Israel's Ministry of Interior for nearly two years has refused to grant or renew visas for Christian clergy and other religious officials, an apparent violation of international religious freedom agreements, The Jewish Week has learned.
Critics of the policy, which has prompted rising anger and frustration among Christian leaders, are blaming Shas, the fervently Orthodox Sephardic political party, which has been running the Interior Ministry.
There were increasing signs this week that Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were genuinely interested in forming a unity government, despite Mitznaís campaign pledge never to join such a coalition.
Yuli Tamir, a strong opponent of such a union and a founder of Peace Now in 1978, told Israel Army Radio Wednesday that Labor Party leaders were getting the "impression that there is willingness on the part of the prime minister to reach more serious discussions."
As the Labor Party reaffirmed its intention to stay out of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new government, the chairman of the secular Shinui Party spoke of joining: and for the first time softened his demand that government handouts end for fervently Orthodox men who don't work.
"You have to do it gradually," Shinui leader Tommy Lapid told The Jewish Week. "We don't want to cause unnecessary suffering to large families. But people who are able-bodied men should go and work.
by Debra Nussbaum Cohen |
After years in journalism, interviewing heads of state and religious leaders (and seeing feet of clay on a fair number of both) I don't usually get too jazzed about talking even to the "important" folks. But despite attempts to stay cool and professional, interviewing Col. Ilan Ramon was a plain old thrill.
After weeks of requests through the Johnson Space Center's bureaucracy, one September day a press relations person called with the news that I had a half-hour to interview Colonel Ramon the next day.