Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ding dong the witch is dead – Democracy shows it’s alive and kicking in Quebec

Pauline Marois planned to fire Jews, Musims and Sikhs,
but on election night, she was the one who got the boot.

Seeing the PQ crushed in the recent Quebec election made me feel like dancing in the streets. 

More than two-thirds of Quebecers voted for federalist parties and against the separatists. And it’s not just that they voted against sovereignty; they voted against the PQ because they don’t even want to talk about sovereignty anymore.

Just as wonderful, we no longer have to look forward to the spectacle of a Canadian provincial government firing people from their jobs because of their religion. The PQ had hoped to ride a wave of xenophobia to a majority government and it didn’t work. Compared to the threat of having to go through another referendum, Quebecers just didn’t care that much about whether people wore hats or hijabs, lids or kippas. 

It’s possible that in the end, the PQ’s “values charter” actually worked against them. For one thing, Quebecers realized that doctors, daycare workers and teachers were actually going to get fired if they refused to remove their kippas, hijabs or turbans.

Incredibly, for weeks, Quebec media let the PQ get away without admitting this – until a PQ candidate came out and proclaimed that of course they’d be firing people. And then Pauline Marois, the PQ leader, admitted it, too: Really, how else can you ban religious symbols unless you’re going to fire people who refuse to take them off?

Once this sank in many Quebecers realized that the whole thing had gone a step too far. Sure, many small town Quebecers are suspicious of people who wear funny hats and won't eat pork, but firing them for this? That's not nice.

Also, Quebecers realized that the PQ could have brought in most of their charter of values without an election at all; that the only point of the election was to get a majority; and then the purpose of values charter would be to force a showdown with Ottawa as a prelude to a referendum. And does Quebec want another crisis? Non, non, non!

Possibly the most significant outcome of the Quebec election was the voter turnout: 72%. That’s huge – much larger than voter turnout for most elections in Canada. Of course, that’s great because it makes the rejection of Quebec independence and of the PQ's xenophobic charter of values even more decisive.  But it also shows that democracy is alive and kicking in Canada.

We hear much hand-wringing about how fewer and fewer people vote. Pundits continually suggest it’s because people believe politicians are all equally terrible. That low voter turnouts show a fundamental flaw in our democracy.

This is mostly nonsense. People don’t vote because Canada works well. Countries where almost everyone votes are the countries in the biggest mess. Usually, people are turning out in huge numbers because some recently deposed dictator has been denying them their right to choose their own leaders for decades. Or people turn out in droves because their country is in crisis.

Canada is precisely the opposite. On voting day many people can’t be bothered to go out to the polls because it doesn’t matter enough. Regardless of who gets elected, they’re not going to screw things up too much.

But in Quebec, this formula for voter indifference broke down. The vote did matter. Quebecers decided the PQ was going to create a national crisis (again). So voters came out in great numbers. They crushed the PQ, and buried the nightmare of a sovereign Quebec under an avalanche of ballots.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Toronto Director of Education Chris Spence works a couple weeks in 2013, paid $242,000

It was revealed this week that Chris Spence, the disgraced former director of the Toronto District School Board, was paid $241,000 in 2013 plus $1,000 in taxable benefits. But in 2013, Spence worked for less than a month. A couple weeks into January, it was discovered he had a long – and continuing – history of plagiarism, and Spence resigned.  
According to the Globe & Mail: “The TDSB defended Mr. Spence’s salary. ‘That amount takes into consideration the director’s severance following his departure from the TDSB,’ said spokesman Ryan Bird.”
Lovely. So that means Spence was paid about $20,000 for the couple weeks he worked, then got a severance package worth $220,000. And who says crime doesn’t pay?
I blogged about this back in January of 2013 when it happened. It seems I underestimated the size of Spence’s severance package, but the point I made back then remains the same: there was no reason to give him any severance package at all. But rather than firing him, the Trustees decided to let him retire and walk away with $220,000 that should have gone to the teachers and other TDSB employees doing their jobs without cheating.
That's one more reason to vote out all the trustees who are supposed to be running our school board. 

I'd be more than happy to hear about trustees who are doing a good job, but if we have any good trustees, they're obviously out-voted by the bad ones. And if you have any doubts on that score, start reading here.
P.S. Fourteen months since Spence’s history of plagiarism was discovered, the University of Toronto is still investigating whether Spence should have his PhD withdrawn for plagiarizing his dissertation. Of course, he was granted his PhD by OISE, and they’re mainly interested in a student's political views. So it may be they’re disinclined to withdraw a degree for a little thing like cheating.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Parti Quebecois candidate spreads neo-Nazi myth, PQ leader calls her "eloquent"

Noted bigot and PQ candidate Louise Mailloux
Parti Quebecois' candidate Louise Mailloux has been spreading a myth originally invented by the Klu Klux Klan and since adopted by numerous neo-Nazi groups. According to the PQ candidate and the neo-Nazis, Jews use kosher certificates to steal money from non-Jews and then use the cash to fund nefarious schemes.
Mailloux doesn’t spread vicious myths just about Jews. She doesn’t like Muslims or Christians, either. According to her, Muslims are running the same “rip-off” with hallal meat as the Jews with their kosher foods.
“This is a religious tax,” Ms. Mailloux said on a March 2012 edition of, a panel show on Tele-Quebec, “and it’s a tax we pay directly to mosques, to synagogues and to religious groups. It’s a theft.”
As for Christians, Mailloux says baptism is like rape. So is circumcision, according to Mailloux.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called on the PQ to debunk the “urban legend of the kosher tax,” Instead, PQ Leader Pauline Marois endorsed her candidate, saying she’s a respected academic who has thought long and hard about these issues.
“Her writings are eloquent, I respect her point of view,” Ms. Marois said.
“The Parti Québécois is not an anti-Semitic party,” Pauline Marois declared to much chuckling.
No surprise there. In the current Quebec election, the PQ’s entire strategy is based on intolerance. The PQ is campaigning on its so-called secular charter. Aimed primarily against Muslims, the charter bans government employees and workers in hospitals, schools and day cares from wearing religious symbols such as a head scarf or Star of David.
Unfortunately, part of what makes Quebec distinct is that it’s always been less tolerant than the rest of Canada (see more here).  Mailloux isn’t just some nutcase (though she is that). She’s a professor of philosophy and a prominent Quebec feminist. And the PQ is tapping into a deep well of suspicion against Jews and Muslims.
Quebec newspapers and TV programs regularly run stories that detail how much of the food eaten in the province is certified kosher or halal – as if this is somehow a problem.
Under Quebec's secular charter, large, ostentatious crosses will not be allowed.
And the urban legend of a kosher tax has made the rounds in Quebec for years. Back in 2008, Quebec’s Bouchard-Taylor commission reported that among Quebecers “the most fanciful information is circulating” about kosher food. And then went on to debunk the myth of a kosher tax.
But while Jewish groups object to the PQ’s support for antisemitism, Quebec’s feminists have been silent about Mailloux’s trivialization of rape. Again, no real surprise. Mailloux is one of their own. Also, Quebec feminists tend to support the PQ and often share Mailloux’s hostility to religious groups.
Mailloux’s support of a myth spread by neo-Nazis and the KKK does raise a particular question: What does the PQ’s secular charter have to say about government employees dressing in white sheets?
According to rumour, the PQ leader has responded: “Of course, the white sheets are allowed. These are not religious symbols. But there must be no burning of crosses. Other symbols are okay. If they want to burn a swastika in someone’s front lawn, well that is not a religious symbol, is it?”

Monday, March 3, 2014

Caught between the nationalists and the Russians - a tricky time for Ukraine's Jews

Antisemitism isn't new in Ukraine, this photo of antisemitic graffiti in Kiev is from 2009

Antisemitism has been a feature of Ukraine since the Middle Ages, and in recent weeks, Jew-haters have been taking advantage of the unrest to attack synagogues and beat up and stab Jews. Moreover, the nationalist / anti-Russian forces include open antisemites, and two antisemitic parties have been included in the new nationalist government.

On the other hand, many Jews took part in the protests that helped install the new government, and most observers believe Russians (and their far-left supporters in the West) are trying to label the nationalists – all the nationalists – as Nazis when clearly most are not. Indeed, the Ukrainian chief rabbi, has accused the Russians of staging antisemitic attacks to justify their invasion (here).

From Canada, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on, but I think the notion that Jews should support Russia’s invasion of Crimea is nuts. I mean apart from not wanting the Russians to re-establish their nasty empire, since when has Russia ever been good for the Jews?

Besides, in the longer term, I’ll put my money on a nationalist Ukrainian government that wants to turn toward the democratic West, not a Ukrainian government that wants to cozy up to authoritarian Russia. And if neither of these options work out, well as Abraham Cooper points out, Israel is only a plane ride away, and so is Canada, for that matter…

Supporters of Ukraine's antisemitic Svoboda party with t-shirts reading "Beat the zhids {kikes}"

Tough Times Again for Ukraine’s Jewish Population

Abraham Cooper, the algemeiner (U.S.)
We are now witnessing the latest round of violence and tragedy in the Ukraine. And not for the first time, hundreds of thousands of Jews in that embattled country, perhaps as many as 400,000, find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
Historically, Jews in Ukraine have suffered disastrous losses during times of upheaval. During the Cossack uprising of 1648-57, led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, 15-30,000 Ukrainian Jews out of a total population of 51,000 were murdered or taken captive.
The organized violence against the helpless and impoverished Jews in the Ukraine in the 19th and early 20th century spawned a new word in the lexicon of hate - pogrom. Many of our grandparents fled the Ukraine, arriving on American shores penniless with little more than a dream of a safe haven.
During the Russian Revolution and ensuing Civil War, another estimated 30,000-100,000 Jews were killed.
The total civilian losses during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine is estimated at 7 million, with more than 1 million Jews shot by Einsatzgruppen killing squads and Ukrainian collaborators in Western Ukraine.
To be sure, the Jewish community has not been center stage in the current epic struggle for Ukraine’s future. The just-deposed Prime Minister represents the still powerful pull of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Putin has always made it clear he will not accept a Ukraine that is tied to NATO or the European Union. So far he’s used the economic carrot of cheap oil and other incentives, but possible military intervention in Eastern Ukraine, with its significant Russian population — cannot be dismissed.
On the other side are Ukrainian activists who rallied around a Euro-centric vision of the future. Anyone and anything that insists on a link to Moscow and the memories of 70 years of tyrannical Soviet rule is out of the question. Unfortunately, among the masses of people who braved beatings, bullets, and death, were members of the nationalist Svoboda party, some of whose leaders have openly expressed anti-Semitic views.
Against this unsettling backdrop, after last month’s beating of two Jews, Kiev’s Chief rabbi has called on the city’s Jews to leave. Now comes word that unknown perpetrators hurled firebombs at the Giymat Rosa Synagogue in Zaporizhia, located 250 miles southeast of Kiev. That house of prayer opened in 2012 – a sign of Jewish renewal in the Ukraine – was built on the spot where the Jews of that community were ordered to gather before being deported by the Nazis to their deaths.
It goes without saying that Jewish institutions are bolstering security and it has been reported that some public events have been canceled. One can only wonder what kind of Purim and Passover await our Jewish brothers and sisters in the Ukraine.
What will members of Europe’s third largest Jewish community do? Will they stay or go? The late Simon Wiesenthal imparted sage advice when he said, “Where democracy is strong it is good for Jews and where it is weak it is bad for the Jews.”
We can only hope and pray and that the forces of true democratic values and inclusion win the day in the Ukraine. That would be a blessing for all its people. In the meantime, today’s Ukrainian Jews are free to ponder an option their forefathers could only dream about. Israel is but a non-stop flight from Kiev. Look for those flights to be extra crowded in the days ahead.
Member of Ukraine's antisemitic Svoboda party form a human chain
Ukrainian nationalists strive to shake off allegations of anti-Semitism
Anti-government protesters say Nazi name-calling is propaganda designed to undermine their movement.
From HaAretz, Israel
Ukraine’s struggle for independence is plagued by memories of fascism. Nationalists fought more than once against the Soviets in the last century, even when it meant aligning with Nazi Germany.
This is a country that both idolizes and condemns a former leader who collaborated with the Nazis – Stepan Bandera. He is denounced by many Ukrainians and Jewish groups for mass killings, but he is also beloved for refusing to rescind the proclamation of an independent Ukrainian state in 1941.
In the past, Ukrainian Jews suffered pogroms and government-sanctioned persecution, and anti-Semitism is still a threat. For instance, the opposition coalition, which includes the Svoboda party, has been criticized for far-right extremism. Complaints have been filed against Svoboda’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, for alleged incitement and racist remarks, such as saying Ukraine was headed by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.”
When Ukrainian nationalists and far-right groups began protesting against Viktor Yanukovych’s government on Kiev’s Maidan Square, many Western and Russian media outlets called the demonstrations fascist with anti-Semitic undertones. Armed and masked protesters brandished nationalist symbols linked with the fascism of yesteryear.
This included the Celtic cross, which has replaced the swastika for many modern white-power groups, and the wolf-hook SS insignia. There was also the symbol 14/88. The 14 represents a 14-word slogan used by white nationalists, and the 88 stands for “Heil Hitler” – H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. Finally, there was the Black Sun occult symbol, with which the Third Reich adorned a castle hall.
Some researchers and protest groups say the allegations of fascism and anti-Semitism are propaganda to undermine the protests.
The right-wing and nationalist umbrella group, Pravy Sektor, grabbed center stage after January 16, when Yanukovych approved laws that criminalized participation in anti-government protests. The movement’s press secretary, Artem Skoropadsky, called the fascism accusations “forms of official Russian propaganda that successfully change the meaning of ‘nationalism’ to ‘Nazism.’”
Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian researcher of European far-right groups and a fellow at the Radicalism and New Media Research Group in Britain, has said neo-Nazi groups are only a very small part of the protest.
“The movement is tolerant of other organizations’ extremist views but does not necessarily support them,” Shekhovtsov said. “They don’t exclude people and want to unite protesters for a stronger opposition.”
Some Pravy Sektor protesters on the Maidan sported yellow armbands with the wolf hook symbol revealing their specific political party affiliation—that of the Social National Assembly (SNA), a largely Kiev-based neo-Nazi organization. Other more openly anti-Semitic parties are White Hammer and C14, the neo-Nazi youth wing of the Svoboda party.
According to Pravy Sektor’s press secretary, the movement consists of many different groups and individuals. “This is not just a long-term rally, but a national, liberation movement,” he said in early February.
Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale, summarized the name-calling in an article for The New York Review of Books. He called it an “attempt to reduce the social tensions in a complex country to a battle of symbols about the past.”
Heroic picture of the past
Protesters have marched carrying photos of Bandera and under red-and-black flags of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the nationalist paramilitary and later partisan army that fought both the Nazis and the Soviets. On Maidan Square, these images represent the history of war and struggle for Ukraine’s sovereignty, not Nazism, said Vyacheslav Likhachev, a researcher at the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.
According to Likhachev, “the provocative symbols have to be understood in the context of a Ukrainian, heroic picture of the past. In a contemporary context, it is not correct to associate Bandera with neo-Nazis.”
Two attacks on Kiev Jews took place in one week in January and added fuel to the name calling. Also, last Saturday, a Ukrainian rabbi called on Kiev’s Jews to leave the city, fearing that the small community could fall victim to the increasing violence. At least four Jewish protesters were killed during demonstrations in the days leading up to Yanukovych’s ouster by parliament. Overall, more than 70 Ukrainians were killed.
Many media outlets began equating the attacks and the rabbi’s comments with the protests in general, which suggested that the protesters were anti-Semites and that the Jewish community was a target.
Likhachev says the four Jews killed were victims of police brutality and sniper shots; they weren’t targeted as Jews. “Jews are in danger because of the bigger problem of violence, which affects all Ukrainians,” he said.
Josef Zisels, a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, said that “the Jews of Ukraine participate in protests, though not as a community but as citizens of Ukraine who are tired of the cynical actions of the government.”
Pravy Sektor and other protesters have dubbed themselves the defense forces of the protests; they’ve actually provided some stability. For example, the protest leaders have proposed that Kiev synagogues be guarded, along with streets in Jewish areas.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Russia invades Ukraine; the Canadian Peace Congress blames Canada

Russian troops in Ukraine
As Russia invades Ukraine, the Canadian Peace Congress has issued a statement condemning the US, the EU, NATO and especially Canada for our "imperialist ambitions" in Ukraine. Not a word about Russian troops crossing Ukraine's border and taking control of strategic sites in Crimea.

Why? Because the Canadian Peace Congress has no interest whatsoever in peace. It's purely a far-left, anti-Western group. And more's the pity, far too much of our supposed peace groups are much the same.

I've pasted in the lunatic statement from Canadian Peace Congress below this lovely old clip from South Park:

The deteriorating crisis in Ukraine is extremely dangerous. There is an immediate threat of a regional or world war. Interference by foreign powers in complex internal affairs has widened divisions and deepened the crisis, and has even helped strengthen openly fascist forces within the country.

The Canadian Peace Congress is particularly concerned that the US, EU and NATO – the most powerful forces of imperialism – have been manipulating and encouraging the conflict, in an effort to provoke “regime change” in Ukraine and bring about a realignment of Europe in the process.
In particular, we are concerned that the situation in Ukraine is a key element in NATO’s ongoing strategy of expansion in Europe, and encirclement of Russia. It is notable that, as the crisis in Ukraine developed, NATO has become increasingly aggressive both in its efforts to draw Georgia into the military alliance, and its drive to install missile defence weaponry in Poland.
Canada, a member of NATO, has sent Foreign Minister John Baird to Ukraine with the clear purpose of encouraging the pro-EU and pro-NATO faction that has taken over the present government in Kiev. This follows on a unanimous motion in the Canadian Parliament in January, that voiced support for anti-government protests and encouraged sanctions.
Canadian Peace Congress asserts that it is the sole right of the peoples of each country to determine the path of their social, economic and political development, free from foreign interference. The Canadian government’s efforts to meddle in Ukraine’s internal affairs, and to use the crisis to pursue imperialist ambitions, is shameful and should be denounced.
Please contact Members of Parliament now, and call upon the government to immediately stop its interference, and prevent war in Ukraine. Click here for a list of email addresses for all Members of Parliament.
P.S. Over in Britain, the Stop the War Coalition has adopted much the same stance as our own Canadian nutters. The Economist Magazine has gone through the bother of analyzing Stop the War's anti-Western response toward the crisis in Ukraine here.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Abbas doesn’t want to flood Israel with Palestinians; many Palestinians beg to differ

Arab wars against Israel turned 100s of thousands of Palestinians into refugees.
In the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon the children, grandchildren and 
great-grandchildren of these refugees have been declared hereditary refugees,
sustained by the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency, a special UN 
Agency created to keep the Palestinian as refugees, rather than actually settle 
them and improve their lives. Read more here.
Here’s a good news, bad news story. President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has publicly declared he doesn’t want to flood Israel with Palestinians and thus turn it into a Palestinian state. 
This is enormously important, as every Palestinian political group – without exception – has always said that every one of the millions of great grandchildren of the Palestinians made into refugees by Arab against Israel have an inalienable “right of return” to Israel. And of course this would change Israel from a Jewish state to one more Arab state – full of people with a deep and abiding hatred for Jews.
Obviously, Israel is never going to agree to commit national suicide, so the end of the conflict has always depended on Palestinians giving up on this fantasy of flooding Israel and turning it into a Palestinian state.
Now Abbas has actually had the courage of saying he doesn’t want to do this. That’s very good news. But here’s the bad news. Abbas didn’t say this to a Palestinian audience, he said it to Jewish Israeli students, members of the One Voice peace group. And he didn’t go so far as to outright renounce the “right of return” or admit there is no such thing.
But still he was hammered by Palestinian groups. What’s the bottom line here: It’s possible Abbas is a partner for peace; but he’s opposed by the Palestinian people …

Palestinian President Abbas takes question from Israeli student
Palestinians: Eight Million Refugees Must "Return" to Israel
by Khaled Abu Toameh
February 21, 2014 at 5:00 am

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is facing criticism from Palestinian refugees for saying that he does not want to "flood" Israel with millions of refugees.

Abbas made his statement during a meeting in his Ramallah office earlier this week with dozens of Israeli students – the first direct encounter of its kind between the Palestinian Authority president and Israeli youths.

Abbas has also come under criticism for breaking a ban by Palestinian activists on meetings with Israelis. The ban has been imposed over the past few years by "anti-normalization" activists who oppose such meetings between Israelis and Palestinians.

Abbas's controversial remarks about the "right of return" highlight the difficulties facing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in his efforts to achieve a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinian reactions to Abbas's remarks show that the issue of the refugees remains a sensitive and explosive one that could torpedo any agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Abbas told the Israeli students that the claim that he was seeking to "flood" Israel with five million refugees was nonsense.

"There is propaganda saying that Abu Mazen [Abbas] wants the return of five million refugees to destroy the state of Israel," he said. "This is not true at all. All what we said was: Let's place the issue of the refugees on the table because it's a sensitive case which needs to be solved in order to end the conflict and so that the refugees would be satisfied with a peace agreement. But we are not seeking to drown Israel with millions in order to change its demography. This is nonsense."

Representatives of Palestinian refugees rushed to issue condemnations of Abbas, accusing him of relinquishing the "right of return" of millions of Palestinians to their former villages and towns inside Israel.

In Lebanon, where some 450,000 Palestinians live in several refugee camps and are exposed to Apartheid Laws that deny them access to many jobs and economic, health and educations services, Abbas's comments were received with deep resentment. During an emergency meeting in one of the refugee camps in Lebanon, Abbas was accused of "abandoning the right of return and harming Palestinian rights."

The refugees said they were particularly enraged over the fact that protest letters they sent to the Palestinian Authority embassy in Beirut were totally ignored.

Dr. Esam Udwan, an expert on refugee affairs, was quoted as saying that "Abbas's statements have caused damage to Palestinian rights." Accusing Abbas of providing Israel with concessions in return for nothing, Udwan said, "These remarks reflect Abbas's conviction that the issue of the refugees is ineffective and they have no right to return because this would mean drowning Israel. 

This is completely unacceptable. Who said that there are only five million refugees? The real number is eight million. Abbas mentioned the five million who are registered with UNRWA and benefit from its services. But there are millions of others who do not receive services from UNRWA and are not registered with it. This does not mean that they should be denied the right of return."

Ali Huwaidi, another expert on refugee affairs, also lashed out at Abbas: "Regardless of Abbas's statements, the right of return is guaranteed, individually and collectively, through UN resolutions. The refugees will not give up their right no matter where they are living today. Abbas is worried about flooding Israel with five million refugees while Israel has brought one million people from the former Soviet Union and no one complained about this. Our refugees will not accept any alternative to their right to return to their homeland and we do not care what Abbas's position is."

Many Palestinians said that Abbas was not authorized to make any concessions or speak on behalf of the refugees.

This was not the first time that Abbas had come under attack on the issue of the refugees. Last year, Abbas told an Israeli TV station that he personally does not want to return to his former hometown of Safed in northern Israel. That comment too was seen by his critics as a sign that he was willing to "surrender" the "right of return" for millions of refugees.

Referring to Abbas's stance on the refugees, the Palestinian online newspaper Rai al Youm wrote, "President Abbas has given up his personal right to return to his hometown of Safed. He said he does not want to return to his home and will live in Ramallah. This concession, in our view, is a big sin because President Abbas should set an example for his people and not make concessions on their rights. We call upon President Abbas to stop speaking about the issue of the refugees because they haven't authorized him to make any concessions on their right of return."

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also joined the chorus of Abbas critics. The group said in a statement that Abbas's comment about the refugees was a "dangerous concession" which reflected only his personal position. "The Palestinians are not bound by these statements," the PFLP said.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups have also strongly condemned Abbas's statements as "dangerous," adding that he does not have the authority to speak on behalf of all refugees. The groups also attacked Abbas for holding "warm" meetings with the Israeli "enemy."
The reactions to Abbas's statements concerning the issue of the refugees show that any agreement that Abbas reaches with Israel under U.S. pressure will not signal the end of the conflict with Israel. They also show that millions of Palestinians continue to believe that one day they will be allowed to move to Israel, regardless of whether a Palestinian state is established in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem or not.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Scarlett Johansson opts for peace over bigotry

The antisemitic charity Oxfam has had a longstanding loathing for the only democracy in the Middle East. Oxfam doesn't get too upset about Syria where the government has killed 130,000 civilians (and counting) in the course of a bloody civil war. 

Oxfam doesn't mind Gaza at all, even though it's run by a terrorist group that oppresses the people of Gaza and openly dedicates itself to killing Jews. Oxfam isn't even too fussed by North Korea, a government busily starving its population.

In fact the only country on earth that Oxfam believes should be boycotted is a liberal democracy that safeguards the rights of all its citizens, regardless of ethnicity, creed or colour.

Now Oxfam has parted ways with its most important "ambassador," the actress Scarlett Johansson, who has raised tens of millions of dollars for Oxfam. 

You can't do an ad for SodaStream, they told her. 

Why not? 

Apparently because SodaStream is a model of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation.

SodaStream makes carbonation kits so you can make your own pop at home. SodaStream operates a manufacturing plant at the Mishor Adumim industrial park, inside the West Bank, 10 minutes from Jerusalem. The plant employs Israeli Jews and Arabs and Palestinians – including in management level positions. 

Additionally, the company provides Muslim employees with a company prayer room and break time so that they can pray – as well as benefits for all employees which includes transportation to the facility, subsidized daily meals, medical aid, maternity leave, vacation and a pension plan.

SodaStream employs more than 500 West Bank Palestinians, making the company the largest single employer of Palestinians outside of the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, as SodaStream is a profitable, forward-looking company, it pays good Israeli wages – which are two or three times the average wage in the West Bank.

All this makes SodaStream a special target for the anti-Israel crowd, which just hates the idea of peaceful cooperation.

Oxfam told Johansson it’s either us or SodaStream. Johansson chose SodaStream. It’s a no-brainer really: peace and cooperation over bigotry.

Oxfam revived the blood libel for this poster, urging people to boycott the only democracy in the Middle East.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Here's an old piece from the Palestinian intellectual Ahmad Khalidi. Khalidi represents a large Palestinian constituency....

Thanks, but no thanks
Statehood does not offer the equitable and fair solution the Palestinian people deserve
Ahmad Samih Khalidi
senior associate member of St Antony's College, Oxford
The Guardian, Thursday 13 December 2007
The Palestinian state has now become the universal standard for all solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The international community applauds the concept. President Bush proudly proclaims it as his "vision". The Israelis have come to it belatedly, after years of steadfast refusal and rejection. 

{Actually, the Israelis accepted Palestinian statehood in 1947 when the UN attempted to partition the land into Jewish and Arab states. The Arabs violently rejected the plan and attempted to destroy Israel at its birth. They failed and the Palestinians have refused to make peace ever since, which is why today there is a Jewish state but as yet no Palestinian state. But back to Khalidi...}
Today Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, not only supports the idea but proclaims it as an existential Israeli interest: without it, Israel is fated to disappear under dire assault from the ever-expanding Arab population in both Israel and the occupied territories. This apparent human tide may yet bring disaster to the Jewish state, by demanding equal civil rights to those of the Jews themselves.
But statehood as such is a relatively recent addition to Palestinian aspirations. The main Palestinian impetus after the disaster of 1948 was that of "return"; it was more about reversing the loss of Arab land and patrimony, than the fulfilment of classical post-colonial self-determination, via statehood.
Driven into national concussion by the catastrophic forced displacement of 1948 and up until the mid-1960s, the sense of a separate "Palestinian" national identity all but disappeared. This "lost consciousness" was only reversed by the emergence of Fatah under Yasser Arafat in the Arab diaspora in the late 1950s.
It was only after the 1967 debacle that a new Palestinian national identity began to take shape. At its core was the notion of the armed struggle as a galvanising force. Armed struggle, according to Fatah, restored Palestinian dignity and gave the Palestinians a say in determining their future.
Statehood and state building had no real place in this scheme. Indeed, the first tentative proposals to establish a state in Palestine (ie the West Bank) were rejected as defeatist and a betrayal of the national cause. This was certainly not an exercise in institution building, land acquisition and state building by stealth, as in the Zionist movement before 1948. After the 1973 war, Fatah's leaders turned to the notion again. This was largely the result of a realistic reading of the balance of power and a recognition of the limits of what force, on the part of the Arab states or Palestinian irregulars, was likely to achieve. Eventually, in 1988, Arafat himself backed the idea of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders as a historic compromise; Israel behind these borders would get 77% of Mandatory Palestine, and the Palestinians would be reconciled to the remaining 23%.
Today, the Palestinian state is largely a punitive construct devised by the Palestinian's worst historical enemies; Israel and its implacable ally, the US. The intention behind the state today is to constrain Palestinian aspirations territorially, to force them to give up on their moral rights, renege on their history and submit to Israel's diktats on fundamental issues of sovereignty. 

Its core is the rump Palestinian Authority that is now fundamentally sustained by the IDF presence on the West Bank. The PA is increasingly being turned into an accoutrement of Israeli occupation; its function is to serve Israeli security interests as designated by Israel itself and the US military teams that have been overseeing the buildup of Palestinian security forces.
It is very unclear how an independent state can be built on the spears of the very force that is occupying it. Or how state institutions can be constructed while the occupation continues to determine every aspect of Palestinian life.
The notion of a state was an offshoot of the Palestinian struggle and not its nodal point. Nonetheless, there was a period from the mid-1970s onwards when the state could have represented the point where Palestinian national aspirations met the boundaries of what is possible.
Now this concept is less attractive than ever. Olmert demands of Palestinians that they must give up their history. President Bush decides for them what their borders and rights must be. And Tony Blair wags a finger and tells Palestinians that they won't get a state at all unless, it meets his high standards (sic) of governance .
The temptation is to say, thanks, but no thanks. Under such circumstances, Palestinians may just opt for something else. Palestinians could simply continue to say no to a state that does nothing to address its basic needs. Either way, its hard to see how Israel can win this struggle in the long term.

{On the other hand, with these attitudes its impossible to see how the Palestinians can ever end the struggle.  The past 66 years since Israel's founding should have taught them that they can't win, but if like Khalid, they continue to reject Israel's legitimate presence in the land and continue to reject a state living side-by-side in peace with a Jewish state, their struggle never end. It's an oppressive future they're leaving to their children.}

Monday, January 27, 2014

Michael Zwaagstra: Enough about "white privilege," kids need basic knowledge

Print-based literacy, "an unfortunate example of the  neo-liberal agenda"

Michael Zwaagstra's recent experience of teacher's school

Education schools and teacher colleges have long been obsessed with issues of race and culture to the detriment of the academic basics. I experienced this personally during an education graduate course I recently completed. Throughout the course, the professor and students made repeated references to “white privilege” and frequently bashed Western civilization for being racist and sexist. 

During one of our discussions, the professor even suggested that there is too much focus on reading and writing in public schools. In her opinion, reading and writing was only one form of literacy and other forms deserve equal attention. Many students backed up the professor’s position. One of them went so far as to argue that the excessive focus on print-based literacy is an unfortunate example of the so-called neo-liberal agenda.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Toronto schools pay high prices for small jobs

With School Board elections less than a  year away, it's a good time to start reminding ourselves why we need to get rid of many of our school trustees.... 

By: Moira Welsh and Kevin Donovan Staff Reporters, The Toronto Star, Published Jun 21 2012
Here’s what taxpayers were charged for work done at Toronto public schools:
Installing a $17 pencil sharpener: $143 to put in four screws.
The installation of a sign on a school’s front lawn: $19,000
An electrical outlet on the wall in a school library: $3,000
A “breakfast club” kitchen: $250,000
When the librarian at the electrical outlet school saw the bill she hit the roof, wondering at “the number of books that could have been purchased with $3000.”
A Star investigation has found examples of charges that are out of whack with the amount of work done. The work in question was carried out by some of the 900-strong maintenance and construction trades people who have an exclusive contract with the Toronto District School Board. In the case of the electrical plug, the job took four hours, but taxpayers were billed 76 hours, which sources say was done to account for the time of idle workers who had no assignments that week.
Principals, trustees and parents say that much needed work on Toronto’s aging schools is not getting done. Principals were terrified of repercussions from their management and the union and would not go on the record for this story. Some who have complained say they have been threatened by the union with losing their jobs if they speak up.
Union boss Jimmy Hazel, when first asked about these high costs two weeks ago, unleashed a stream of profanity at a Star reporter.
“We don’t need to f------ prove anything to anybody about costs,” Hazel said. “A s---load more work was done to justify the cost of that plug job I can tell you.”
The TDSB’s chief facilities officer, Angelos Bacopoulos, said in an interview that the board realizes they have a serious problem.
“How widespread it is, I do not know,” Bacopoulos said.
He is trying to fix the system, but faces opposition from the union. The contract with the union expires this August and negotiations will begin in September, a TDSB spokesperson said.
{Update: the Provincial Liberal government went over the head of the Toronto Board and renewed basically the same sweetheart deal with the same scuzzy unions.}
Each year, principals at the almost 600 public schools across Toronto submit requests to get work done. Under a longstanding agreement with Jimmy Hazel’s Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council, almost all of that work must be performed by its members, who are TDSB employees. Projects larger than $1.5 million, or those requiring special skills, can only be done by companies whose workers are part of affiliated unions.
Principals are given budgets for repairs at their school and are asked to prioritize the work.
When the call came in early 2012 to install a new electrical outlet in the library (the librarian wanted to plug in a projector and create a new “learning space” for students) at Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, it seemed like an easy request. Since it involved electrical work, union rules required two TDSB electricians to be dispatched. The job, which involved attaching a plug to the library wall and then running cable through the suspended ceiling to an electrical panel, took two hours (four person hours in total).
TDSB emails show about $2,000 was refunded to the school’s account after the principal complained.
A source with knowledge of this project told the Star that the four person hour electrical outlet job was padded with 72 additional hours to justify paying the salary of other electricians who had no work to do. The source also told the Star that Hazel has now determined that he has too many electricians, and as many as seven have recently been laid off.
At the Toronto Catholic District School Board, a school system about half the size of the public board, only 70 workers are employed full-time. Other work is contracted out. Spokesperson Angelo Sangiorgio said it would not “make sense” to employ more because there is not enough plumbing or electrical work to keep trades people busy.
Another job the Star looked into involved installing a pencil sharpener at Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate in 2009. The school purchased the sharpener at Grand and Toy at a cost of $17.
Principals and custodial staff have long been told that Hazel’s union must do the bulk of the work at schools. The principal at the school, Rick Tarasuk, requested installation of the sharpener and a crew was sent out by the TDSB. The sharpener has five screws. It was installed with only four screws under a bookshelf.
Tarasuk was shocked at the cost and raised the issue at a meeting of east end principals. TDSB director Chris Spence was in attendance and vowed to have the charge reversed.
Later, when the Star asked Hazel why it cost $143 to install the pencil sharpener, Hazel passed on TDSB emails that labelled the charge a “clerical error.” Sources say Hazel then called school Tarasuk and threatened to use his influence to have him fired. Hazel told the popular principal he would do this by “going upstairs” to the school’s board of directors. Hazel told the Star in an email this week that while “I can’t have anyone fired,” he is going to talk to TDSB director Spence and complain about Tarasuk because he thinks the principal’s conduct could rate “termination” in most workplaces.
The TDSB has told the Star that it has now sent a message out to school caretakers (who work for a different union) instructing them that they may install pencil sharpeners.

And at the school board, this is what they call progress.