April 2009

Obstacles to Israel’s Arab minority participating in higher education have resulted in a record number of Arab students taking up places at universities in neighbouring Jordan, a new report reveals. Figures show 5,400 Arab students from Israel are at Jordanian universities – half the number of Arabs studying in Israel itself. Despite the fact that most Israeli Arab students in Jordan interviewed by the researchers expressed a preference to attend university in Israel, the numbers heading to Jordan have grown four-fold since 2004.

A decision by Israel’s state-owned railway company to sack 150 Arab workers because they have not served in the army has been denounced as “unlawful” and “racist” this week by Arab legal and workers’ rights groups. The new policy, which applies to guards at train crossing points, is being implemented even though the country’s Arab citizens – numbering 1.2 million and nearly one-fifth of the total population – have been exempt from serving in the military since Israel’s establishment.

The new administrations in the United States and Israel could collide over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, threatening to strain their close, long-standing relationship. The White House under Barack Obama has made conciliatory gestures towards Tehran, culminating in a video statement from the president a fortnight ago in which he appealed for a “new beginning” in relations between the two countries. But since Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as Israeli prime minister on Tuesday, he has preferred to highlight the military option.

Ehud Olmert, who handed over the Israeli premiership to Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday after three years heading the government, suffered a slow and public political demise. The eight lame-duck months since his resignation have been spent energetically refashioning his image as a successful leader — the “Olmert myth”, as one commentator recently called it. Humiliated in a war in Lebanon and buffeted by corruption scandals at home, Mr Olmert is reported to believe he will one day make a political comeback like Mr Netanyahu, who led the government in the late 1990s.