Monday, August 25, 2014

Four Arab taxi drivers injured as Hamas mortars slam into Erez terminal

A man injured by a mortar shell is rushed to the emergency room after arriving at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon on August 24, 2014.
(photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

On Sunday afternoon, the Erez crossing point into Israel was hit by a barrage of fire from Gaza. Several Israeli-Arab taxi drivers — whose job is to transport Palestinians from Gaza for medical treatment in Israel — were hurt in the onslaught.
An outraged Israeli-Arab Erez crossing official, who spoke to Army Radio from a secured area at the crossing during a subsequent rocket attack, lambasted Hamas for not caring about the well-being of the Palestinians in Gaza.
“This is an organization that cares about the [Palestinian] people? They’re shooting at the Palestinian terminal,” said the staffer. He stressed that, despite the rocket barrages, the crossing had not closed for emergency medical cases, and that two Gaza females were evacuated “20 minutes ago” via the crossing for life-saving surgery in Israel, and that other taxi-drivers were on hand, “as always,” to transport emergency patients.
Hussein Abu-Einam, an eyewitness on the scene, told Army Radio: “The [drivers] sat in a shed and waited for the passengers and their relatives who were leaving Gaza for Israeli hospitals Ichilov and Tel Hashomer. Then seven shells fell — just one after the other. We didn’t have time to flee; it was a matter of a second.”
Palestinians regularly seek medical treatment in Israel – 180,000 of them in 2013. Even Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh sends his family to Israel for treatment; over the past two years, Israel has treated the terrorist’s granddaughter and his sister’s husband.
Palestinians in Gaza seeking medical aid in Israel generally use the Erez Crossing, and Israel has struggled to keep it open throughout Hamas’s current war against Israel.
Some 50 people were scheduled to use the Erez crossing Sunday, but after the barrage, Kamil Abu Rokan, the Director of the Crossings Point Authority of the Defense Ministry, and General Yoav Mordehai, the Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), closed the crossing to all traffic except for life-saving cases.
Eli Bean, head of Magen David Adom {the Israeli Red Cross}, said the paramedics who were dispatched to the crossing were forced to treat the injured taxi drivers under fire.
“During treatment, we were forced to deal with a number of sirens and mortar explosions fired at us. The mortar shells fell very close to those who were injured,” he said.
Up to 11 mortar and rocket rounds landed near the crossing, the army said.
The IDF said it retaliated against a hidden launch site in the northern Gaza Strip, from which the concentrated barrage was launched.
Last week, a temporary ceasefire ended when Palestinian terror groups in Gaza renewed rocket launches at Israel hours before the declared lull in fighting was due to expire. Exchanges of fire have continued unabated since, with near continuous rocket barrages emanating from Gaza and Israel launching airstrikes on Hamas targets across the coastal enclave.
Daniel Tragerman, murdered by Hamas, August 22, 2014.
May his memory be a blessing.
Four-year-old Daniel Tragerman of the southern Kibbutz Nahal Oz was killed by shrapnel on Friday, after a mortar shell exploded outside the Tragerman home. The family said they only had a three-second warning from when the siren sounded, and didn’t have enough time to enter the fortified room.
More than 570 missiles have been launched from Gaza into Israeli territory since Hamas broke the latest ceasefire on August 19, five days ago, the Foreign Ministry said.
Many of these have been launched from “various civilian facilities exploited by Hamas terrorists,” the ministry said in a press release.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hamas and Islamic Jihad attack humanitarian aid entering Gaza, as usual

Islamic Jihad took credit for a recent attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing

Today, Hamas or one of its terrorist allies in Gaza, fired a 107 mm rocket at the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza.

Indeed, Palestinian terrorists have targeted the Kerem Shalom crossing throughout their current war against Israel. What makes this bizarre is that this is the border crossing where nearly all humanitarian aid enters Gaza.

Since the beginning of the war, more than 5,000 trucks carrying tens of thousands of tons of humanitarian goods, including medical equipment, food, fuel, gas, and other goods have crossed via Kerem Shalom into Gaza.

Why do Gaza hospitals have medicine and other medical supplies? Because the Israeli army keeps the border open. Why don’t Gazans starve? Again, because the IDF protects this crucial border crossing and ensures that supplies get into Gaza.

On a couple occasions, the terrorists have even managed to briefly close the border. For example, on August 10, an Israelis spokesman announced:
After continuous and intentional rocket fire at the Kerem Shalom Crossing this morning and this afternoon, during which trucks carrying flammable materials to the Gaza Strip were almost hit, we took the exceptional decision to close the crossing in order to protect the lives of workers and traders.

Of course when the terrorists succeed in closing the border, they close down all humanitarian aid to Gaza.

But these on-going attempts by Hamas to prevent aid from entering Gaza have gone largely unreported in the international press. Human rights groups haven’t protested, the UN remains silent, and pro-Palestinian groups are utterly indifferent. 

As the Elder of Ziyon remarks: “You almost get the impression that they would prefer to have Gazans starve so they have something else to blame on Israel.

Friday, August 15, 2014

We're not getting all the news from Gaza, just the news Hamas wants the world to hear

Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV reports on Hamas rocket fired from next to his hotel

Hamas manipulated and intimidated the media in Gaza. Why was that kept from us?


Alan Johnson is the Editor of Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region and Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). A professor of democratic theory and practice, he is an editorial board member of Dissent magazine, and a Senior Research Associate at The Foreign Policy Centre.

We should normally say if our reports are censored or monitored or if we withhold information, and explain, wherever possible, the rules under which we are operating. –  Section 11.4.1 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and impartiality in times of War, Terror and Emergencies

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) issued an astonishing protest yesterday about "blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox" intimidation of journalists in the Gaza Strip by Hamas"In several cases," they complained, "foreign reporters working in Gaza have been harassed, threatened or questioned over stories."

The FPA said this amounted to "denying readers and viewers an objective picture from the ground," adding  "we are also aware that Hamas is trying to put in place a 'vetting' procedure that would, in effect, allow for the blacklisting of specific journalists. Such a procedure is vehemently opposed by the FPA.The statement raises a lot of questions. Here is one: why have British broadcasters not mentioned any of this to their viewers?

Let's review what we know.

Indian television station NDTV broadcast and posted on its internet site on 5 August a report by Sreenivasan Jain showing rockets fired from a tent next to his hotel. In the accompanying text on NDTV’s website, Jain wrote that it was published "after our team left the Gaza Strip – Hamas has not taken very kindly to any reporting of its rockets being fired. But just as we reported the devastating consequences of Israel’s offensive on Gaza’s civilians, it is equally important to report on how Hamas places those very civilians at risk by firing rockets deep from the heart of civilian zones."

In an article published subsequently, Jain wrote of "the fear which hobbles the reporting such material: fear of reprisals from Hamas against us", asking "how long do we self-censor because of the fear of personal safety in return for not telling a story that exposes how those launching rockets are putting so many more lives at risk, while the rocket-makers themselves are at a safe distance?"

Hamas spokesman being interviewed at Al Shifa Hospital, which doubles as Hamas's military command centre

More and more examples of intimidation of journalists by Hamas are seeping out of Gaza:

·         Israeli filmmaker Michael Grynszpan described on Facebook an exchange he had had with a Spanish journalist who had just left Gaza. "We talked about the situation there. He was very friendly. I asked him how come we never see on television channels reporting from Gaza any Hamas people, no gunmen, no rocket launcher, no policemen. We only see civilians on these reports, mostly women and children. He answered me frankly: 'It's very simple, we did see Hamas people there launching rockets, they were close to our hotel, but if ever we dare pointing our camera on them they would simply shoot at us and kill us.'"

·         An op-ed in The Australian and other sources including The Jerusalem Post noted that after Nine Network reporter Peter Stefanovic tweeted that he had seen rockets fired into Israel from near his hotel, he was threatened by pro-Hamas tweeters and warned: "in WWII spies got shot".

·         The Wall Street Journal's Nick Casey posted a photo of a Hamas spokesman being interviewed from a room in the hospital along with this tweet: "You have to wonder (with) the shelling how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see media." After "a flood of online threats", the tweet was deleted.

·         John Reed of The Financial Times was reportedly threatened after he tweeted about rockets being fired from the same hospital.

·         Following his departure from Gaza, Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati tweeted on 29 July. "Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris."

·         French-Palestinian journalist Radjaa Abou Dagga wrote anarticle for French newspaper LibĂ©ration, on July 23, detailing how he was "detained and interrogated by members of Hamas's al-Qassam Brigade at a room in Shifa hospital next to the emergency room" and was forced to leave Gaza immediately without his papers. The day after publication, Mr Dagga asked LibĂ©ration to remove his article from their website.
·         RT correspondent Harry Fear was told to leave Gaza after he tweeted that Hamas fired rockets into Israel from near his hotel.

Hamas manipulation of the media is not always so crude.

·         As reported in Times of Israel on 11 July, the Hamas Ministry of Interior in Gaza published a video in Arabic advising on "cautious and effective" social media engagement on Facebook and Twitter during Operation Protective Edge. It contained such directives as "Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank … Don't forget to always add 'innocent civilian' or 'innocent citizen' in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza."

·         Hamas has also actively interfered with bomb sites in order to gain PR advantage. The Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan detailed how Hamas staged events and scenes to evoke sympathy. By way of illustration, he was taken to photograph a mosque that had been bombed, and discovered that someone had "prepared" the scene and placed a prayer mat and burnt Quran pages. "The symbolism was obvious, almost too perfect. It was clear that someone had placed them there to attract sympathy for the Palestinian cause. A television crew spotted the pile and filmed it. Mission accomplished."

·         Hamas ensure reporters are exposed to casualties by insisting that spokesmen could only be interviewed in the courtyard of the Al-Shifa hospital, as described by Ynet News.

The long Hamas record of shutting down news bureaus, arresting reporters and cameramen, confiscating equipment and beating journalists has already been documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists. In the latest conflict Hamas wanted to reduce the reports coming out of Gaza to what Reinhold Niebuhr once called "emotionally potent over-simplifications". Journalists from India, America, Norway, Italy, Spain, Australia, Canada and elsewhere are complaining. Will we now hear from the Brits?


P.S.  Check out this broadcast from Lebanon in which a Hamas spokesperson expresses Hamas's annoyance with journalists who were "fixated on the notion of peace." The spokesperson explains Hamas's  policy of having "a chat" with journalists who don't follow Hamas's narrative and how they deported journalists who filmed where Hamas fired their rockets; e.g., from school yards, hospitals and hotel parking lots. 


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Palestinian terrorist rocket hits Egypt, kills one child, injures two

Israel isn't the only country in the Middle East that has to deal with terrorism: Photo of Egyptian tourist bus bombed by terrorists, Feb 16,  2014
CAIRO Aug 13 (Reuters) - One child was killed and two others were wounded when a rocket landed on their home in the Egyptian town of el-Mattallah south of Rafah, near the border with Gaza, security and medical sources told Reuters on Wednesday.
Sara Salama, 13, died while her brother Khaled, 8, and sister Rahaf, 2, sustained serious injuries and were taken to hospital.
The rocket impact is the third to hit the area in recent weeks, security sources said, adding that Egyptian authorities were investigating the incident.
* * *
Most likely these rockets hitting Egypt are misfires; Hamas or one of the other terrorist groups that makes its home in Gaza, firing missiles towards Israel, hoping to kill Jewish children, but they’ve missed Israel completely and murdered an Egyptian child instead.
It’s possible, though, that Hamas is firing rockets into Egypt deliberately, trying to send a message to the Egyptian authorities that Hamas is just as capable of terror against Egypt as it is against Israel – more so, as Egypt doesn’t have Israel’s defences.  – Brian

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hamas kills Palestinians

Hamas rocket firing from Gaza residential area
As I write this, Israel has finished withdrawing all its troops from Gaza and Hamas has at last agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire, which everyone hopes can be transformed into a long-term ceasefire. (No one expects Hamas to actually make peace.)
This same ceasefire was on the table three weeks ago, but Hamas rejected it. That rejection led to the deaths of another 1,600 people, maybe half of them civilians, and to the levelling of several Gaza neighbourhoods.

Israel has bombed the buildings used as rocket factories, weapons depots, and sniper posts. They’ve levelled buildings used to conceal entrances to Hamas’s many military tunnels and bulldozed other buildings looking for more tunnels.
And what Israel left standing, Hamas itself destroyed. Hamas booby-trapped houses wherever they operated, wiring much of Gaza to self-destruct. On one street alone, the Israeli army found 19 of the 28 houses rigged with improvised explosive devices. (See here.)
Given that Hamas operates exclusively in residential areas and has turned homes, mosques, schools and hospitals into military posts, it’s a wonder many more Palestinian civilians haven't been killed. Only Israel’s extraordinary efforts has kept the death toll down.
Israelis run for bomb shelter. Residents in the south have only 15 seconds from when a siren sounds until a rocket hits. For mortar shells, they have even less time to seek shelter. Fortunately mortars can't fire deeply into Israel. But on Aug 22, Hamas did succeed in murdering a 4-year-old Jewish child with a mortar strike on his community near the Gaza border.
Israel tries to hit only military targets and encourages civilians to leave areas it operates in, leafleting from the air, providing maps and directions to safe zones, even telephoning and texting individuals to urge them to leave target areas.
Hamas of course takes no such precautions. To date, it's fired more than 3,300 missiles toward Israel, attempting to murder innocent civilians.
Fortunately, Israel has invested billions in defensive measures. Throughout the country, sirens warn of incoming attacks, and almost every household and building has a bomb shelter nearby. Moreover, Israel now has the Iron Dome system that shoots down rockets headed for inhabited areas.
It's all worked. Hamas hoped to murder thousands of innocents. Instead all their rockets have killed just three civilians on the Israeli side: one Bedouin, one foreign worker, and one Jew. {As of Aug 22, one more: a 4-year-old Jewish boy.}
Hamas rockets have killed many more Palestinians.
Map showing first 280 Hamas rocket strikes within Gaza
These rockets are purely terror weapons. They can’t be aimed at anything smaller than a town. In fact to date, 450 of Hamas’s projectiles missed Israel entirely and fell within Gaza.
How many Palestinians have these misfired missiles killed?
Like Israel, Hamas has invested huge resources in making itself immune to attack from the air. They’ve built elaborate underground bunkers and many tunnels – miles and miles of tunnels built by child labour. Their “nimble bodies” makes children ideal for this work. But children are also fragile. According to Hamas officials, by 2012 at least one hundred and sixty children had died digging tunnels for Hamas.
Note that civilians are barred from sheltering in these tunnels. The underground bunkers keep Hamas commanders and fighters safe. The tunnels were built to store weapons and to enable terrorist attacks into Israel.
As 450 Hamas missiles rained down on Gaza, the civilian population was defenceless. Hamas did not leaflet the areas where they were operating to warn civilians to clear out. On the contrary, Hamas directed them to stay. And there were no warning sirens and no shelters that civilians were allowed to hide in.
Finnish journalist reporting Hamas rocket being fired from the parking lot of Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza
We happen to know that in one barrage Palestinian terrorists hit both Al-Shifa Hospital and a playground in Al-Shati refugee camp, apparently with Fajir-5 missiles, which carry a 100-kilogram warhead. The strike on the playground killed ten Palestinians, nine of them children and injured 46.
Another errant terrorist missile apparently hit a UN School in Beit Hanoun which was being used as a shelter for Palestinian civilians. Fifteen were killed and as many as 200 wounded.
In addition to the rockets, Hamas regularly fires small arms in the residential areas where it operates. Hamas’s weapon of choice is the RPG29, a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile that can penetrate thick reinforced-concrete walls. I wouldn’t want gunmen running around firing those off in my neighbourhood.
How many Palestinians has Hamas killed? We’ll never know. It’s not the sort of information Hamas shares with the world.
But there’s nothing new about this. On June 24, during the run-up to the current war, a rocket Hamas fired at Israel fell within Gaza, killing a three-year-old girl and injuring three other Palestinians (here).  And throughout the previous nine years, Hamas rockets have killed and injured as many Palestinians as Israelis.
Flyer showing Israelis how much time they have to find a shelter after a warning siren
There’s a widespread notion that Israel can’t win in wars like this, because when Israel defends itself against terrorist attacks, it only creates more terrorists. I don’t buy it.
Polls of Palestinians have shown Hamas losing popular support ever since they beat Fatah in the 2007 election. The most recent poll, taken in June, showed that Hamas is deeply unpopular: 88% of Gazans want the Palestinian Authority to take over from Hamas; 70% thought Hamas should maintain its ceasefire with Israel and 57% supported PA president Abbas's position that the Palestinian government should renounce violence against Israel. 

Obviously Gazans didn't get what they wanted.
There have been reports of deep anger at Hamas and of a Hamas spokesman being beaten by a crowd (here). This should surprise no one. Hamas’s policy of endless war against Israel has brought nothing but poverty, destruction and death.
If I were living in Gaza, I’d want to pull the Hamas commanders out of their nice safe bunkers and string them up on the nearest lamp pole. 
*
Postscript: Hamas broke the ceasefire two hours it was set to expire on Friday morning and began once again firing rockets toward Israel. These continue to fall indiscriminately on Israel and Gaza alike.
Diplomatic efforts continue in Egypt, and there still appears to be a good chance that a longer term truce will emerge. However, it’s also clear that Israelis have had enough. This is the third small war Hamas has provoked in seven years.
If Hamas and the other terrorists groups won’t stop firing rockets, Israelis favour taking Hamas out completely, even knowing this may cost the lives of hundreds of their young men.

Note: A slightly shorter version of this article appeared in the Jewish Tribune.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Is it time to boycott the Toronto Star again?

Entry to Iran's Holocaust cartoon contest
The Toronto Star has long held a bias against Israel. Some decades ago, the Jewish community became sufficiently fed up to boycott the paper, and then its news coverage did improve.

But one thing that never changed is the unrelenting loathing of Israel expressed by the Star’s political columnists. Month after month, Haroon Siddique, Thomas Walkom, Antonia Zerbisias, Rick Salutin, have suggested that Israel is the most contemptible place in the world.

But the Star may have hit a new low with a recent column from Heather Mallick titled “Gaza? That’s history stomping its foot.” In her bizarre column, Mallick asserts that Israel attacks Palestinian civilians and does so because, as Jews, Israelis can’t get over the Holocaust.

Where to even begin?

First, it’s a malicious lie that Israel attacks civilians. Israel targets Hamas fighters, commanders, and weapon depots. For its part, Hamas deliberately puts Palestinian civilians at in harm’s way by launching attacks from next to homes, schools, mosques and hospitals and using them as weapons’ depots.
A neighbourhood in Gaza, where Hamas launched rockets at
Israel from a mosque, a hospital, a cemetery & a playground
Israel goes to great lengths to urge civilians to leave areas coming under attack – not only leafleting from the air but also telephoning and texting individuals – extraordinary measures never before attempted by any other army in history. But while Israel begs Palestinian civilians to clear out before attacking, Hamas instructs them to stay.

As former president Bill Clinton recently noted, Hamas’s “crass strategy” is to turn public opinion against Israel by deliberately raising the Palestinian body count.  

In this moral equation, Mallick comes down on the side of Hamas. She condemns Israel phoning civilians to warn them of impending attacks, sneering at the practice as “almost beyond belief.”

Mallick needs to listen to the Palestinian ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council. On Palestinian TV, he explained why Palestinians should hesitate to join the International Criminal Court. “Each and every missile” Hamas launches against Israel “constitutes a crime against humanity, whether it hits or misses, because it is directed at civilian targets,” he explained.

In contrast, he went on, “Many of our people in Gaza appeared on TV and said that the Israeli army warned them to evacuate their homes before the bombardment. In such a case, if someone is killed, the law considers it a mistake rather than an intentional killing, because [the Israelis] followed the legal procedures.”

As for Mallick’s accusation that Jews “lash out” at Palestinians because we can’t get over “the hurts of history” and because we’ve “learned the wrong thing” from the Holocaust, it’s a nasty slur, but not original. It’s a trend among antisemites to use the Holocaust as a club with which to beat Jews, and it's a trend that's seeped into the mainstream.

In its crudest form, antisemites accuse Jews of inventing the Holocaust  to extort money from Germans or sympathy from gullible gentiles. Alternatively Jews are pictured as the new Nazis, having been sent to “Auschwitz and Dachau not to suffer, but to learn”  as the Greek newspaper Ethnos put it in a cartoon back in 2002. 
Israeli soldier: “Don’t feel guilty, brother. 
We were not in Aushchwitz and Dachau to suffer, but to learn.” 
If Mallick would simply visit reality, she’d find Israel’s war with Hamas easier to explain. In the past nine years since Israel left Gaza, Hamas and other terrorist groups have fired 14,000 rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza into Israel, attempting to murder innocent Israelis.

Previous short wars reduced the rain of missiles, but Hamas provoked the current crisis by again sharply increasing their rocket fire. Israel’s aim is to end this ceaseless terrorism, and Hamas knows it can stop this war anytime. All it has to do is agree to live in peace. 

To her credit, Mallick calls Hamas’s rocket attacks “vile,” but she also states that “Palestinians are right to fight the Occupation.”

I’ve always supported negotiations and peace, so I’m dismayed that Mallick endorses fighting, particularly as Palestinian violence has generally been terrorism. But I’m also bewildered. Does Mallick not know that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005? What “occupation” does she imagine Hamas is fighting?

Hamas broadcast this sermon on July 25, calling for the extermination of Jews

As for the West Bank, its ruler, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has called on Hamas to accept a ceasefire and has publicly questioned what Hamas can possibly hope to achieve by firing rockets at Israel.

In any case, throughout its 27 years of existence, Hamas has never pretended its purpose is to end Israel’s defensive occupation of the West Bank. It’s insisted that it intends to destroy Israel and to kill Jews. Full stop. And no one watching Hamas’s actions can doubt their sincerity.

Indeed, just last Friday, July 25, Hamas broadcast a religious sermon, stating, “Our doctrine in fighting you {the Jews} is that we will totally exterminate you. We will not leave a single one of you alive.”

This is what Hamas is all about. But it’s not something you’ll ever see reported in the Toronto Star.

In her column, Mallick also asserts that terrorists will slaughter Canadians in revenge for Israel’s war with Hamas. This at least is original. To my knowledge no other pundit in the world has suggested such an unlikely scenario.

I don’t know if Mallick is really so crazed that she believe this or if she cynically hopes to make Canadians fear that Israel is putting us all in danger. But I do think it’s time to remind ourselves that whenever we buy the Toronto Star or advertise in the Star, we’re paying for that paper to continue slandering Israel. I think it’s time we stopped.

Postscript: Col Richard Kemp who spent 30 years fighting terrorists for the British army gives a good overview of the difficulties of fighting an enemy who wants to increase their own civilian body count here.

Note" A slightly shorter version of this article appeared in the Jewish Tribune.

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.