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Why has the Jewish diaspora reacted so strongly to Israel’s proposed judicial reforms?

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The Israeli government’s recently proposed judicial reform sparked a wave of protests across the country which ultimately forced the government to press pause on the legislation.

Israeli protesters weren’t alone, though, as the reforms caused weeks of debate and protest among Jewish Canadians, on both sides of the issue.

The fiery reaction to the judicial reform bill was, in part, because its proposals were so consequential for the country, says Shimon Fogel, the chief executive officer of the Toronto-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. 

“They challenge the status quo in fundamental ways that, in some respects, could change the complexion of the country,” says Fogel. “I don’t accept the proposition that it would make it less democratic, but it would shift the balance of power to elected officials.” 

The reforms include enabling the Knesset to overrule High Court rulings with a majority vote and would boost the government’s power over who are selected to become justices of the High Court. Since January, the proposed legislation has sparked some of the largest protests in the country’s history. 

The Jewish diaspora has reacted very strongly, with some of the largest Jewish advocacy organizations in North America expressing concern over the consequences of passing the proposed reforms. On March 27, the Israeli government announced it was postponing the legislation following the ongoing protests and strikes, a decision that was welcomed by the CIJA. 

Fogel says the legislation contains aspects that are troubling to a large segment of Canada’s Jewish community, which he says supports Israel and wants to be part of the conversation about Israel’s future. 

“For others, it’s about changing the elements of the character of the state in ways that don’t align with their own sense of what Israel should represent, and so that triggered a very strong reaction,” says Fogel. 

However, opposition in the diaspora has not been unanimous. Michael Tzion, a Toronto resident, says that Israel’s High Court has been able to decide Israeli affairs without any foundation in Jewish tradition. 

“Many, especially religious people, feel that this is getting out of hand, and they pushed…the government to reform the judiciary, which is a big obstacle in what many Israelis feel is the future of Israel,” says Tzion. 

Tzion points out how Israel’s High Court ruled that hospitals cannot forbid visitors from bringing leavened bread products, which are non-kosher, into the facilities during Passover. The Court’s justices said bringing non-kosher food to a hospital for Passover comprises part of the fundamental right to individual autonomy and the religious freedom of Israeli citizens. 

“Israel is founded on the idea that it’s a Jewish nation, and Judaism goes along with Jewishness. It’s not just a culture, it’s also a religion, it’s a people that have existed for thousands of years, and we need to continue those; culture, religion, traditions, whatever you want to call it,” says Tzion. 

The demonstrations in Israel are a long-brewing revolt by the country’s secular residents against the growing influence of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population, says University of Toronto professor Janice Stein.

Israel, which became a country in 1948, was governed by successive left-wing, secular governments until 1977. From the 1980s onwards, the Israeli political Left has seen its influence wane to the benefit of its more conservative rivals. 

The Likud party, which has espoused economic liberalism and strengthening national security for most of its history, has led most of the governing coalitions since 1996. Most of these coalitions have been headed by Benjamin “Bibi ” Netanyahu, who became Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in 2019.  

To form a parliamentary majority, Likud has become more reliant on parties of the religious Right, whose growth in political power has been concurrent with the rising numbers of ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Ultra-Orthodox Israelis can receive exemptions from Israel’s mandatory military service, which Stein says has resulted in a wave of anger and resentment. 

“Many of the ultra-Orthodox community do not serve in the military. The exemption from service provokes resentment in a country with a small standing army that depends on its reserves,” says Stein. 

Stein says a second issue fuelling the current protests is the emergence of the radical, nationalist Israeli political Right. 

“The current government has parties that are the most right-wing and nationalist in Israel’s history. These parties support expanding settlements and much more extreme action against the Palestinian population,” says Stein.

Stein says the majority of Israel’s population, who are not ultra-Orthodox are concerned about both issues. Previous Likud-led coalitions have passed legislation favoured by the nationalist Right, including removing Arabic as an official language of Israel and expanding settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, home to the majority of the Palestinian population. 

Israel is one of the most developed countries in the world, and Tzion says it is one of the few such countries with a right-wing government. 

“The majority of people there (in Israel) are more right-leaning, in a developed country, compared to most countries where generally the population is more left-wing,” says Tzion. “This shift is interesting because actually the foundation of Israel has always been left-wing, even socialist…so when Bibi arrived, that was a fundamental shift.” 

Fogel says the judicial reform would put greater focus on the goals of the different constituencies that support the governing coalition. 

“Opposition to it (the bill) is less about substance and more about the greater question of what will Israel look like, and the diminished role of those who have historically been in the primary or most influential, position,” says Fogel. 

Tzion says there is a fight between the right-wing government with significant religious support and its opponents on the secular Left, and points out that much of the diaspora broadly aligns or falls into the latter category. 

In 2021, Pew Research found that 71 percent of American Jews voted Democrat in 2020. On the whole, 69 percent of American Jews surveyed by Pew were part of the progressive Reform branch of Judaism, or not part of a particular branch at all. However, Pew also found that the vast majority of American members of the Orthodox branch, who comprised nearly 10 percent of all American Jews, voted Republican.

Canadian politicians are spending billions to bring companies to Canada. Is it worth it?

News

Canada’s federal and provincial governments are spending billions to host new and emerging world industries, even if it flies in the face of mainstream economic thinking.

Industry experts estimate that more than $10 billion in combined spending was announced earlier this month to ensure Ontario and Nova Scotia would play a major role in North America’s electric vehicle industry. 

Nova Scotia will see its existing Michelin plant expand to start the production of EV tires, while St. Thomas, Ontario will be the site of a new Volkswagen EV battery plant. 

President Joe Biden has pledged billions in funding and incentives for green industry expansion, while China has been strategically subsidizing domestic industries for years.

“Whenever you have governments interfere with the market, unless it’s a market failure, most economists would say it’s not the right thing to do,” says Walid Hejazi, an associate professor of economic analysis and policy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “But I think in this new environment, there’s increasing pressure, especially with strategic industries.”

Canada’s share of the global economy amounts to under 2 percent according to the International Monetary Fund, and Hejazi says that share is shrinking and will get worse unless Canada changes its direction. 

“Is Canada relevant? Not really, and if you look at current trends, it’s getting worse for us in terms of relevancy,” says Hejazi. 

A recent analysis by the Fraser Institute found that, when adjusted for inflation, business subsidies in Canada add up to $352 billion since 2007, when taking federal, provincial, and local dollars into account. Provincial money makes up the highest portion of that total at $223 billion.

Tegan Hill and Joel Emes, both senior economists at the Fraser Institute, argue that a better use of this money would be simply to lower taxes on businesses rather than handing them money.

“Prince Edward Island could have eliminated all corporate income taxes (since 2007) if it had ended subsidies to businesses, and still have money left over,” they write.

Politicians of all stripes across Canada don’t see it that way.

Bridgewater, N.S., was in competition with other locations, such as cities in Mexico, for the Michelin factory expansion, and Susan Corkum-Greek, Nova Scotia’s minister for economic development, says the process was not easy. 

“This was no cakewalk. Michelin is a global player, it’s a reality that they could have chosen to go and grow anywhere in the world,” says Corkum-Greek. “That’s why it was so important to work with our partners and other levels of government to ensure that we were competitive with that global sphere.” 

Corkum-Greek points out that Michelin has operated in Nova Scotia for 52 years, and says it was the French tire manufacturer’s first North American plant location. 

“Michelin is a very significant employer in our province, whose jobs are located in those rural communities,” says Corkum-Greek. When we consider that tires are our second largest export…that’s rural Nova Scotia, delivering big time in terms of value to the economy.”

For Nova Scotia to be both competitive and successful in their bid for the Michelin expansion, the federal government offered $44.3 million from the Strategic Innovation Fund. The SIF was launched in 2017 by the federal government with the intent of supporting innovative businesses and industries. 

Michelin also received an additional $61.3 million in tax credits over five years from the provincial government. Beyond incentives, the provincial and federal funding is expected to be partially used to reduce carbon emissions via electrification. 

Expanding Michelin’s operations in Bridgewater was cheap compared to the costs of landing Volkswagen’s EV battery plant in St. Thomas, Ontario. The federal government has not revealed the final costs, but estimates of the cost range as high as $10 billion in spending and incentives for the plant. 

The spending was labelled as an example of “reshoring,” which is the process of bringing jobs and industry back home in the wake of supply chains being severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. However, not all agree with this assessment.

Andreas Schotter, a professor of international business at Western University’s Ivey School of Business, says the federal government’s spending to land the battery plant in St. Thomas was not an example of reshoring. 

“What we witness today is the restructuring of globalization forces to a global-regions model,” says Schotter. “Instead of worldwide value chains that basically operate and are interconnected around the globe, this new trend is a concentration of entire value chains in a number of global regions.” 

Schotter says these trends are driven by a variety of factors, including rising nationalism, shifts in market attractiveness and the importance of natural resources, increased transportation costs and talent shortages. 

“The battery plant fits the green technology agenda of the current federal government, though battery production value chains are not necessarily green,” says Schotter. “It is also a way to save Ontario auto-worker jobs.” 

Hejazi says there were no guarantees from Michelin or Volkswagen that they would expand their EV operations in Canada, and credits the federal government for moving aggressively to land those projects. 

“When you make these investments, they have a long-term horizon,” says Hejazi. “Acting now is so important because if these facilities were produced somewhere else, they’re not easily moved back.”