Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Election Day in Israel

It's just after 9 pm in Israel, and when the polls close at 10:00 pm, we'll get news about the exit polls. I'm starting to get nervous.

I went on a pleasant tiyul (walking trip) today with people from the Zion synagogue in Jerusalem. Some photos from today:

Menorah in front of the Knesset.

Rakefot (cyclamens) in the Valley of the Cross.

Courtyard of the Monastery of the Cross.

The all-seeing eye, above one of the doorways of the monastery.

Election posters for Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Camp.

Election posters for the Likud.

Binyamin Netanyahu in a Likud election poster.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The New York Times and Antisemitism Today

Whenever I see an article in the New York Times that mentions Israel or Jews in any way, and comments for the article are open, I feel dismay, because I know that many commenters will seize this opportunity to write antisemitic responses. The same is true of the Washington Post (I think it's worse there). Why do the Times, or the Post, or many other online publications not moderate the comment sections in an effective way to keep out antisemitism? (By the way, this is also true of the Forward, and of the English editions of Haaretz and Ynet - I really don't understand why they don't erase such comments). Often one can even see antisemitic remarks in comments on articles that have nothing to do with Israel or Jews.

It's clear (to me, at least), that the lack of moderation of antisemitic comments is an important way that antisemitism is being spread today. Vile ideas that should have buried with the Nazis are now published on the websites of respected, leading newspapers and magazines, with no criticism or condemnation ever coming from the writers or editors of these news sources. If David Duke or Louis Farrakhan wanted to publish an op-ed in the New York Times denouncing the Jews, the Times would never print it. Why do they let equivalent words remain in the comments sections?

This issue came up for me today because of a column by Roger Cohen (pictured left). It is not political. It has nothing to do with Israel or with the negotiations with Iran.

Roger Cohen writes movingly today about the book Where the Road From Auschwitz Ends. He ends his essay with these words:
Written with tender precision, “A Brief Stop on the Road From Auschwitz,” recently published in the United States, is the most powerful account I have read of the other death — the death after the camps, the death from damage that proves insuperable, the death that in this case comes 15 years later, in 1960, after electroshock treatment, in a Swedish lake beside a mental hospital. The project was indeed brief.
The entire essay is about David Rosenberg, the father of the author, Goran Rosenberg. Contemporary politics are not mentioned. Cohen says nothing about the state of Israel.

Yet among the 109 comments currently posted to the article, quite a few take the opportunity to attack Israel and Jews for not learning the lesson of the Holocaust. 

One writer says: 
A touching recount of the lingering wounds that must accompany such trauma. Perhaps someday an articulate Palestinian refugee will pen a book describing the enduring psychological and physical wounds the he or she suffered in Israeli prisons or in the aftermath of the cluster bombings of schools and hospitals, or in observing the intentional demolition of his family's home by Israeli soldiers whilst his parents were still inside.
Another writer castigates the United States, taking Sweden as an example to be followed (because it was neutral during WWII):
Death comes to us all, and is sometimes a merciful end to suffering. Nothing says we must all be so "heroic" and to slough off the worst torture humans can devise for us. 
Sweden was "neutral" in WWII, not because that's what they all wanted. Some, wealthy industrialists, supported Hitler the workers supported his enemies. Swedes opted for a course that would not tear their country apart irreparably. America could learn from that. BTW, it's Göran and Södertalje. Let's try to end America's disdain for foreign languages and our assumption that they don't matter.
Another writer complains that we always hear about the Jews at Auschwitz - how about the non-Jews? 
There are so many stories of Jews who were confined in Auschwitz. Such a terrible place for everyone confined there. And so many confined there were non-Jews whose stories have never been told. Why?
Another writer, thank goodness, recognizes the viciousness of such comments:
Reading the bitter denunciations of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu and Jews (yes, Jews) that appear each day in large numbers among reader comments in this newspaper, I can't help but think that the day when Holocaust memoirs, no matter how beautifully written or evocative of the damage done to the Jewish people during and after the Hitler-time, can have much, if any, real influence or impact is past.
This writer received the following response, from another person who thinks that Jews didn't learn the correct lesson from the Holocaust:
It is wrong for you and others to equate my condemnation of the practices of the State of Israel with antisemitism. I am not against Jews, or the existence of the State of Israel. I am against the barbaric treatment of the Palestinians by the State of Israel. It is easy and morally dishonest to brush aside the protests against the actions of the State of Israel as being anti-Jew. The Holocaust is no excuse to treat the Palestinians the way Israel does.
Another response is even more revolting. This author has failed to comprehend that the arrow of time points only one way:
The Holocaust will never be adequate justification for Israel's behavior, today. If fact, that behavior besmirches the very memory of that evil time.
Whatever the state of Israel does today cannot "besmirch" the memory of the Holocaust, since the state was founded after the Holocaust.

This writer is confused, and comes close to equating the crimes of the Nazis against the Jews with the actions of the IDF:
I am not Jewish, but the stories of the Holocaust move me to tears and anger. It doesn't matter how many stories of I've heard- each is different, yet each is painfully the same. I feel these same emotions for every story I hear of Palestinian suffering - lives lost, despair and brutality of the IDF. Mr. Netanyahu has it exactly wrong. By showing compassion towards their enemy will Israel keep the Holocaust flame lit. Mr. Netanyahu, himself, diminishes the Holocaust by using it as a defense for the murder of thousands of civilians who pose no real danger and whose only crime is being stuck in an open air prison and not being Jewish.
Another righteous soul writes:
From 1950 to 1962 I attended the Fieldston branch of the Ethical Culture Schools which was about 95% Jewish. We even had mandatory Ethics Class taught by a Holocaust Survivor. "Never Again" was a part of life. Being non Jewish and German on my fathers side I couldn't help but feel some guilt even though my father's family had left Germany over 80 years before the rise of Hitler. 
Reading this column I couldn't help but think about how years from now my children or grandchildren will be reading about the personal damage caused by the oppression and dehumanization of despised minority. It seems even worse to me that now it is the Jews "Mowing the grass" as they call dropping bombs on Gaza, and not even allowing students to leave to study in America, Israel's biggest supporter. 
I always thought "Never Again" was supposed to apply to all oppressed peoples. Obviously I was wrong, at least when we are talking about Israel.
He also belongs to the club of those who think that "the Jews" failed to learn the lesson of the Holocaust.

One response to him: "If rockets would be falling on your head or your relatives dying in suicide bombing attacks you would not be comparing Israel to Nazis. Thanks to people like you 'Never Again' will never work."

Another person is annoyed that the tour he took of Auschwitz did not devote enough attention to the death of Maximilian Kolbe:
The holocaust was a terrible thing but I was very disappointed when I visited Auschwitz with a tour group and there was not one mention of St. Maximilian Kolbe who volunteered to die in order to save a Jewish man with a family. The holocaust was horrific but it was not only Jews who were murdered even though they were the majority.

They had St. Koble's cell on display with his religious artifacts and I do think it should have been pointed out to our group. He was a courageous man who should have been honored.
Any sentence that starts out "The holocaust was a terrible thing but...." does not end in a good way. As a respondent commented, Jews were the overwhelming majority of those killed at Auschwitz.

A writer from France accuses Roger Cohen of writing about the Holocaust because Israel is once again in the news.
I have nothing against keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, so that "never again" remains front and centre. But I do have a problem with the Holocaust memory being abused for political gain. It seems every time Israel gets itself into hot water, there is a surge in Holocaust writings in the press. Mr. Cohen should not confuse our pledge of "never again" with our acceptance of Israel's transgressions.
As I said before, Cohen didn't mention anything about Israel in his essay - this conspiracy exists only in the mind of the author. Fortunately, someone else responded: "Trust me, Mr. Cohen is not an apologist for Israel; this essay has nothing to do with Israel's 'being in hot water.' It is about the half-life left to most survivors."

Another commenter, bizarrely, seems to think that Cohen is opposed to the US negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Although he claims to be an avid reader of Cohen, he doesn't seem to have understood what he said.
I have been an avid reader of Mr. Cohen for quite a long time. But I was aware of the Holocaust before I read one of his column. In fact, as a Vietnam veteran. I actually witnessed a Holocaust many Americans wish to forget about or remain in denial about, namely, how we attempted to commit genocide against the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. I'm still waiting for that column from Mr. Cohen. But Mr. Cohen fails the crucial test to me for being a true and credible public intellectual, that is, using a tragedy merely to manipulate the readers rather than guiding them on the search for the truth. And to be really blunt with you, I grew up in what can only be termed an anti-Semitic family of origin. So I have always been quite sensitive to that issue having grown up around that virus when I criticize one of Mr. Cohen's column. But we have to give - at least for now - diplomacy a chance in our negotiations with Iran. But what really disturbs me about Mr. Cohen's latest column really isn't what he wrote about, it's about what he avoids writing about. That was my main point. He's being intellectually dishonest. And that debases his currency as a public intellectual. But that is his choice.
Another writer thinks that Cohen wrote this column about a man who survived the Holocaust in order to deceive his readers about Israel. He accuses him of using the "Auschwitz card." This is among the most vile comments on this article.
This deeply biased commentary should not be left unrefuted. The Palestinians had no role in what Europeans did to the Jews among them, and owe no one anything. Indeed, they are the inhabitants and owners of Palestine and have been for thousands of years. European Jews forced their way onto the land, with the connivance of British imperialists and expelled the Palestinians at gunpoint or worse. They have ever right to our support in their fight to regain at least some of their land. At a minimum we should resist those among us who would give yet more weapons and money to help the Israelis in their oppression of Palestine.

Cohen knows this only too well and writes about it, but can not refrain from playing the Auschwitz card. Decent Americans should not be taken in by it.
And finally, another response (confused, badly written, and conspiracy theory ridden) that traffics in antisemitic tropes:
Why is the media not also conducting, distract our attention from contemporary genocides -out sourcing of US jobs, flood of immigrants used as the functional equivalent of US slaves etc, with almost daily rehashes of the "Second Holocaust" that the east European countries and Russia conducted before, during and after WWII that killed another 6 million Jews? Could it be, that again distraction is the fundamental Zionist part of the 1% reason for the continual avalanche of "never forgetting" the Nazis, while to "remember" the radical east European and Russian pogroms and gulag Holocaust would anger potential customers for high profit margin junk, and threaten access to all that now cheap East European labor. Seems it really is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY!
The Nazis killed 6 million Jews; there was no "Second Holocaust" by the Russians and Eastern European countries that killed another 6 million. What is the "fundamentalist Zionist part of the 1% reason, etc."? Why is the New York Times permitting the publication of such an insane piece of nonsense?

Saturday, March 07, 2015

"Walking while Jewish" in Europe

An article from the Daily Mail presents several instances of people "walking while Jewish" through various European cities - all men wearing kippot.

In Bradford and Manchester, British journalist Jonathan Kalmus encountered antisemitic jeers and insults, and one person followed him and took pictures of him.
He writes: "'You Jew' was the anti-Semitic scream which came from a passing car. My shaken wife tried to explain it away to my seven-year-old daughter as a very large sneeze. They were simply playing in a local park in Manchester a few weeks ago when the incident ripped through what should have been a peaceful and wholesome time for any mother and child. 
"'Fight the Jewish scum' and 'Jew, Jew, Jew... Run', were the more vicious threats hurled at me in the past few days, however, when I decided to secretly film and find out whether 'Jew-hatred' really is alive and kicking on British streets."
The article also reports on similar walks; in Paris, by Israeli journalist Zvika Klein, who was a victim of harassment, threats, and spitting; in Copenhagen, where Omar Shargawi, an award-winning Palestinian-Danish documentary maker, put on a kippah - for the most part he was not harassed except when someone shouted "F**k you little Jew"; in Rome Ben Katz was greeted in a friendly fashion by some people who said "Shalom" or "Shabbat Shalom" to him, but he was also cursed at by right-wing hoodlums; in Berlin Adam Goldman was undisturbed, except when some teenagers "turned their heads and pointed as if they couldn't get over the fact that there was a real living Jew standing close to them but that is just ignorant teenagers"; and finally in Stockholm, Simon Moser rode the subway and got no reaction whatsoever from people who saw him.

In Germany I've felt quite apprehensive about wear a star of David on a necklace, but perhaps I shouldn't be so nervous about it. It seems like I'd get a far more hostile response in other parts of Europe.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

A visit to the Eshta'ol Forest - Cyclamens and Poppies

A couple of days ago, a friend and I went in search of a calm, natural place to spend a couple of hours, and we found the Eshta'ol Forest, next to Ta'oz, in the Judean foothills.

We first found a strange lookout tower, the Harel Lookout Point. It turns out that this tower was first constructed during the 1948 war. A sign nearby reads: "The building that served until 1948 as Beit Jit's school stood on this spot. During the work on the Burma Road, the site was a Seventh Brigade outpost that guarded the detour. Today it is the site of a lookout tower for KKL forest rangers and the starting point for a trip along the marked section of the Burma Road." The Burma Road was built as an alternative route to the regular road to Jerusalem, which was very dangerous to Jewish travel because Arab fighters regularly shot at and ambushed the Jewish convoys. Because the road was nearly blockaded, Jerusalem was cut off from supplies from other parts of the country. The Burma Road enabled convoys to reach the Jewish parts of Jerusalem. The second map below is taken from Wikipedia Commons and shows the state of fighting in the area on June 11, 1948. It also shows the area of the Burma Road ("Route de Birmanie") and where the Seventh Brigade was stationed.As you can see, almost all of the villages were inhabited by Palestinian Arabs,  The villages were conquered and destroyed by the Haganah during the the war.

We walked behind the lookout tower and found a short trail that went into the woods, and found a beautiful site - fields full of cyclamens (called rakafet in Hebrew) interspersed with the occasional red poppy. There were other pretty flowers as well, but I don't know what they're called.

An Assyrian winged being

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Study: Anti-Semitism on the Rise at U.S. Colleges

Tablet Magazine reports on an interesting new survey on the experiences of Jewish students of antisemitism at American colleges.
A new study from the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Trinity College found that anti-Semitism is on the rise on U.S. college campuses. Their National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students polled 1,157 students about their campus experience, and found that 44 to 73 percent, with an average of 54 percent, reported experiencing anti-Semitism during the first six months of the 2013-2014 academic year.
The study found that anti-Semitism pervades all campuses, not just ones with strong anti-Israel activism or in parts of the country where Jews are a smaller minority.

There also appears to have been a shift in who is experiencing anti-Semitism on campus. While Orthodox men, who are visibly identifiable as Jewish, had previously been the most likely target of anti-Semitism, the study found that students who identify as Conservative or Reform were reporting incidents most often (as were participants in Jewish campus organizations).

Jewish women feel far more at risk on campus, with 59 percent (as opposed to 51 percent of men) reporting witnessing bigotry firsthand.

The rise of anti-Semitism internationally in the wake of last summer’s Gaza war has been much discussed. What’s interesting about this study is that it’s based on incidents from the 2013-2014 school year, before the war.
The report itself is available at Antisemitism Report (pdf).

One of the most interesting findings of the survey is that younger Jews report much more exposure to antisemitic incidents than older Jews.
According to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Survey of U.S. Jews, anti-Semitism in the U.S. today is a problem mainly facing the younger generation of American Jews. Among Jews aged 18-29 years, 22% reported being called offensive names during 2012. By comparison, 6% of those ages 50-64 years and only 4% of those 65 or older said this happened to them in the past year.
When I started teaching I was surprised to discover that some of my Jewish students had encountered forms of antisemitism that I had only read about. They said that at home they had regularly heard people say "Jew (someone) down" (meaning to get something more cheaply), and some had had pennies thrown at them (same idea). At college, mezuzahs on doors had been ripped off, and swastikas had been scrawled on walls. A few reported hearing antisemitic expressions from friends of theirs. A few reported having been asked about whether they had horns. Given what I've heard from my students, I'm not surprised at this report.

Incidents like these do not end up in the FBI's statistics on hate crimes, since they don't rise to the level of crimes. But they do make Jewish students feel unsafe, and wondering where they will find the support they need.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Snow in Jerusalem

I've never been in Jerusalem for a really big snowstorm before, but now I have my own photos of today's snow in Jerusalem. These were taken in my yard (on Elazar ha-Modai St) and then along the way as I walked up and back Emek Refaim St to Super ha-Moshava. I tried to find an open cafe but the only one available was about to close. The report on the radio was that about 30 cm fell in Jerusalem, which is almost a foot of snow.

The Islamic State (ISIS) and the End of Days

What is ISIS (Daesh) and what does it want?

Three recently published articles discuss the role that Islamic eschatology (ideas about the end of days) has played in the formation of the goals of Daesh. They also emphasize the fact that Daesh uses the Qur'an and the hadith, and the later writings of Muslim authors, to justify their brutality and murder of Christians, killing and enslavement of Yazidis, and murder of other Muslims whom they consider to be apostates (like Shi'ites).

To be clear, all three authors state unequivocally that the vast majority of Muslims reject ISIS and its wholesale brutality and murder. None of them claim that ISIS is "real Islam" or anything like it (as opposed to what anti-Muslim bigots like Pamela Geller would claim). They have written these articles in order to understand what the goals of ISIS are and to suggest ways to fight it. Denying that ISIS (and other Islamist terrorist groups like Al Qaeda) call upon Islamic traditions and interpretations is simply denying reality.

Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa write on Will It Take The End of the World For Obama To Recognize ISIS?
At the White House summit on “countering violent extremism,” President Obama declared that violent jihad in the name of Islam isn’t the work of “religious leaders” but rather “terrorists.” American-Muslim leaders, attending the summit, cheered and applauded, later taking selfies in front of the president’s seal.

But, as liberal Muslim feminist journalists who reject the vision of the Islamic State, we can say that the Islamic State, al Qaeda and the alphabet soup of Islamic militant groups, like HUM (Harkut-ul Mujahideen) and LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), rely very much on the scholarship of “religious leaders,” from Ibn Tamiyyah in the 14th century to Sayyid Qutb in the 20th century, who very much have credibility and authority among too many Muslims as “religious leaders.”.... 
After spending about 200 hours combined over the last few weeks, analyzing every word and symbol in the burning video of the Jordanian Air Force pilot and the execution video of the Coptic Christians, we can tell you that both videos reveal Islamic State strategists, propagandists and recruiters are very much grounded in a logical interpretation of the Quran, the hadith, or sayings and traditions of the prophet Muhammad, and fatwa, or religious rulings.

They are also hell-bent on one mission: Chasing the apocalypse, according to Islamic eschatology—the study of end of the world.

Doing a verbal tap-dance around Islamic theology and extremism, even calling it “whatever ideology,” Obama and his policy team have it completely wrong. We have to own the issue of extremist Islamic theology in order to defeat it and remove it from our world. We have to name it to tame it.
Read the whole article.

They have also published another article on the symbols of Daesh: "Inside the symbols and psychology of the Islamic State."

In the Atlantic, Graeme Wood also just published an excellent article on What Isis Really Wants.
The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million....
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal...
Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But (Abu Musab al-)Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.

Following takfiri doctrine (i.e., declaring that someone is an apostate), the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute....
Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”
Read the whole article.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Awful German Language" by Mark Twain

While here in Bochum I thought it might be wise to improve my command of the German language. I learned German in high school for four years, and by the end could read fairly sophisticated texts. (I don't know how well I spoke it, however, since I didn't have the opportunity to visit a German-speaking country and talk to people). I didn't take any more German until graduate school, when I took an intensive German reading course in order to pass an exam (Ph.D. students were required to learn both German and French). That helped my reading but not my speaking.

When I got to Bochum I had some hope that the German I learned in high school would return, and that I would be able to have simple conversations with people. Unfortunately, this has not happened. I signed up for a German class, and I have remembered the grammar I learned, and some vocabulary, but I still find it hard to get out a simple sentence. It would be very useful to be able to speak better, because I find that many people in Bochum simply don't know any English, or if they do, they're unwilling/unable to speak it.

I just read what Mark Twain wrote on The Awful German Language. Well worth a read - funny and accurate!

A sample:
There are ten parts of speech, and they are all troublesome. An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech -- not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary -- six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam -- that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each inclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses which reinclose three or four of the minor parentheses, making pens within pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it -- after which comes the VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verb -- merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out -- the writer shovels in "haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein," or words to that effect, and the monument is finished. I suppose that this closing hurrah is in the nature of the flourish to a man's signature -- not necessary, but pretty. German books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head -- so as to reverse the construction -- but I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Bishop of Guildford bans Stephen Sizer from writing or speaking on Middle East issues

Sizer has *finally* been prohibited from engaging in any speech, writing, or activities about the Middle East. This includes attending conferences, which I presume include the Christ at the Checkpoint conferences or his regular jaunts to Iran to take part in antisemitic conferences.

This is the statement from the new Bishop of Guildford:
"The Diocese of Guildford has taken extremely seriously the reports and complaints regarding Stephen Sizer over the past two weeks. Concerns surrounding Stephen were raised both in response to allegedly offensive materials linked from his Facebook account, and to comments he made to the Jewish News and the Daily Telegraph thereafter. 
"Commenting on this matter, the Council of Christians and Jews has helpfully highlighted that:
‘It is perfectly possible to criticize Israeli policies without such criticism being anti-Semitic, and Christians and others should feel free to do so. However, such legitimate criticism must not be used as a cloak for anti-Semitism, nor can anti-Semitism itself ever be disguised as mere political comment’. (see CCJ website)
"Having now met Stephen, in my brand new role as Bishop of Guildford, I do not believe that his motives are anti-Semitic; but I have concluded that, at the very least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgment in the material he has chosen to disseminate, particularly via social media, some of which is clearly anti-Semitic. 
"By associating with or promoting subject matter, which is either ambiguous in its motivation, or (worse still) openly racist, he has crossed a serious line. I regard these actions as indefensible.

"I have welcomed Stephen’s apology, his recognition of the deep hurt caused by his actions, his acknowledgement of the gross insensitivity of their timing just prior to Holocaust Memorial Day, and his retraction of the ridiculous suggestion that Israel may have been complicit in the events of 9/11. I have also recognized that much of Stephen’s ministry in other areas and at other times has been good, wise and wholesome. 
"Having consulted closely with my colleagues here in the Diocese, though, it is my view that Stephen’s strong but increasingly undisciplined commitment to an anti-Zionist agenda has become a liability to his own ministry and that of the wider church. Many who more moderately support the Palestinian cause, and share his critique of a particular brand of Christian fundamentalism, themselves find Stephen’s actions to be increasingly unhelpful and counter-productive, a fact he himself now recognizes. 
"It is therefore my decision that Stephen’s work in this area is no longer compatible with his ministry as a parish priest. 
"In order for Stephen to remain in parish ministry, I have therefore asked for - and received from him - a solemn undertaking, in writing, that he is to refrain entirely from writing or speaking on any theme that relates, either directly or indirectly, to the current situation in the Middle East or to its historical backdrop. 
"He has promised to refrain, with no exceptions, from attendance at or participation in any conferences which promote or are linked to this agenda; from all writing, tweeting, blogging, emailing, preaching and teaching on these themes, whether formally or informally – a prohibition which of course includes posting links to other sites; and from all background work in this area which may resource others to act as spokespeople in Stephen’s stead. 
"Should Stephen be deemed by the Diocese to have broken this agreement, in letter or in spirit, he has pledged to offer me his immediate resignation, which I will duly accept. He has also agreed to desist from the use of social media entirely for the next six months, after which he and I will review that prohibition. 
"It is fair to say that Stephen seems relieved to be working within this clear new framework, and would now like to redirect his energies into his work as a parish priest.

"The Diocese of Guildford has been in contact with the Board of Deputies of British Jews throughout this matter. I have made them aware of Stephen’s undertaking, and am grateful for the positive and constructive nature of our conversations.

"I would also like to thank all those who have taken the time to contact me and my colleagues in the aftermath of these events, and for everything we have learnt from your various perspectives. 
"Most importantly of all, I am hugely sorry for the hurt which has been caused to members of the Jewish Community, and I hope and pray that the storms of the past two weeks will ultimately serve to deepen and strengthen our relationship, one with another. This is a time when I would urge all Christian people to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters in countering the alarming rise of anti-Semitic incidents being reported, not least here in the UK. This is also a time for people of faith, Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, to work together in that open, robust partnership that will help to promote peace and justice in our communities, our nation and the wider world."
Update: Sizer's letter of apology and statement that he will refrain from all activity relating to the Middle East conflict is posted to the diocese of Guildford's website: Stephen Sizer letter (direct link to PDF document).

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Sunset in Bochum

It's been exceptionally cloudy and rainy here the last few days, so it's nice to see a pretty sunset. View is from my living room window. Crane is for nearby construction.

Anti-Israel and antisemitic demonstrations in Germany in summer 2014

Bochum, Gelsenkirchen, and Essen, summer 2014

I've been hesitant to write on the topic of anti-Israel demonstrations that happened in this area of Germany last summer, but after reading that a judge in Wuppertal refused to believe that three people who firebombed a synagogue were motivated by antisemitism (see my previous post), I thought it was important to post videos and my comments on several anti-Israel demos and marches, in order to provide some information about the anti-Israel (and antisemitic) political atmosphere then.

I have viewed videos of two demonstrations in Bochum, one in Gelsenkirchen, and one in Essen. Essen is about a 12 minute train ride from Bochum, and Gelsenkirchen is about 30 minutes away by train.

I was able to find information about two anti-Israel demos in Bochum. I had not yet arrived in Bochum (I only came here in early October). I found out about them because several videos were posted to Youtube showing the demonstrations. I was looking for them in the course of viewing a number of videos of anti-Israel rallies and marches in Europe, after I had experienced an anti-Israel rally in Zurich, Switzerland, when I was visiting there briefly in July. (I wrote a post about it last summer).

A nearby town, Essen, had more demonstrations than Bochum, including one that threatened the Old Synagogue in Essen. There have also been anti-Israel rallies in Dortmund, with antisemitic placards. I've looked at the online version of the newspaper Der Westen and have seen photographs from these rallies. I've also viewed two videos of the demonstrations in Bochum. These are my comments on the two Bochum demonstrations, one in Gelsenkirchen, and one in Essen.

Bochum, July 11, 2014

This demonstration consisted almost entirely of Muslim men chanting Islamic slogans like "Allahu Akbar," and "Takbir, Allahu Akbar," "There is no god but God and Muhammad the prophet of God," "Muhammad habib Allah," and "Free Islam." For much of the time it seemed more like a rally for Islam than for any particular political cause.

 There were also specifically anti-Israel slogans;  "Kinder mörder Israel" "Frauen mörder Israel," "Free Palestine," "Stopp der Krieg," "Free Islam." "Gaza brennt, Europa brennt." The slogan "Child murder Israel" is redolent of the ritual murder accusations against Jews from the Middle Ages.

At the 24:52 point, the demonstrators start to chant a blatantly antisemitic slogan: "Khaybar, Khaybar Ya Yahud, jaish Muhammad sayaud" - "Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, Mohammed’s army will return. ” This refers to a battle in the oasis of Khaybar, in Arabia, between Jewish tribes and the followers of Muhammad in 629 C.E., which the Jews lost to the Muslims. They were forced to pay tribute in order to remain in the oasis, but were expelled from it several years later. Jeffrey Goldberg  says about the slogan when it is chanted today: "The intent of the slogan was obvious - the reconstituted army of Muhammad in Palestine would do to the Jews today what the first army of the Prophet did to the Jews in Arabia fourteen hundred years ago."

Bochum, July 25, 2014

Another demonstration was held during the day a couple of weeks later, this time in front of the main train station and marching from it. I watched a video (which has subsequently been taken down from Youtube), and it showed people chanting some of the same slogans. This was a more mixed crowd, both men and women, and did not seem to be entirely Muslim, although there were still Muslim slogans.

Some of the chants:

"Terror-staat Israel" - Terror state Israel
"Kinder mörder Israel" - Israel, child murderer
Allahu Akbar - God is the greater
Takbir, Allahu Akbar - "God is the greater" (in Arabic). "Takbir" is said first to invite people to say "Allahu Akbar."
"Freiheit fur Palastina," (Freedom for Palestine), followed by "Takbir," and  "Allahu Akbar"
"Stopp den krieg" - Stop the war
"Free Free Palastina"
And in Persian: "Marg bar Israel" - death to Israel

Another, shorter video of the same demo, titled "Antisemitische Demo Bochum 25.7.2014 - 1." It includes the opening speech, in German. This and the next video appear to have posted to Youtube by the Antifa people.

One thing to notice is that right behind the big posters that say, "We are not terrorists; we want peace and freedom; Free Palestine," there is a black flag with white Arabic writing on it. The words on the flag are the shehadah, the Muslim declaration of faith: "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God." This is not just a religious statement however, it is the black flag of jihad.

A second video of the same demonstration, titled "Anti-Semitic demonstration Bochum 07.25.2014 - 2 - Israel flag is destroyed"


The opening scene shows men holding an Israeli flag and tearing it to pieces. Next scene - trying to burn another Israeli flag and chanting "freedom for Gaza." A woman wearing a Turkish flag also tried to burn it.

Gelsenkirchen, July 12, 2014

Here is a video of another demonstration in a town nearby Bochum, Gelsenkirchen, also in July, 2014.

They start with "Allahu Akbar" and then go to "Khaybar Khaybar Ya Yahud." This again was a night-time rally with almost only Muslim men in attendance.

Essen, July 18, 2014

Another rally in Essen on July 18, 2014 descended into violence. At first there was an anti-Israel rally sponsored by Die Linke (the Left Party), and in another part of downtown, a pro-Israel rally. Once the Left Party rally ended (and it appears that there was also a sizable contingent of young Muslims, chanting the same slogans I've noted above), these demonstrators ran shouting to the pro-Israel rally in Willy Brandt Plaza. The anti-Israel demonstrators are clearly antisemitic, not just anti-Israel. They're chanting "Death to the Jews" and "Adolf Hitler" (by the way, it's illegal to chant slogans like these in Germany), and making the Nazi salute (also illegal). Later in the video you can hear the slogan "Fuck the Jews." This video helpfully has English translations of some of the chants and signs.

A couple of stills from this video:

Notice the Star of David with the swastika inside it.

And a woman with "Fuck you Israel" written on the back of her shirt:

"Freedom for Palestine. Stop the Jewish terror."
From watching these videos and examining the signs, it's clear that some of the people who went to these demonstrations were motivated by more than outrage about the sufferings of the people of Gaza at the hands of the Israeli army. They were motivated by pure, naked antisemitism. People shouting "Death to Jews" are not criticizing the state of Israel or protesting against it. They are inciting to murder. People who make a sign where the swastika is inside the Star of David are not just criticizing Israel - they are equating Israel with the Nazis, and therefore also equating what the Gaza War with the Holocaust. This is also blatantly antisemitic. People who link "freedom for Palestine" with stopping "Jewish terror" are not calling for a free, independent Palestinian state - they are accusing Jews of being terrorists.

Update - the website "Honestly Concerned" posted links to videos documenting a whole series of anti-Israel demonstrations in Germany in the summer of 2014:  VIDEOS OF A SMALL SELECTION OF ANTI-ISRAEL HATRED DEMONSTRATIONS IN RECENT WEEKS

German Judge: Torching of Synagogue not motivated by anti-Semitism

This is an outrageous denial of reality. Three Palestinians in Germany threw firebombs at the synagogue in Wuppertal this past July. They were convicted of arson, but the judge did not believe they committed the crime for antisemitic reasons!
Three German Palestinians convicted of arson after hurling firebombs at a synagogue in Germany were motivated by trying to bring “attention to the Gaza conflict,” according to the judge who convicted them on Thursday, Jerusalem Post journalist Benjamin Weinthal reported. 
The judge in the case did not believe the men were guilty of anti-Semitism, according to outraged Green Party deputy Volker Beck, who told media he wrote to the prosecutor in the case to file a legal objection, reported. 
Several days prior to the firebombing, “Free Palestine” had been sprayed in paint on to the wall of the synagogue as well. 
The rebuilt synagogue in Wuppertal, North Rhine-Westphalia was undamaged in the July 29, 2014 attack, which sparked a solidarity rally outside the building that same night. Dieter Graumann, then-president of the German Central Council of Jews, condemned the attack as did Germany’s Central Council of Muslims.
The synagogue was attacked in the middle of the wave of anti-Israel and anti-semitic demonstrations that occurred in Europe last summer during the Gaza war, which were accompanied by many other attacks upon individual Jews and Jewish institutions. 

Firebomb attack: Police officers at the synagogue in Wuppertal (Photo: dpa)
How can attacking a synagogue with firebombs not be an antisemitic act? A synagogue is a specifically Jewish place of worship. It is not a representative of the state of Israel.
Graumann said, “We have seen … during the war in Gaza, demonstrations of pure primitive hatred against the Jews that broke out again. It is very hard for me to talk about it but, when there are calls in the streets of Germany, ‘Jews to the gas,’ it hurts us greatly,” he added."
Further from Benjamin Weinthal's article in the Jerusalem Post (German Judge: Torching of Synagogue not motivated by anti-Semitism):
The Wuppertal court sentenced the two men, ages 24 and 29, to a suspended prison term of one year and three months. The two men, along with an 18-year-old juvenile, in July tossed Molotov cocktails at the synagogue in Wuppertal, a city in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia with a population of nearly 344,000. The court ordered all three to perform 200 hours of community service. 
Beck said on Saturday the “attack on the Synagogue was motivated by anti-Semitism” and blasted the court for issuing a decision stating that the goal of the attack was to bring “attention to the Gaza conflict.” Israel, last summer, was involved a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip. 
“This is a mistaken decision as far as the motives of the perpetrators are concerned. Therefore, I have written the prosecutor and called for the filing of a legal objection,” he said, adding that the burning of a synagogue in Germany because of the Middle East conflict can be attributed only to anti-Semitism. 
“What do Jews in Germany have to do with the Middle East conflict? Every bit as much as Christians, non-religious people or Muslims in Germany, namely, absolutely nothing. The ignorance of the judiciary toward anti-Semitism is for many Jews in Germany especially alarming.” 
The three German Palestinians caused €800 damage to the synagogue. The original synagogue in Wuppertal was burned by Germans during the Kristallnacht pogroms in 1938. 
A 13-year-old who lived near the synagogue and noticed the flames informed the police. Several days before the fire, a person sprayed “Free Palestine” on a wall of the synagogue.

An increase of German anti-Semitism had prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to speak at an anti-Jew hatred rally in September.
The city of Wuppertal is about 35 kilometers away from Bochum. It would take me about an hour to get there by train. The synagogue in Bochum was not attacked during the summer, but there were at least two anti-Israel demonstrations in the city, both accompanied by chants of "child murderer Israel," "Free Free Palestina," and "Terror-Staat Israel," along with Muslim chants like "Allahu Akbar."


The Taz reported on the trial on January 14, 2015 - the defendants claimed they were drunk and did not intend to set the synagogue on fire.

The Suddeutsche Zeitung from August 8, 2014, reported on the firebombing:
A small yellow car drives by the Wuppertal synagogue, and the windows are rolled down, with young people screaming "Free Palestine." This has been happening for weeks, and Artour Gourari finds it perfectly fine (völlig in Ordnung), at least to some extent. "This is part of the freedom of expression," says Gourari, from the council of the Jewish community in Wuppertal. 
Reading further in the story, it appears that passersby did not just scream "Free Palestine," but other more vile insults. If I were him I would not have found this "perfectly fine," since Jews, especially in a German synagogue, should not subject to verbal assaults and blamed for what the state of Israel does.
What is not covered by the freedom of expression, one can see behind him on a spot on the floor and on the outer wall of the synagogue, smelling of gasoline and oil. Last week, three young people of Arab descent threw Molotov cocktails at the synagogue, and two suspects are sitting in detention. You could read in the past week that it suffered no damage. It sounded as if nothing happened.
"You have to imagine what kind of a symbol this is. Once again a synagogue has burned in Germany," says Artour Gourari. "We are all in shock." To date, they have not found a way to clean the gasoline from the entrance to the synagogue. Youcan not just spray around with the pressure washer, the Bergische region is a protected area for drinking and the groundwater beneath the synagogue is particularly sensitive. It flows into the magnificent ritual bath of which they are so proud, which is unique in the region. It would be bad if a Jew had to bathe in the attacker's gasoline. So the remains of the fire simply stay where they are. 
"It's a shame that synagogues need to be guarded," says Minister 
On Tuesday evening, the North Rhine-Westphalian Integration Minister Guntram Schneider lays down a bouquet down and says, "Jewish life in Germany is fragile, it is a shame that synagogues must be guarded." Earlier, the police had only come by on a regular patrol, now a patrol car is parked regularly outside the door. 
This is now a reality in Wuppertal, but it is not so brand new. When the synagogue was opened in 2002, neo-Nazis marched through the city. But then as now, the people of Wuppertal stand against them. Immediately after the arson attack last week, people flocked to the synagogue, and demonstrated against the violence. "It was very well done," says Gourari. The representatives of the Mosque Association condemned the action immediately. 
Wuppertal was a model of integration for a long time in North Rhein-Westphalia. From Solingen and Bonn the Salafists are attracted "to Syria and Iraq...." In Wuppertal, says Mohamed Abodahab from the Mosque Association. "We live peacefully and amicably together. The Palestine conflict cannot be solved in Wuppertal." They do not want it. 
.....If one is only a couple of minutes away from the synagogue, then there is already quite a lot of screaming and brawls: "Free Palestine" is the most harmless. 
From 60 to 2,300 members 
Gourari says his life has changed a lot since the new war in Gaza. He now appears to people to be an expert. "All the time I am asked how I stand on Israel's settlement policy. It is, however, my human right not to have a stand on settlement policy. What is more interesting for me is German health care reform." But it is not so simple for him these days. 
Gourari came many years ago from the former Soviet Union to Germany, and has long had German citizenship. And yet people look at him funny when they ask him about his home and he says "Remscheid". Without people like him there would be no more Jewish community in Wuppertal. In the late 1980s, there were only 60 members, all of whom were quite old. For many traditional prayers there were not even enough men. On Chanukah there were no more children to give presents to. "We were about to join the community in Dusseldorf," says Ruth Yael Tutzinger, the chairman of the council. Then the Iron Curtain fell, now the community has 2,300 members, a private sports club, a chess club and a kosher café. 
At the end of the 1990s the community grew so strong that they needed a new synagogue. Johannes Rau, who comes from Wuppertal, made the case, and the Protestant community sold a plot of land for a symbolic euro. Now the Protestant city church and synagogue stand side by side. There is no fence, the summer festivals are celebrated together. After the arson attack, the Protestants were on the spot immediately to show their solidarity. 
"This has been infinitely good for us," says Artour Gourari. "But we would like that other parts of society would take a stand against anti-Semitism. It is often expected that we Jews do it ourselves. Because we are considered experts for such things. But anti-Semitism is a problem of the whole society." 
A car drives by. "Free Palestine" echoes through Wuppertal.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Stephen Sizer defended by 9/11 Truther Anthony Hall

Anthony Hall, a defender of Sizer's Facebook post about the 9/11 Truthers who claim Israeli/Jewish involvement in the 9/11 attacks, has written a rambling and conspiracy-laden article about him in Veterans Today, a Neonazi site. Hall is a "Professor of Globalization Studies at University of Lethbridge in Alberta Canada." He writes:
This time Reverend Sizer is charged with mirroring on his Facebook page a small sample of the large and growing body of evidence demonstrating that Israeli-American neocons were lead protagonists in the 9/11 crimes. They directed the complex of US and Israeli agencies that cooperated in the commission of the 9/11 debacle itself and in the coordination of the many subversions entailed in the continuing and increasingly desperate 9/11 cover-up.
Hall wrote on his Facebook page: "Earlier today Antonius received an E-Mail from Rev. Sizer indicating 'Right now I am in survival mode. I anticipate losing my role, my income and home.'" If Hall actually did receive such an email from Sizer, this is further evidence of Sizer's involvement with the murky world of 9/11 Truthers, antisemites, and Holocaust deniers.

Students for Justice in Palestine - recent follies

SJP at DePaul University in Chicago: Why does DePaul group honor a convicted killer?
This Tuesday, Feb. 3, Rasmieh Odeh, a convicted killer, will be honored at a fundraiser held at DePaul University organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). SJP is a national organization which pursues an anti-Israel agenda on college campuses across the country. 
Odeh was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, designated by the US, Canada, and the EU as a terrorist group. In 1970, Odeh was convicted in Israel for a 1969 bombing at a Jerusalem supermarket that killed two Hebrew University students, Leon Kanner, 21 and Edward Joffe, 22. Odeh’s sentence was life in prison, but she was released in a 1995 prisoner exchange. 
Why is a convicted terrorist being honored? SJP is raising funds for Odeh’s legal defense in the US. After being released from Israeli prison, Odeh immigrated to the US. Last November a federal jury in Detroit found her guilty of lying on her naturalization papers by answering “no” when asked if she had “ever” been charged or convicted of a crime. 
Odeh, now in her late 60s, is portrayed by anti-Israel activists as a victim of Zionist oppression. This narrative has been ably refuted by Cornell law professor William A. Jacobson, who posted an impressive number of original documents on his website Legal Insurrection. I encourage skeptics to examine the evidence for themselves, including a 2004 documentary in which Odeh’s co-conspirator describes how Odeh masterminded the supermarket bombing. 
The organizers of the fundraiser honoring a convicted terrorist, SJP, refuse to talk to other students unless they accept the view that Israel is an apartheid state. My experience as a rabbi at several prominent American universities has been consistent: students affiliated with SJP will not dialog with students who identify as Zionists or pro-Israel (neither Jews nor gentiles), because they say this “normalizes the occupation.” This attitude erodes civil discourse and is at odds with the values of any university, secular or religious.
SJP at UC Davis:

UC Davis student government passes divestment
“At tonight’s (Jan. 29) ASUCD senate meeting, Senate Resolution (SR) #9 passed with an 8-2-2 vote. The text of SR #9 calls for the University of California (UC) Board of Regents to divest from “corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and illegal settlements in Palestinian territories, violating both international humanitarian law and international human rights.” ASUCD voted down a similar resolution this past May. 
With the passing vote, ASUCD formally recommends the UC Regents to divest from American companies Caterpillar Inc., G4S PLC, Veolia Environment and Raytheon.

Over 550 UC Davis students, staff and faculty members attended the senate meeting, which was called to order at 8:57 p.m. in the Sciences Lecture Hall 123.”
On the UC Davis vote:
Anti-Israel activists at the University of California, Davis heckled Jewish students and shouted “Allahhu Akbar” at them during a vote last week on a resolution endorsing a boycott of the Jewish state, according to video of the event obtained by theWashington Free Beacon. 
The commotion erupted late Thursday evening as pro-Israel students attempted to counter a student government resolution to divest from Israel as part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 
Activists waving Palestinian flags shouted at the Jewish and pro-Israel students as they left the meeting room ahead of an eight to two vote in favor of the divestment resolution, which is part of a larger movement by anti-Israel groups to attack Israel and pro-Israel students on campus. 
“Allahhu Akhbar!” a large group of activists shouted in unison as the pro-Israel students filed out of U.C. Davis’ meeting room, according to video provided by a member of Aggies for Israel, a pro-Israel student group at Davis. 

Following the vote, which was championed by the pro-Hamas group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), unknown vandals spray-painted swastikas on a fraternity house belonging to the Jewish AEPi organization. [Note: while I'm no fan of SJP, I think it's wrong to call them "pro-Hamas"].
Additionally, Azka Fayyaz, a member of the U.C. Davis student senate, posted on her Facebook page a triumphant message following the vote: “Hamas & Sharia law have taken over UC Davis.”

Fayyaz followed this with another post stating: “If a movement is not controversial, if no one is mad, its [sic] not strong enough & it’s not worth the fight. Israel will fall insha’Allah.”.... 
Members of the AEPi fraternity also took note of the proximity between the BDS vote and the defacement of their home. 
“Our U.C. Davis AEPi fraternity house was tagged with two swastikas, coming 24 hours after the deeply troubling actions on campus coming from those seeking to delegitimize Israel and her people,” a group of AEPi leaders and alumni members said in a joint statement released after the anti-Semitic attack.
See also the report from Stand With Us about the UCSD vote.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

"The Mind Unleashed" and Fluoridation of Water

I've been getting a few comments on my post about why you should not repost articles from The Mind Unleashed. One of the things I noted was that "The site publishes many articles arguing that fluoride is an evil substance that should not be added to our drinking water." The comments I've received inveigh against the supposed dangers of fluoride in the drinking water, which was added in order to combat dental cavities. The latest post quoted an article from a website called "Culture Change" which claims that the Nazis used fluoride in concentration camps "to keep the inmates passive." This was because, "The poison serves to decrease resistance to authority." How fluoride accomplishes this is not described (or supported by any evidence) in the article.

I know that there have been campaigns in the US against fluoridation of water since at least the 1960s - as I recall this was something that upset the John Birch Society because they thought it was a communist conspiracy. These campaigns apparently still exist, as evidenced by my correspondents.

The American Dental Association has a statement on its website supporting fluoridation because it reduces cavities (Fluoride and Fluoridation):
On January 25,1945 Grand Rapids, Michigan became the world's first city to adjust the level of fluoride in its water supply. Since that time, fluoridation has dramatically improved the oral health of tens of millions of Americans. Community water fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has proclaimed community water fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. Approximately 74.6% of the U.S. population served by public water systems receive the benefit of optimally fluoridated water. 
Fluoridation of community water supplies is simply the adjustment of the existing, naturally occurring fluoride levels in drinking water to an optimal fluoride level for the prevention of tooth decay. Water that has been fortified with fluoride is similar to fortifying milk with Vitamin D, table salt with iodine, and bread and cereals with folic acid. 
For nearly 70 years, studies have consistently shown that fluoridation of community water supplies is safe and effective in preventing dental decay in both children and adults. Simply by drinking water, children and adults can benefit from fluoridation's cavity protection whether they are at home, work or school. 
Today, studies prove water fluoridation continues to be effective in reducing tooth decay by at least 25%, even in an era with widespread availability of fluoride from other sources, such as fluoride toothpaste. 
Fluoridation is one public health program that actually saves money. An individual can have a lifetime of fluoridated water for less than the cost of one dental filling. 
The American Dental Association continues to endorse fluoridation of community water supplies as safe and effective for preventing tooth decay. This support has been the Association's position since policy was first adopted in 1950. The ADA's policies regarding community water fluoridation are based on the best available science. The ADA, along with state and local dental societies, continues to work with federal, state and local agencies to increase the number of communities benefiting from water fluoridation.
A science blogger, Skeptical Raptor, has recently blogged on the claims against fluoridation of water in Fluoridation, the 47 millionth blog post issue.

Orac, at Respectful Insolence, also blogged on the 2013 referendum in Portland, Oregon, which resulted in a decision not to fluoridate water there. He has a good discussion of the scientific issues.

Stephen Sizer is being investigated by the Church of England

On the Stephen Sizer front, it appears that the Church of England is going to investigate his latest infelicities: "Church of England to investigate Stephen Sizer over 9/11 Israel post."
The Church of England is investigating one of its clergy after he posted a link on Facebook post to an article entitled "9-11/Israel did it". 
In the week in which Prince Charles led commemorations at Holocaust Memorial Day marking 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rev Stephen Sizer's link was condemned by the Church as "unacceptable" and a matter of "deep sorrow and shame".... 
When Jewish News contacted Sizer about the 9/11 link, he asked the weekly newspaper to show him articles refuting such claims. 
The article he linked to attempted to make connections between wealthy American Jews and the 9/11 attacks. Sizer asked online: "Is this anti-Semitic?.. It raises so many questions."... 
In an email to the Jewish News, Sizer said: "I would welcome articles you can recommend refuting the allegations." Noting that many Americans feel 9/11 was "an inside job," Sizer added: "It is essential the public become convinced of what happened before and after 9/11. Inevitably the truth will upset many people if it is shown by further investigation that the official explanations are shown to be deficient." 
He added: "Encouraging research and debate on all aspects of [9/11] is not anti-Semitic... Suppressing discussion on such grounds will fuel suspicion, not remove it."
He just posted the following statement on his blog:
Statement from Revd Dr Stephen Sizer

"I very much regret and apologise for the distress caused by the reposting on Facebook of a link to an article about 9/11 from Wikispooks. It was particularly insensitive in that last week coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day. I removed the link as soon as I received adverse feedback, and realised that offence had been caused. I have never believed Israel or any other country was complicit in the terrorist atrocity of 9/11, and my sharing of this material was ill-considered and misguided. At the request of the Diocese, I will be suspending my use of all social media and blogs with immediate effect and until further notice.”
He has, however, not removed the whitewashing article on his blog about his participation in the Iranian government's "New Horizons interfaith conference" in Teheran in October, which I wrote about then - Stephen Sizer hanging out at an antisemitic conference in Iran. This is where he issued a threat to those who criticize the Iranian government: "Critics of conferences such as New Horizons should think more carefully about how their inflammatory words will negatively impact on their own communities in Iran." Apparently Sizer believes that Jews and Christians living in Western countries, where we have freedom of speech, should refrain from criticizing the Iranian government because our co-religionists might be attacked by the government because of our words. There's a word for that: blackmail.

At that conference he gave a speech called "Christian Jihad," where he equates the Zionist movement with ISIS: "I hope that we would all agree ISIS is no more representative of Islam than Zionism is of Judaism, or the Crusades and Inquisition are of Christianity."

For more on Sizer's deep connections to Iran and an Iraqi Shi'ite militia called Kata'ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), see an article on Harry's Place, "Sizer presents TV show for channel linked to Hezbollah Brigades." The network is called Al-Ejetah, and it is an Iraqi station sponsored by the Kata'ib Hezbollah and paid for by Iran. His program is called "Enlightenment." An article on The Arab Digest, January 30, 2012, reports that, "The first is the Aletejah TV, an Iraqi channel for the pro-Iranian 'Hezbollah Brigades', a small military organisation that is diverting its attention to "social issues" after the American withdrawal."
Kata'ib Hezbollah is one of the Iranian-backed "Special Groups" of Shi'a militias that carried out attacks on coalition forces during the Iraq war. Since the U.S. withdrawal, the group has deployed fighters to Syria and has also set up a front group in Iraq, Saraya ad-Difa' ash-Sha'abi ("Popular Defense Brigades"), to assist Iraqi government forces to roll back Sunni insurgent advances, most notably in the Tikrit area, where security sources speaking to pro-government outlets have readily admitted coordination. Kata'ib Hezbollah, as an Iranian proxy, espouses the Khomeinist ideology of Wilayat al-Faqih ("Guardianship of the Jurist").
From globalsecurity.org:
Kata’ib Hizballah is a radical Shia Islamist group with an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology that has conducted attacks against Iraqi, U.S, and Coalition targets in Iraq. Kata’ib Hizballah has ideological ties to Lebanese Hizballah and gained notoriety in 2007 with attacks on U.S. and Coalition forces designed to undermine the establishment of a democratic, viable Iraqi state. The organization has been responsible for numerous violent terrorist attacks since 2007, including improvised explosive device bombings, rocket propelled grenade attacks, and sniper operations. Kata’ib Hizballah also targeted the International Zone in Baghdad in a November 29, 2008 rocket attack that killed two UN workers. In addition, KH has threatened the lives of Iraqi politicians and civilians that support the legitimate political process in Iraq. 
On June 24, 2009 Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg designated Kata’ib Hizballah (KH) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended (INA). Deputy Secretary Steinberg also designated KH under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224, as amended. The Department of Treasury has also designated Kata’ib Hizballah under Executive Order 13438. The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Treasury, and other relevant U.S. agencies.
The Al Ejetah network has also hosted Gilad Atzmon on its Panorama program, speaking on the Jewish lobby. On Atzmon's webpage the content of the program is described in these terms:
In this Al Etejah's Panorama program Gilad Atzmon elaborates on the dominance of Jewish lobby in the UK and America and the weak resistance it meets in both Britain and the USA. The activity of the Lobby clearly undermines the notion of Western democracy. We also spoke about the collapse of Left politics and future of Western thinking.

The Harry's Place article details Sizer's contacts with Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian regime:
This is not Sizer’s first experience doing PR for Iran’s Shia network. 
Sizer has previously toured South Lebanon as a guest of the Lebanese Hezbollah’s TV network Al Manar TV. ... 
Last year he made a tourism video for Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator who has overseen the deaths of 200,000 of his own people, in a civil war in which Assad has bombed his and gassed own people repeatedly – not that this deterred Sizer. 
Sizer has worked before with the Iranian regime. As you can see in this document, he worked with Khomeini’s daughter Zahra Mostafavi to translate his book Christian Zionism into Farsi.... 
The Iranian regime, remember, jails pastors distributing New Testaments, whilst sponsoring a translation of Sizer’s book, which shows the cross locked in by a giant Star of David on its cover.
Last year, Sizer spoke at an antisemitic conference in Iran, which included Holocaust deniers as speakers.
This ought to trouble the Church of England, every bit as much as his 9/11 conspiracy theory.
Daphne Anson has an excellent article about Sizer on her blog, with a screenshot of his Facebook post linking to the article arguing for Israeli/Jewish responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.

Further articles on Sizer:

Betsy Childs at First Things writes about Sizer as the "Master of Apologies." She concludes:
While Stephen Sizer has shown himself ready to apologize, he has been unwilling to alter his behavior. It is past time for his church to stop allowing him to plead carelessness as his excuse. His continual posting of anti-Semitic content, as well as his disingenuous apologies, brings dishonor to the name of Jesus and the body of Christ.