Simon Rocker

Solicitor close to forcing release of report on BBC MidEast bias

By Simon Rocker, February 12, 2009

The BBC is under new pressure to publish a five-year-old report into the fairness of its Middle East coverage after a decision this week by the Law Lords.

Steven Sugar, who has been campaigning for four years for the corporation to disclose the Balen Report under the Freedom of Information Act, overturned one of the main obstacles against its release.

After his 3-2 victory in the Lords, Mr Sugar, a commercial solicitor from London, said that there was now a strong case for issuing the report — written by the senior BBC editorial adviser, Malcolm Balen.

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Foreign Office man arrested over 'racism'

By Simon Rocker, February 12, 2009

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office remained tight-lipped this week after the arrest of a senior official for an alleged antisemitic outburst.

Rowan Laxton, head of its South Asia desk, reportedly shouted “F*** Jews, f*** Israelis”, after watching pictures of Israeli action in Gaza on TV last month. He allegedly made his outburst while exercising in the gym of the London Business School.

The diplomat denied making anti-Jewish remarks, according to the Daily Mail, which had reported the allegations.

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Church: sell-off was not Israel protest

By Simon Rocker, February 12, 2009

The Church of England has rejected claims from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign that it had withdrawn investments from an international corporation as a protest against Israel.

Pro-Palestinian campaigners have made several attempts to persuade the Church to pull out of the engineering firm Caterpillar, saying that the company’s bulldozers were used by Israel to support the occupation of the West Bank.

But a Church spokesman insisted that a decision, taken in October, to sell its stake in Caterpillar was made on “financial” and not ethical investment grounds.

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National Jewish studies curriculum in pipeline

By Simon Rocker, February 12, 2009

“You are leading the Crime Scene Investigation Team to investigate the first murder in the history of humanity,” the students are told.

A class for trainee detectives, perhaps? Not quite. It’s the opening of a pilot programme about Cain and Abel for secondary schools — part of a project intended to transform Jewish studies teaching in the UK.

The United Jewish Israel Appeal and the United Synagogue’s Agency for Jewish Education are hoping to create a national Jewish studies curriculum in mainstream Orthodox schools for children from five to 18.

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Stamp sale raises £500k for charities

By Simon Rocker, February 12, 2009

A renowned international philatelist who died in London last year has left his entire stamp collection to two Israeli charities.

Sotheby’s is to auction the collection, worth around £500,000, bequeathed by David Barton to the Weizmann Institute and Shaare Zedek Medical Centre.

Mr Barton, who died aged 67 in March, was a scientist at Westminster University and a member of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood. He left his entire estate, of which the stamp collection is the centrepiece, to the two charities. The auction is on March 6.

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The demon trap getting historians all fired up

By Simon Rocker, February 12, 2009

If you are looking for a novel half-term activity, then it would be hard to beat the ancient art of demon-trapping. On Tuesday and Thursday next week, the British Museum in London, in association with the Jewish Museum, is running family workshops where you can make an incantation bowl like the ones used by our Babylonian ancestors to keep unwanted spirits at bay.

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“Human dignity affronted in Gaza”

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, briefly alluded to recent events in Gaza in his presidential address to the Church of England Synod today. This is what he had to say:

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Church of England should teach the Old Testament

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2009

Here's one reason why some Christians perhaps struggle to understand Jewish identification with Israel. It's a short passage (para 81) from a report on interfaith relations and Christian mission due to be discussed at the Church of England Synod on Thursday. I should add the context is nothing to do with Jews and Israel but it is revealing, nonetheless:

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UK Jews are viewed through Israel’s image

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2009

Writing on Jewish-Christian relations in the most recent edition of the Anglican newspaper, Church Times, Reform movement head Rabbi Tony Bayfield touches on a sensitive issue.
A newsreader's use of the phrase "Jewish state" reminds him that "Jews are defined significantly today by the image of the Israeli. Even if we wanted to, and most of us do not, we cannot escape that".
The full version of his article is only available online to subscribers. But here's another section:

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Former US staff face gag order

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

The United Synagogue has been challenged over the use of confidentiality agreements signed by staff who have lost their jobs.

Members of the organisation’s lay council were told at a meeting at the end of last week that nine redundancies had been made among a staff of around 100 in a cost-cutting budget.

But David Rose, council representative for South Hampstead Synagogue, quizzed US officers over confidentiality agreements that he said he had heard some departing staff had been asked to sign.

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Legal help for aliyah family

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

The Israeli High Court has been asked to intervene on behalf of a black family from south London who have been waiting to go on aliyah for more than 18 months.

Israel’s Ministry of Interior has so far offered no explanation for delaying the emigration of Carl and Maleka Levy, and their five daughters.

The family, who converted under Reform auspices in the UK, had hoped to begin a new life in Ashkelon in August 2007.

Now the Israel Religious Action Centre has filed a petition on behalf of the Levys to the courts.

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Pope tells Holocaust denier to recant

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

Pope benedict XVI has responded to international pressure and ordered a maverick cleric to recant his Holocaust-denying views.

Jewish-Catholic relations were plunged into crisis last week by the Vatican’s rehabilitation of English-born Richard Williamson, along with three other bishops associated with an ultra-conservative breakaway sect.

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'Toxic atmosphere' at Oxford University

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

Jewish students at Oxford University have accused it of appearing to “appease” organisers of a sit-in at the university library last month in protest at Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The incident is also said to have disturbed some Jewish academics. One University Reader reportedly told a meeting that “within five years, Oxford will be a Jew-free zone”.

In an official reaction to the protest, the Senior Proctor of the university, Professor Donald Fraser, who oversees disciplinary matters, recommended “a relatively lenient course of action” against the demonstrators.

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Sicily: Flying tonight at Club Med

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

A small boy is climbing a ladder into the hot sun. Twenty feet up, he steps on to a narrow platform, from where he can see his parents, struggling with the zoom of their new digital camera in the amphitheatre below.

He draws a breath, grips the bar tightly, then he is away, slicing through the air like a pint-sized Tarzan. Ladies and gentleman, I bring you Joshua Rocker on the flying trapeze…

I had never expected to see my son in circus flight (and I certainly never would have tried it at his age — safety harness and net notwithstanding) but that was part of the fun at Club Med.

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Tribe takes on US chedarim

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2009

The United Synagogue’s youth arm, Tribe, set up to provide social and cultural activities, is to take over cheder education from the US’s Agency for Jewish Education.

Despite the growth in Jewish day schools, around 1,500 children still remain in the US part-time system. Some US members have voiced concern at giving Tribe responsibility for chedarim.

At a US council meeting last Thursday, Stanmore Synagogue’s Paul Dresner said the move seemed strange because Tribe does not have “a professional educator”, whereas the AJE was “a professional education department”.

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Grape Juice, Anyone?

By Simon Rocker, February 2, 2009

Let's hope the recent advice from the government's chief medical officer that children should not drink alcohol until they are 15 is not taken too puritanically. One of my earliest happy memories is a piece of challah dipped in wine on Friday nights and there was always a tot of wine after our children's services on Shabbat. I never much liked grape juice and would have felt distinctly unliberated if my four cups at Pesach had been filled with it rather than the real thing.

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Holocaust Remembrance, Ahmadinejad-style

By Simon Rocker, January 30, 2009

The Islamic Republic News Agency reports that on Tuesday President Ahmadinejad of Iran sent a message to a conference in Tehran a conference entitled "Holocaust? A Sacred lie by [the] West".
The president said that examining the issue of Holocaust was equal to cutting the vein of the Zionist regime, according to the agency.

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Law of return under fire at Durban II

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2009

Jewish groups will face an uphill battle in their efforts to keep anti-Zionism off the agenda of the forthcoming United Nations anti-racism conference.

The latest draft of the resolutions, published this week, contains a proposed new reference to the “racially-based law of return” — the law which grants the right of any Jew to settle in the state of Israel.

Israel and Canada have already pulled out of “Durban II”, the follow-up in April in Geneva to the UN conference in South Africa eight years ago.

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Outrage as Pope lifts ban on Holocaust denier

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2009

Jewish leaders are calling on the Vatican to repair the damage caused by the rehabilitation of an ultra-conservative bishop who is a Holocaust denier.

Rabbi David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligous Consultations, believed the controversy “worse than any of the crises we have had with the Catholic Church”, almost since the new era of dialogue began more than 40 years ago.

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David Abrahams: I reached out to Hamas

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2009

David Abrahams, the Newcastle property developer whose secret donations to the Labour Party caused a political scandal, is claiming to have met Hamas leaders in a personal Middle East peace mission.

In a letter sent to The Times for publication and shown to the JC, Mr Abrahams, a former treasurer of Labour Friends of Israel, wrote that he had “met elected Hamas leaders on several occasions” since they took office three years ago.

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