Israel has a bad electoral system, says visiting professor

“The people spoke more than a month ago but the prime minister-designate is still waiting outside the delivery room,” Professor Arye Naor observed in a recent talk at York University, wrote The Canadian Jewish News in its March 26 edition. “Why does it happen? Why does it happen again and again?” The reason for Israel’s perennial political paralysis, Naor bluntly put it, is “a very bad electoral system.”

A professor of public policy and administration at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Naor is visiting professor of Israel studies at York. His talk was the inaugural lecture in the Culture, Society and Values in Israel course he teaches, part of the study program in York’s Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies.

Naor blames a “multiplicity of parties” for the mess. Israel employs an electoral system called party-list proportional representation, based on the strength of political parties across the spectrum. In the last election, 33 parties vied for 120 seats. Twelve of them actually won seats thanks to a rule that a party needs at least two per cent of the popular vote to win a seat.

With that kind of patchwork, it’s little wonder that every government in Israel’s history has been a coalition, said Naor, who served as cabinet secretary to former prime minister Menachem Begin. As a result, Israel is in “permanent crisis” politically. “It leads to government dysfunction. It is very difficult to function properly when the decision-making group is divided from the inside and competing all the time with each other.”

Major decisions surrounding the peace process and national budgets often suffer as a result, he said. “It’s impossible to run a country under these circumstances.”

Naor said Benjamin Netanyahu’s “real difficulties will begin” when he forms a coalition, tries to balance cabinet posts among his partners, and may have to sacrifice his policies. “When politics and policies collide, you know which one prevails,” Naor said, noting that it was Netanyahu who, as a hardline former prime minister, ceded the West Bank town of Hebron to the Palestinians.

Student elections held at York 

Elections for the York Federation of Students (YFS) held March 17 to 20, resulted in the defeat of candidates for York Forward, a slate that had opposed members of the old YFS executive for supporting the recent 12-week strike by York University teaching assistants and for having what slate members said is an anti-Israel bias, wrote The Canadian Jewish News in its March 26 edition.

All but one of the 16 candidates who ran for YFS positions under the York Forward banner were defeated. Based on an unratified vote count, the slate Students First – led by Krisna Saravanamuttu, outgoing YFS vice-president equity, who was running for council president – won all the key executive positions, YFS chief returning officer Casey Chu Cheong said Monday.

Daniel Ferman, president of Hillel@York and a York Forward candidate, won his race to represent the Schulich School of Business on YFS. He said he’s happy he won, but suggested that “the integrity of the electoral process” was compromised, wrote the News. “Many of the concerns stem from the use of a paper balloting system, which has few checks and balances. The ballots aren’t numbered, and the elections process is administered by those that are currently in government and not an independent third party,” Ferman said.

“People also mysteriously disappeared from the voters list. Many people were told they voted when they had not.” Ferman added that York Forward is evaluating its options before making a decision about appealing the results or demanding a recount.

Learn the language of love at Glendon

It’s easy to forget but, like Canada, York University was originally founded as a bilingual institution, wrote Metro Canada March 24. Today, that spirit is preserved at its founding campus, Glendon, which remains a prime destination for students interested in learning French.

“We’re Toronto’s best-kept secret,” says Susanne Holunga, director of Glendon’s extended learning department. “Not a lot of people know about us.”

Students enrol in Glendon’s extended learning French courses for various reasons. “A lot of our clientele come in because they’re travelling,” Holunga says. “Or they want a job with the federal government, or their children may be in French immersion and they want to communicate with them and help with their homework.”

The department offers three levels of French instruction: beginner, intermediate and advanced. There’s also French conversation, for advanced speakers, and Perfect your French, which focuses on writing.

Regardless of the course, lessons are activity-based, and bear little resemblance to the rote learning many Canadians remember from high school. “The focus of our program is communicative,” says Holunga. “Out of the activity comes the grammar, so the teacher will focus on practising the language, and grammar, by the way.”

Like all courses at Glendon, class sizes are small – most are between eight to 10 students, Holunga says – and students meet once a week, on Saturdays.

The school offers other language courses, including Arabic and Cantonese. “Right now we’re teaching Italian,” Holunga says. “If enough students phone in and want a specific language, we’ll set up the class for that. Learning a language is a lot of work,” says Holunga. “At first it’s fun, but you have to decide whether you have the stamina to stay with it.”

York grad among Aboriginal award winners

Our province was well represented at the recent National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, wrote the The Leader-Post (Regina, Sask.) March 25, in a story that detailed York grad Delia Opekokew’s award for Law and Justice.

Opekokew’s life has been devoted to bringing social justice to aboriginal people, wrote The Leader-Post. At the cost of separation from her family and community, Opekokew was educated at Indian residential schools. "It was the only option I had if I wanted an education," she has said.

At 21, she began her involvement in aboriginal activism as assistant to Walter Dieter, then chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, which later became the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, and founder of the National Indian Brotherhood, now the Assembly of First Nations. Travelling with him, she met Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, federal cabinet ministers, premiers and other officials.

She earned her law degree in 1977 from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and become the first aboriginal woman to be called to the bar in both Ontario and Saskatchewan.

She has served as negotiator for the settlement of several land claims across the country, and was involved in public inquiries into the death of Leo Lachance in Prince Albert, Sask. and Dudley George in Ontario. She was a founding member of the Canadian Indian Lawyers’ Association (now the Indigenous Bar Association) and is one of several vice-presidents of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Free speech has its limits

The thought that terrorist supporter, George Galloway, or terrorist practitioner, William Ayers, can claim free speech protections for themselves is inconsistent and irritating if not unsurprising, wrote Terry Heinrichs, chair of the Political Science Department at York’s Glendon College, in a letter to the National Post March 25. Both support regimes who deny freedom of speech to their own peoples and neither has exactly been known for supporting the free speech rights of those who disagree with them. Nevertheless, the free speech issue of their admittance into Canada transcends their individual rights to speak – whatever their particular views on the issue.

What is at stake here has nothing to do with the rights of any speaker; it has to do with the rights of individual Canadians to hear what they have to say. This is the real free speech right at issue in such cases and it is an audience’s not a speaker’s right. Cast this way, can we plausibly say that we have any democratic interest in surrendering to state officials our individual rights to hear and decide for ourselves the respective worth or worthlessness of any speaker’s claims? I think not.