The Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem announced Tuesday that Ehud Olmert had made an unpublicized visit to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II, a key regional power-broker. The two leaders discussed bilateral issues and developments in the Palestinian Authority as well as the wider regional situation, the office said in a statement.
Abdullah backs Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas against his Hamas rivals, even allowing a militia loyal to Abbas' more moderate Fatah faction to be garrisoned in Jordan. Israel has agreed in principle to the militia's transfer to Gaza.
Israeli Court: End Ban on Palestinian Students
Israel's highest court ruled that a sweeping ban against allowing Palestinians to study in Israel is unreasonable. The High Court of Justice on Monday ordered the military to set criteria within 60 days for admitting at least some Palestinian students into Israel. The interim ruling on Dec. 18 came after the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies asked to join a court petition arguing against a total ban. Due to the ban, the institute, which is near Eilat, has not been able to enroll Palestinian students.
"Today's ruling prevents the military from automatically vetoing the ability of Palestinian students to study in Israel," said Noam Peleg, an attorney for Gisha, the civil rights group that argued the petition before the court.
For security reasons it has been increasingly difficult for Palestinians to study in Israel since the Palestinians launched their violent intifada in September 2000.
Israel to join British Commonwealth?
As a former British colony, Israel is being considered for Commonwealth membership. Commonwealth officials said this week they had set up a special committee to consider membership applications by several Middle Eastern and African nations. Speaking on condition of anonymity, diplomats said those interested in applying include Israel and the Palestinian Authority, both of which exist on land ruled by a British Mandate from 1918 to 1948. An Israeli official did not deny the report, but said, "This issue is not on our agenda right now."
The Commonwealth expects some interested countries to hold off on submitting formal applications until its next summit, scheduled for November 2007. The Commonwealth offers trade and other benefits for member countries.
Hamas inspired by China-Taiwan relationship
Hamas' supreme leader proposed that a future Palestinian state could exist alongside Israel like China next to Taiwan. "There are many countries in the world that exist next to each other without recognizing one another, such as China and Taiwan," Khaled Meshaal said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera published this week. Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction but has said it could enter a long-term truce in exchange for statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel has rejected the proposal as a ruse for Hamas to consolidate power ahead of an all-out confrontation.
U.S. Delays Israel embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
President Bush again delayed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move has been postponed every six months since the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which mandates that the U.S. embassy should be in Jerusalem, Israel's capital, passed in 1995. Bush wrote in a statement Monday that his "administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem." U.S. presidents have postponed the move to avoid angering the Muslim world, which does not accept Israeli control of Jerusalem.
U.K. Jews in more danger than Muslims
Jews in Britain are four times more likely to suffer hate crimes than are Muslims, according to police figures. The Sunday Telegraph reported this week on data collected from July to September. Crimes recorded ranged from assault and verbal abuse to vandalism and other criminal damage at places of worship. The Association of Chief Police Officers requested the statistics for the first time in 2006 following reports of Muslims being attacked after the Sept. 11 and July 2005 terrorist attacks in the United States and London, respectively. However, the results show that only one in 1,700 Muslims, as compared to one in 400 Jews, is likely to be the victim of a hate crime.
Bush talks values with Jewish educators
President Bush met with Jewish college students and higher education leaders to discuss the importance of a moral component in university life. Bush met Monday with four activist students associated with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, as well as with leaders from seminaries belonging to all four Jewish streams and the heads of Jewish universities. Bush chooses a different theme for his Chanukah meeting each year, and this year appeared eager to link his war on terrorism with what he said was the battle against moral relativism on campus, participants said.
"He reiterated that the battle we're involved in is not religious because terrorists can't be God-believing people," said Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University.
In related news, Bush joined Jewish members of his Cabinet in welcoming the fourth night of Chanukah.
"Today, by lighting the menorah, Jews around the world celebrate the victory of light over darkness and give thanks for the presence of a just and loving God," Bush said at a White House ceremony attended by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.
The traditional White House Chanukah party followed the lighting and the White House kitchen was made kosher for the event.
Conservatives might label food
The Conservative movement is considering labeling kosher food according to the ethical standards by which it is produced. A commission appointed by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly is debating the creation of a social responsibility certification. The commission was created in response to recent reports of unsafe working conditions and labor violations at AgriProcessors of Postville, Iowa, one of the nation's largest kosher meat-packing plants.
The new label would be concerned primarily with protecting workers' rights, in accordance with Jewish law. It would be an additional label placed onto food already carrying traditional kosher certification.Reform movement helps parents celebrate Shabbat
The Reform movement is providing online help for parents of young children who want to celebrate Shabbat at home.
"Got Shabbat," a program for parents and their children under 6 years old, guides parents through the Shabbat blessings. It also explains the tradition of blessing one's children, and provides prayers in Hebrew, Hebrew transliteration and English.
The first installment is being piloted for Shabbat Vayigash, which falls Dec. 29.
The program can be accessed at www.urj.org/shabbat/intro.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.