Shorts: Mideast

Barak calls for Olmert’s ouster

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on the prime minister to step down over an alleged bribery scandal. The Labor Party leader said at a news conference May 28 that he did not believe Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could lead the country and tend to his personal matters.

Meanwhile, Olmert’s top adviser said the prime minister will stay in office despite mounting calls for his ouster over the bribery allegations. Tal Zilberstein said May 28 that Olmert is innocent of suspicions his relationship with U.S. financier Morris Talansky involved illegal activities and will not signal otherwise by resigning or taking a temporary leave of absence.

“He is determined to hold on to the office of prime minister, and I am saying this on the basis of a conversation with him just a short while ago,” Zilberstein told Army Radio. “He has no intention of declaring himself temporarily incapacitated, nor of declaring anything, not at this stage or as long as he is about to prove his innocence.”

Talansky testified in open court Tuesday that during a 15-year relationship with Olmert before he became prime minister, Olmert took some $150,000 from him in cash contributions, many of which went undocumented and were not repaid.

The disclosures drew widespread censure of Olmert in Israel. One of Olmert’s lawyers, Nevot Tel-Tzur, said the deposition contained contradictions. He suggested that Israeli prosecutors seeking corruption charges against the prime minister had coached Talansky.

Study: Jews, Arabs support coexistence

A majority of Jewish and Arab Israelis support coexistence efforts, a study found. Seventy-three percent of Jewish citizens and 94 percent of Arab citizens want Israel to be a society in which Arab and Jewish citizens have mutual respect and equal opportunities, according to “Coexistence in Israel: A National Study.”

The study was conducted by lead researcher Todd Pittinsky, a Harvard Kennedy School associate professor and research director of the school’s Center for Public Leadership.

The study also found that 77 percent of Arab citizens would rather live in Israel than in any other country in the world, and that Arab citizens and Jewish citizens both underestimate their communities’ liking of the “other.”

The study, conducted in Hebrew and Arabic, included 1,721 adult citizens of Israel. Researchers at the University of Haifa assisted.

Shekel approved for global transactions

Israel’s currency, the shekel, is officially legal international tender.

The shekel can now be used in trading overseas, with banks throughout the world converting shekels to other currencies, according to Israel’s business daily Globes.

Israeli companies also will be able to make payments in shekels to overseas customers. The change comes after Israel received recognition from CLS Bank International, the international currency clearing system. — jta

Wolf Prize winner donates to Palestinians

An American mathematician who won a prestigious Israeli prize donated the proceeds to Palestinian academia.

David Mumford, a professor at Brown University, announced May 26 he would give his $50,000 prize money to Bir-Zeit University in the West Bank and to Gisha, an Israeli lobby that works to help Palestinian students reach their places of study.

“Mathematics in Israel flourishes today on this high international plane … but this is not so in occupied Palestine, where education struggles to continue and travel is greatly limited,” Mumford said. — jta

Israel denies entry for controversial academic

Israeli authorities blocked Norm Finkelstein, an American academic known for his harsh criticism of Israel, from entering the country last week, Israeli security officials said.

The officials said Finkelstein was denied entry because of suspicions that he had contact with elements “hostile” to Israel. Earlier this year Finkelstein met a top Hezbollah commander in Lebanon.

Finkelstein told Ha’aretz that he is “not an enemy” of the country and supports a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. — ap