For decades, scientists have debated the wisdom of putting fluoride in drinking water – and on Wednesday, politicians in Israel’s Knesset joined the debate. During a session where Deputy Health Minister Ya’akov Litzman was addressing parliamentarians, MK Majli Wahbe (Labor) asked Litzman why Israel was still insisting on fluoridating the country’s drinking water, in light of numerous scientific studies that caution against the practice. In response, Litzman said that fluoridation was perfectly safe, and that the benefits of fluoridation far outweighed the supposed risks.

The fluoridation debate in the U.S. and other countries has been going on for nearly seven decades, with opposition to fluoridation first cropping up in the U.S. in the 1940s. For years, fluoridation was a clear mark of political affiliation; conservatives generally opposed it, while liberals usually favored it. Opponents cite studies that show a connection between high fluoride levels and Osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, as well as several other less severe health issues, including tooth discoloration associated with dental fluorosis. Those favoring fluoridation dismiss those studies, calling them marginal, and citing other studies that show that there is no connection between fluoridation and bone cancer. Fluorosis is an issue, advocates admit, but the problem is far outweighed by the benefits of fluoridation, with reduced levels of tooth decay in communities where the water is treated.

In Israel, water fluoridation was introduced in Israel’s large cities in 1981, and a national effort to fluoridate all the country’s water was approved in 1988. Various scientific and medical bodies have weighed in on the issue here, with the debate on whether fluoride causes cancer echoed here as well. So far, about 65% of the municipalities and local authorities in Israel have agreed to allow fluoridation, and there are many active groups working to prevent the spread of fluoridation to the towns where it has not yet been instituted.

Litzman, clearly on the side of those who favor fluoridation, answered Wahbe’s query by saying that “not only are there no studies that show a connection between fluoridation and cancer, there are many studies that show fluoride prevents cavities and fights plaque. “ Litzman added that his ministry was constantly checking the level of fluoride in the water to make sure that it stays within safe levels, and that he was continuing to work to ensure that all of Israel’s water becomes fluoridated. “The best way to deal with the safety issue is to rely on the World Health Organization,” Litzman said. “This has been tested for over 65 years in the rest of the world, and fluoride has never been proven to be cancerous.”