President Shimon Peres spent much of the day Thursday meeting with Israel's chief rabbis, Rabbi Yona Metzger and Rabbi Shlomo Amar, as well as with the spiritual leader of the Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Peres responded that the Justice Minister must approve pardons, and recommended that requests to pardon the Jewish prisoners be made "via the customary channels."
Peres discussed issues such as integrating hareidi-religious men in the workforce, the need for greater unity among Jews, efforts to collect original scholarly Jewish books from around the globe - while Rabbi Yosef asked Peres to pardon Ami Popper and other Jewish security prisoners. Rabbi Yosef had met earlier with families of the incarcerated Jews, who asked him to influence Peres to pardon their loved ones in honor of Israel's upcoming 60th Independence Day.
The rabbi asked that Peres seriously consider the request by Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Eli Yishai (Shas) that those Jewish security prisoners for whom circumstances have changed be released.
Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Eliyahu Yishai, the political leader of Shas, was also present at the meeting. Yishai has gone on record asking for action to free Jewish security prisoners.
Peres responded that the Justice Minister must approve such pardons, and recommended that the requests be made "via the customary channels."
Activists have increased pressure to release Jewish security prisoners recently, arguing that since hundreds of Palestinian Authority terrorists have been freed as a good-will gesture, the government should pardon Jews as well.
Israel "Pardons" Another Ten Terrorists
Around the same time as the meeting, which took place at the rabbi's home in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem on Thursday evening, another gesture towards the terrorists was decided upon: Ten more Fatah terrorists have been removed from Israel's "wanted" list.
The ten terrorists belong to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of PA chief Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah organization. Following a meeting between Israeli and PA representatives, it was decided that the ten had refrained from terrorist acts of late, had turned in their weapons, and remained in the PA headquarters or jail cells throughout the test period set by Israel.
The pardon was given in the framework of a deal between Israel and the PA last August 2007, designed to prop up Abbas and his regime. Dozens of terrorists were included in the deal, though some of them violated the terms and were again arrested or placed on the wanted list.
Finding Unity in a Common 'Jewish Bookshelf'
President Peres also discussed with Rabbi Yosef, and later with Rabbi Metzger and Rabbi Amar, three central initiatives he is undertaking related to the religious sector, the Jewish character of Israel and Jewish unity.
The first initiative Peres discussed was the problem of poverty in the hareidi-religious sector and ways to make it easier for hareidi-religious men and women to join the workforce. He suggested that the issue could be addressed in ways that would take the hareidi cultural norms into account. By way of example, President Peres suggested that certain computer-intensive jobs could be carried out by way of telecommuting from the homes of working hareidi women or men.
The second initiative the President mentioned to the rabbis was the active encouragement of greater unity between religious and secular citizens of Israel. He said he was launching a public campaign to that end, which would last for several weeks, leading up to and culminating with Israeli Independence Day.
The third initiative President Peres described was the effort to collect original works of leading rabbis and Jewish thinkers from around the world. Such books, he said, constitute "a hidden treasure that is being lost and which must be collected, printed and made accessible to all people." The collected works, along with existing printed Jewish texts, would constitute a rich "Jewish bookshelf" for current and future reference, according to the president.