Palestinian Prisoners Freed
Israel released 159 Palestinians from its jails. The prisoners, most of them jailed for links to terrorist groups and the rest in detention for working in Israel without permits, were freed Monday in a gesture of gratitude toward Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who this month granted early release to an Israeli businessman accused of spying. MondayÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s releases also were intended to foster goodwill in the Palestinian Authority ahead of its Jan. 9 presidential elections. The frontrunner in the race, Mahmoud Abbas, called for Israel to grant general amnesty to some 7,000 Palestinians in its jails, among them hardened terrorists, but Israel says it wonÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)t release Palestinians convicted of killing Israeli citizens.
Meanwhile, Hamas won nine of 26 municipal elections in the West Bank on Dec. 23, suggesting stronger support for the terrorist group than was anticipated.
Labor Selects Seven Ministers
IsraelÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s Labor Party selected seven members to serve in a unity Cabinet. Party whip Ofir Pines-Paz and former Cabinet secretary Yitzhak Herzog, both in their 40s, won first and second spots in last weekÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s voting. Labor has agreed in principle to join Prime Minister Ariel SharonÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s Likud-led government. One Cabinet spot already has been guaranteed to Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres.
Disengagement Vote Looms
The Israeli Cabinet will vote on Ariel SharonÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank as early as January. The chairman of the KnessetÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Yuval Steinitz, said Monday that the prime ministerÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s withdrawal plan, under which 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank will be evacuated by fall 2005, had to receive Cabinet approval no later than February.
Meanwhile Israeli lawmakers held up a bill to compensate settlers evacuated under SharonÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s withdrawal plan. The Knesset Law Committee, which is considering the Evacuation Compensation Bill, deadlocked Tuesday in an 8-8 vote after Israeli Arab lawmaker Azmi Bishara decided to abstain. Sharon wants to offer settlers who leave voluntarily as much as $300,000 per family, and to penalize those who resist with a loss of financial perks and possible prison time – terms that angered right-wing members of the panel. The next vote is not expected for several weeks.
Harvard Prez Backs Israel
Anti-Israel efforts on campus have receded, but there is still cause for concern, Harvard UniversityÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s president Lawrence Summers said. Anti-Semitism persists particularly in leftist circles in Europe and among U.S. academics he said Wednesday at a discussion on anti-Semitism sponsored by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Anti-Zionism and anti-Israel attitudes are used as a springboard for anti-Semitism, Summers said.
Summers drew widespread attention two years ago when he used a Harvard speech to criticize calls for divestment from companies doing business in Israel, warning that anti-Israel activities tended toward anti-Semitism.
Orthodox Web Surfers
Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews are avid Internet users, according to a new study. Despite a ban on recreational Internet use by many ultra-Orthodox rabbis, nearly one-third of the community surfs the Web, according to a University of Washington study based on online habits of 14,000 ultra-Orthodox Israelis on an Israeli Internet service called Hevre.
The community is only half as likely as secular Israelis to send e-mails, but they are more likely than other Israelis to join online forums with members of their own community, the study found. The full study will be published in next monthÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s edition of the Information Society.
Actor Jerry Orbach Dies at 69
Tony-winning actor Jerry Orbach, who played a sarcastic cop on NBCÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s"Law & Order," died Tuesday night in Manhattan at 69 after several weeks of treatment for prostate cancer.
Orbach, born Jerome Bernard Orbach in Bronx, N.Y., recently left the show after playing Det. Lennie Briscoe for 12 years. On stage he originated the roles of El Gallo in the off-Broadway "Fantasticks," Billy Flynn in the original mid-Ã¯Â¿Â½(tm)70s Broadway run of "Chicago" and Julian Marsh in the revival of "42nd Street." HeÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s also known on film as the voice of Lumiere the candlestick in "Beauty and the Beast" and Jennifer GreyÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s overprotective father in "Dirty Dancing."
Lights on Broadway marquees were expected to be dimmed for one minute at curtain time Wednesday night in OrbachÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s memory. – Staff Report
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency