Simon Rocker

Palestinian group tries to sue UK government

By Simon Rocker, February 26, 2009

A Palestinian human rights group has gone to the British courts in an effort to force the government to adopt sanctions against Israel.

Al-Haq seeks a ruling from the High Court that British policy towards Israel is in breach of international law.

In an application for a judicial review filed in London on Tuesday, it named Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Defence Secretary John Hutton as defendants.

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Anxiety over £950 nursery top-up fees

By Simon Rocker, February 26, 2009

A local council is looking into concerns raised by parents over the fees being charged by a Jewish nursery.

Barnet Council confirmed it had been contacted by two sets of parents about Rosh Pinah Nursery in Edgware, which charges £950 a term and requires a £500 deposit within two weeks of offering a place.

Pippa Singer, whose son James has been offered a place at the nursery in September, wrote to its chairman of governors on Monday: “We are very concerned, both by the level of fees being charged, and the timescale that payment is due.”

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Teaching Council says it’s not boycotting

By Simon Rocker, February 26, 2009

The General Teaching Council has dissociated itself from calls to boycott two Israel science days for schoolchildren next month.

Two of the 382 signatories of a letter to the Guardian last week calling on the Science Museum and Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry to cancel the events were described as being from the GTC, an independent body for the teaching profession.

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Go forth and multiply

By Simon Rocker, February 23, 2009

Addressing a barmitzvah boy at the New North London Synagogue on Shabbat, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg recalled his trip during the week to West Wales. He had popped in to a local hairdressers' for a beard trim, where underneath the driers were two old dears in curlers, whose conversation went something like this:
"Youngsters grow up so fast these days," said Number One. "They know things at seven that I didn't know until I was 20."

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A small step down the road of pluralism

By Simon Rocker, February 20, 2009

The decision of the Council of Christians and Jews to create three new Jewish presidents is noteworthy for this: it represents growing recognition of the religious diversity of British Jewry.
The interfaith organisation can now muster a minyan of presidents, five Christians and five Jews. But for many years, there was just a single Jewish seat at the top table, exclusively reserved for the Chief Rabbi.

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The BBC’s too rough guide to Judaism

By Simon Rocker, February 19, 2009

I finally got to Judaism this week in the BBC2 series Around the World in 80 Faiths (currently showing on Monday nights or via BBC iPlayer). It's a religious travelogue fronted by the personable figure of Peter Owen Jones, a wandering, and slightly raddled, Protestant vicar from Sussex.

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Ahmadinejad may have a kosher secret up his sleeve

By Simon Rocker, February 19, 2009

He wants Israel to disappear; he has questioned the Holocaust; he believes Zionists pull the financial strings in the world. Many Jews would probably rate him public enemy number one. But could President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be hiding a secret?

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Asylum-seeker saved from deportation by shul activists

By Simon Rocker, February 19, 2009

Swift action by synagogue members brought a last-minute halt to the deportation of a 62-year-old grandmother to the Democratic Republic of Congo last week.

Marie-Jeanne Elumba Ngolo, from Kinshasa, who has been in the UK for nine years, was a regular visitor to the New North London Synagogue’s drop-in centre for asylum-seekers.

But when she was suddenly arrested and told she was being sent back to her homeland, supporters of the centre lobbied the authorities and secured a temporary reprieve.

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Leaders' fresh pledge on harmony

By Simon Rocker, February 19, 2009

Leaders of the United Synagogue, Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements have made a fresh pledge of commitment to the Stanmore Accords, the 1998 agreement to avoid infighting and promote co-operation.

The Stanmore Accords recognised that British Jewry was “damaged by infighting and mutual recrimination”.

Yet the future of the agreement had been in doubt amid growing dissatisfaction among the non-Orthodox bodies with the progress achieved.

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Community backing for Fair Trade

By Simon Rocker, February 19, 2009

The first national campaign launches next week to persuade Jews to buy fair trade goods.

It has been timed to run during Fairtrade Fortnight, the annual promotion by the Fairtrade Foundation, which labels approved products from Third World exporters.

The campaign has the backing of a wide coalition of groups across the religious spectrum, including the United Synagogue, the Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements, the UJIA, the Jewish Community Centre (JCC), the Board of Deputies, Tzedek and the Pears Foundation.

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The C of E is not a missionary threat

By Simon Rocker, February 16, 2009

I don't think we should be unduly concerned about the latest missionary talk coming out of the Church of England. It is an axiom of traditional Christian belief that Jesus uniquely represents the fulfilment of messianic promise: and you can no more expect traditional Christians to resile from it than traditional Jews to stop saying asher bachar banu micol ha'amim ("who has chosen us from all peoples").

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Lieberman's success horrifies UK leaders

By Simon Rocker, February 12, 2009

The electoral success of Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing party, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel, Our Home) in Tuesday’s Israeli elections has caused consternation among British Jews.

The party emerged as Israel’s third most popular, winning a projected 15 seats. It wants a compulsory oath of loyalty by all Israeli citizens and the transfer of heavily populated Arab areas of Israel to the Palestinian Authority in return for the annexation of West Bank settlements.

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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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