Newsdesk April 7, 2006

Hamas Contacts Banned

American officials are banned from contacting Palestinian Authority officials associated in any way with Hamas. Contacts with officials associated with the office of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas are permitted, as are contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO and Abbas are affiliated with the relatively moderate Fatah party, and the allowance extends to PLO representatives in Washington. The ban took effect the same week that Hamas assumed governance, two months after the terrorist group’s election. The United States had considered contact with non-Hamas officials associated with the government, but ultimately those officials fell under the ban.

Israel, the United States and Europe refuse to deal with Hamas until it renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel.

Meanwhile, Canada halted aid to the Palestinian Authority until the new Hamas-led government renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel. Canada provides about $21.5 million to the P.A. each year.

Harvard Denies Rumors

The removal of Harvard University and John F. Kennedy School of Government logos from a paper alleging an all-powerful pro-Israel lobby did not signify disapproval, the Kennedy School said. A statement distributed this week said that Stephen Walt — the school’s academic dean, who co-authored the paper with the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer — recommended removing the logos because reports suggested the paper was an official Kennedy School document.

“It is in no way a judgment about the paper, and the goal was to put the focus where it belongs: on the ideas expressed by two international relations scholars,” the school’s statement said. Such papers routinely are posted on the school’s Web site “in order to facilitate discussion by scholars and others,” and do not reflect the school’s views. Additionally, Harvard said, Walt’s departure as dean this summer was not precipitated by the controversy; it had been in the works. Walt will remain as a professor.

Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books, defended her decision to publish a version of the piece. “I don’t want David Duke to endorse the article,” Wilmers, who is Jewish, told the London Observer last week. “It makes me very uncomfortable. But when I reread the piece, I did not see anything that I felt should not have been said.”

The report accuses pro-Israel groups of skewing American policy, and suggests that supporters of Israel pushed the United States into war with Iraq. Harvard has since distanced itself from the article, which has received widespread criticism for being antisemitic and not scholarly.

Campus Prejudice Eyed

Antisemitism on college campuses is a “serious problem” that merits a campaign to inform Jewish students of their rights, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said.

The commission announced its position Monday after considering testimony last year from the American Jewish Congress, the Zionist Organization of America, the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, and other groups. It opened its investigation following a complaint filed by the ZOA.

The commission cited anti-Israel propaganda on campus that exploits longtime stereotypes. It recommended that the education department run a campaign to inform Jewish students of their right to be free of harassment and that it collect data on antisemitic and other hate crimes at universities. The commission also concluded that there is “substantial evidence” that some university departments of Middle East studies “may repress legitimate debate concerning Israel.”

Teachers Protest Wages

Almost two dozen preschool teachers and parents protested low wages outside a Jewish community center near San Francisco. The protest took place March 31 outside the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center. Teachers at the JCC’s Early Childhood Education Center have been working without a contract since last December.

Their union rejected a contract proposal last week, calling it insufficient. Teachers at the center are paid an average of $14 to $16 an hour, which the union says makes them among the lowest-paid preschool teachers in Marin, an affluent region north of San Francisco. The Osher Marin preschool is one of 12 pilot schools nationwide chosen by the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative for its focus on family outreach.

Russian Leader Praised

Israeli President Moshe Katsav praised a Russian Jewish leader’s plans to hold a second World Holocaust Forum. Katsav made the comments last week in a meeting in Jerusalem with Moshe Kantor, president of the Russian Jewish Congress. The forum would be held in conjunction with annual commemorations of the massacre at Babi Yar, a ravine outside Kiev, Ukraine, where 33,000 Jews were killed in September 1941.

Jews Burn Police Car

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn protested after an elderly member of the community was arrested.

Tuesday night’s protest in Boro Park took place after a 75-year-old man was arrested. Protesters shouted, “No justice, no peace” and set a police car on fire, The New York Times reported.

Police said that the man was uncooperative during the arrest, but locals said he is deaf in one ear and may not have heard officers’ requests after he was pulled over.

Abbas Meets Jews

Mahmoud Abbas called on South African Jews and Muslims to press for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The Palestinian Authority president made his comments in a recent meeting with leaders of South Africa’s Jewish community. The Jewish delegation reiterated Israel’s commitment to work for peace, while endorsing the Israeli government’s refusal to meet with P.A. officials from Hamas until the terrorist group, which now leads the P.A., recognizes the State of Israel and renounces violence.

Literary Prize Established

The family of the Jewish philanthropist Sami Rohr announced this week a new $100,000 annual prize to support the work of emerging writers. The Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature will honor a “young author with fresh vision and future potential,” explained Geri Gindea, the award’s administrator at the Jewish Book Council.

The inaugural prize will be awarded in the spring of 2007, with prizes for fiction and nonfiction given in alternating years by a panel of established literary figures. Recipients of the Sami Rohr Prize must be under 50 years old and have a published book that stimulates an interest in themes of Jewish concern. In addition to the book prize, the Rohr family is planning to establish a literary institute in which prize winners, runners-up and judges can meet to exchange ideas and to develop collaborative projects.

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Newsdesk April 7, 2006

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