Thursday, April 30, 2009

Death for Peace

Benjamin Netanyahu decided to appoint Avigdor Lieberman as the new Foreign Affairs Minister despite objections from around the world. Lieberman's first day on the job was perceived as a major policy shift. He promissed to honour all previous agreements with the Palestinians with the exception of the Annapolis process.

He also showed his ability to be diplomatic by speaking nicely about the Egyptians that he would need to work closely with. He had previously been in trouble for being rude about the fact that Egyptian officials never hold meetings in Israel. Egypt has been sending mixed signals if they would boycott him. So far it seems to be business as usual in practical terms.

The Annapolis process is the last agreement between former PM Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian Authority. It has even been endorsed by the UN. The previous government did not want the details to be public because they feared it would hurt them in the election. Tthe agreement was hidden from the Israeli public. The government they elected has every right to say if voters had an oppurtunity to reject it they would have and therefore they would pursue the logical course of action.

This week Palestinian President Abbas reconfirmed his position on negotiations with Israel. Israel was to return to 1967 borders not one centimetre more and not one centimetre less. This solution ignores the events after Israel established it's original borders. There were Jews who left Egypt and Jordan to live in Israel. Arabs left Israel to live in refugee camps and become political pawns to the Arab world. Palestinians wish to ignore the Jewish evictions by establishing a state free of Jews. However they want all Palestinians to be able to choose to live in Israel rather than the Palestinian state they claim to want to help build. Land swap offers to minimize the physical transfer of people and place Jews in Israel and Palestinians under the authority of a Palestinian state have been vigourously turned down.

This week a Palestinian was sentecned to death by hanging by the Palestinian Authority. His crime was selling his property to Jews. While this story has been picked up in Europe I have not been able to find any references to this story in the Canadian media.

Israel always finds themselves on the condemnation end from Human Rights groups. Some how Palestinian violations almost always get a free ride. A look at the overall picture shows that Israel they are being condemned for a sense of self preservation and not an attempt to harm minority groups living within Israel's borders.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Durban II is Racism. Why are People Surpisred?

Racism is a major problem around the world. Taking proactive steps to help stop racism and have all people around the world treated equally is a noble goal. The first United Nations anti-racism conference in Durban turned into United Nations favourite past time; condemning Israel. Should there have been any expectations for Durban II to be different?

There is a basic formula that needs to be followed for accomplishing any significant agreement on the world stage. First the problem needs to be identified with proper working definitions. Targets need to be set with benchmarks for determining success or failure. Then an action plan needs to be drawn up and implemented based on the working definition. This allows for the establishment of principles that could be applied to unforeseen future circumstances of the same situation.

Durban II took the opposite approach. The planners of the conference had already decided which issues they wanted to condemn and work from their. Israel, American slavery, banning criticism of Islam were some of the targets of this year's conference. At the same time Darfur is being overlooked after receiving full support from Arab countries to avoid prosectution from the International Criminal Court. Just like Durban I, people who are real victims of discrimination will be forgotten.

Canada saw the writing on the wall a year ago when they decided they would not attend. Israel held out hope that this time would be different before withdrawing. Even with Barak Obama on the scene the United States was unable to steer to conference towards it's original noble goals.

Organizers have sought to steer clear of the controversies that marred the Durban meeting, but have run into many of the same contentious issues. Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Poland and New Zealand all had the foresight not to bother to attend. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was very upset about the no shows. Is it possible that this small group of countries were the only ones who could see what was coming next.

Iran is in no way a beacon to the world for their human right record. They are the only country that has openly called for the elimination of another UN member. Somehow Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was chosen as the keynote speaker for the opening of the conference. He said nothing different from what he always says prompting a mass walkout of his speech. Ban Ki-Moon had to offer a condemnation afterwards, explaining that he had met with Ahmadinejad and told him to take a different approach when addressing the conference. What in the world possessed Moon to think he would listen to him. France and England had already announced their diplomats were prepared to walk out if necessary. What were the others countries thinking?

Durban II has only just begun. It has already turned into a conference which will lead to more racism around the world. Nothing tangible will result in the efforts to stop racism. Just as the United States and Israel walked out last time, there will be growing pressure for other countries to do the same this time around. The conference is only going to get worse as the week progresses.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Afghan Men Not Having Enough Sex

A political storm has been brewing when it was reported that the Afghanistan government has passed a law regarding how women must act. The law gives more power to men to control when their wives are allowed to leave the home. It also allows them to demand sex from their wives every 4 days. There is an approved list of excuses for limiting these demands.

These laws put into question the whole purpose for Canadian troops to be giving their lives to defend a society that is so disconnected from the Canadian view on basic rights of women. The Federal Government is saying that there are still rooms for changes to the law to make them more palatable to the International community. There are also reports coming out of Afghanistan that it is a done deal and the law is impossible to be amended.

This narrative seems very similar to history of the region some 2400 years ago. The Jewish Holiday of Purim commemorates events that happened under the Persian Empire that is recorded in the Megilat Esther. The Persian Empire extended from Ethiopia to Afghanistan and beyond. It was made up of 127 different countries amalgamated into one empire.

In the story of Purim there are 3 laws that are passed that get special attention. King Achashverosh orders his Queen Vashti to appear before him wearing nothing but her crown. When she refuses she is executed. The King's advisers are concerned the act of rebellion will be inspiration for women throughout the kingdom to rebel against there husbands. A law is drawn up and distributed stating that "each man will be the ruler in his own house and the family should speak his language." Many commentators feel that the first law was so ridiculous it would set the tone for the public reaction to the other two laws.

The second law passed was that all of the Jews in the kingdom were to be wiped out on a predetermined date. When the plot against the Jews unravelled the King wanted to undo the law. However once a law is declared it cannot be undone. Instead a third law was declared allowing the Jews to defend themselves from attack.

Are Afghan men that desperate they need a law to convince their wives to have sex with them? Are women going to comply to their husbands requests because there is a law on the books? Would a man be able to overcome the embarrassment and report his wife to the authorities? Any man who needs this law in his marriage does not have a good marriage. Taking advantage of the law will just further destroy other aspects in the relationship.

There is an important lesson from this episode. The west has assumed that bringing democracy to the Arab world will solve the cultural conflict with the West. There is more that goes into building a society than how the rulers are chosen. Democracy alone will not bring changes to the general social fabric of Arab society. This incorrect assumption is very dangerous. Often the approach taken is that they will react to a situation with values they clearly do not hold. This blinds one to believe that they will agree to things that they fundamentally oppose. This false assumption is the basis for people assuming that if only X approach is taken to Iran, Afghanistan, Palestinians etc... that everyone will live in peace and harmony. By looking at the world from their point of view it is clear that it is simply not true.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

SCC Agrees Garbage not Protected by Privacy Rights

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that garbage is exempt from privacy laws. The case involved drug charges, where evidence was taken by police from his garbage. The 7-0 ruling was based on the fact that since anyone could have accessed his garbage, privacy laws did not prevent the police from doing so.

Jewish law is a lot stricter on the rules of ownership then Canadian law. A lost object found on the street does not automatically transfer to the 'finder'. A reasonable amount of effort and a significant waiting time are required in order to attempt to return the object to it's rightful owner. On the flip side someone can declare an object to be owner less making it fair game for whoever passes by.

When somebody puts out their garbage, their intention is for the city to come and take it away. The garbage has no value and there is no intention to recover the contents of the garbage. This makes the garbage free for anyone to take.

The Supreme Court ruling is an extension of basic logic. When someone throws out their garbage it is because they no longer want it. The Supreme Court was correct to quash the argument and concerns from privacy rights groups.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Government Pushes Procrastination Legislation Through Major Filibuster

Yesterday morning, the Israeli Government pushed through 2 pieces of legislation despite the opposition parties putting up a 21 hour filibuster in an attempt to block it. One piece of legislation extends the 45 day time period for a newly formed government to pass a budget. The second implements a budget being passed every 2 years.

Budgets are very important. They allocate funds for government services and form a benchmark for evaluating performance. In the business world budgets can be matched against revenue for a true picture of success or failure. Preparing budgets 2 years in advance is a mistake that will further restrict the government's ability to adapt and implement government policy in the future.

The motivation for these changes is based on the fact passing budgets are hard. A government that cannot pass a budget automatically collapses. Small parties use this pressure to have a level of influence on the budget to be significantly greater than the amount of constituents they have. With the government being formed so close to going into the Passover vacation period the amount of working days before the original deadline was very tight. This legislation should have made some sort of consideration for the holiday seasons. The blanket extension is going to become a major problem at some point in the future. Tzipi Livni has said she would try to bring down the government on the 2010 budget. She will not have the opportunity until 2011.

The last year has proven that governments around the world need to be able to adapt to fast changing economic climates. Having a 2 year budget may be great for stability of the department for planing upcoming years but it does not mean that they will be receiving the funding they need. Over funding and underfunding become bigger issues as things move towards the end of the new budget cycle.

The government has still not passed the 2009 budget. Departments are running on a funding formula based on what they have received in the previous two years. With a 2 year budget the same scenario could with even more serious consequences. Departments could end be running on budgets that had been past almost 3 years earlier. Governments are already short sighted enough when setting policy. They don't have a chance of having enough foresight to properly plan for 2-3 years down the road.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Olmert Finally Replaced as Prime Minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to portray himself as a right wing political leader. A major key in his rise to power was in his objection to the Gaza pullout. He had supported all of the legislation that made the pullout a reality until it was too late. He justified having the first crack at being Prime Minister even though he had less seats then Kadima on the premise that the right wing parties had more votes. During the election he said he would reach out to Kadima and Labour to form the government. Once given the opportunity he put in a considerable amount of effort to get them on board eventually settling with Labour in the government.

He has managed to put together and incredibly stable government. He managed to work out a compromise between religious parties Shas and UTJ with Yisrael Betaynu on begin to reform marriages laws, so that everyone who lives in Israel may eventually have the opportunity to get married in Israel. National Union is the only right wing party that was left out of the government. It seems to be as much their fault as anything Netanyahu did.

Bringing half of Labour into the government was brilliant. He has successfully divided the party as they try to figure out what direction the party should go in the future. The MKs who decided not to join the government cannot run under Labour in the next election if they vote against the party. They will be sitting out a lot of votes. For votes that require a fixed number of votes to pass, their abstention is equal value to them sitting in the government. The extra members means Yisrael Betaynu is the only party that holds the balance of power.

Netanyahu paid a heavy price to get his government. He had to give out all of the good jobs to his coalition partners to convince them to join, leaving scraps for his own party. He already has problems inside of Likud as his campaign against right wing candidates cost Likud greatly at the polls. He is now has a bloated government with 30 ministers some without portfolios and some as valuable as Minister of Twiddling Thumbs or Minister of Toilet Paper in the Knesset bathroom. Keeping everyone happy will be his biggest challenge. This is a big change from trying to keep the government alive, which is how most coalitions are built.

It is too early to tell which direction this government will end up taking. The built in stability will make it more difficult to be taken over by small minded special interest issues. Hopefully it will not be as bad as the last one.