officially putting an end to the attempted coalition takeover of the government and putting the government on track to attempt to try to spend it's way out of the economic turn down. There are a few interesting side stories with this budget.

The Newfoundland Liberal MPs were given permission to vote against the budget. Under Dion an MP would be booted from the party for even suggesting the budget would be beneficial to their constituents. Ignatieff is acknowledging that from his perspective it is not perfect it is in the best interest of the country to pass. MPs are free to acknowledge that it does not universally benefit everyone. This tolerance of free expression bodes well for rebuilding the Liberal party.

This also marks the 4th budget past by the Conservative minority government. Despite the vocal opposition from anti-Harper advocates, he has managed to offer enough to stay in power. Like him or hate him he has proven to be a master politician in getting legislation through parliament. If Ignatieff can continue to demonstrate he is an equally skilled politician Canada will return to the days of prosperity as quickly as possible.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Livni Meltdown

The end of last week Kadima targeted the decision for Shas to endorse Netanyahu as Prime Minister. They came out with the message that a vote for Likud is a vote Shas and a vote for any party but Kadima is a vote for Kadima. This is the same tactic used by Paul Martin in the 2006 Canadian Federal election where a vote for the NDP is a vote for the Conservatives. The 2008 federal election took the same tone with the Anything But Conservative campaign and people offering to trade votes to get the candidate most likely to be a Conservative elected. Conservatives won both elections with minority governments. The latest attack demonstrates desperation on from Livni as the oppurtunity to become Prime Minister that she spent years engineering falls through her hands.

Who exactly is Livni trying to switch to Kadima by targeting Shas? Shas supporters are not turned off by Netanyahu and even if they were shopping their vote it would not be towards a secular party comitted to giving away Jerusalem. Shas alligning with Likud was an obvious choice. Perhaps she is targeting the Left Wing of Likud which is the direction Netanyahu is taking the party anyways. How can they have feel threatened by Shas enough to switch over to Kadima? The only reason Livni is not Prime Minister is she was unable to persuade them to join her coalition on her terms. She wanted them in her government and just couldn't pull of the deal. Why should this make any Likud supporter feel threatened?

Having your dream slip away can be very devasting. It is not uncommon to try to lash out at those you feel have snatched it away from you. Livni clearly has a grudge against Shas for blocking her out of the Prime Minister chair. She is letting her anger cloud her judgment and make things worse for herself. The best case scenario is this attack will have no long lasting effects. The worst case scenario is Netanyahu reaches out to Labor to form the government leaving Kadima out in the cold. That would be a tough pill to swallow since Netanyahu has been started the election race saying he wanted Livni in his coalition. Livni has done a poor job in choosing her battles. In the short term it will hurt her politically.