The Bishop of Guildford recently announced that Revd. Dr. Stephen Sizer may now be allowed to use social media. But he is still not allowed to speak on matters that should be close to the hearts of Christians everywhere and on which he is particularly qualified to speak. Bizarre that a minister of the gospel is prevented from speaking about ‘Israel’. I wonder what he preaches about on Sunday; might he ‘get away’ with, ‘Galilee and Samaria’?
In January Revd. Sizer was faced with the possibility of another Clergy Disciplinary Measure brought, again, by the Board of Deputies of (a minority of) British Jews. Such actions are costly, (the BoD have access to plenty of cash) and spiritually and psychologically draining. The previous one, 2012/13, was ended with a conciliation agreement that Andrew Watson, (Bp of Guildford) agrees Sizer did not break. That earlier CDM brought by the BoD contained allegations that were simply untrue. This is the text of my letter to the then Bishop of Guildford, Christopher Hill:
‘Dear Bishop Christopher,
I am writing with regard to the complaint made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews against Revd. Dr. Stephen Sizer. In the three years I have known him I have never heard or read a word that could be construed as anti-Semitic. The allegation that Stephen has published anti-Semitic material is extremely serious. Having accessed the complaint and evidence from the BoD website and spent some time evaluating it may I make the following comments.
First, the claim by BoD to be the ‘representative organisation of the United Kingdom Jewish Community’ would be challenged by, for instance, ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’, ‘Jews for Justice for Palestine’ and ‘Independent Jewish Voices’. So, their claims must be balanced by other Jewish voices who take a different view.
Second, the complainant has to show that the websites Stephen has linked to are anti-Semitic. On this they clearly fail. It is not sufficient to show that they contain material critical of Israel: criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic; it has to be demonstrated that the criticism is applied either to all or a large majority of Jews, as Jews.
Third, the complainants must show that the specific articles to which Stephen provided links are both anti-Semitic and obviously untrue. Not only does the ‘Evidence’ fail in demonstrating this is it is mendacious. For example, its entry for 14th October 2011 (actually 2010) backed by a screenshot on page 7 of the Appendix refers to a post by Stephen on Helen Thomas. The BoD text is:
“Rev Sizer posted comments on his blog from Helen Thomas, the former White House correspondent forced to retire after telling Jews in Israel to go ‘home’ to Poland, Germany or America. He prefaced the comments with:
“Helen Thomas is one gutsy 90 year old lady to take on the Israel Lobby.”
And ended them with “Bring it on.” “
A comparison between what Helen Thomas actually said and what BoD reports her to have said reveals their true colours. She did not tell “Jews in Israel to go ‘home’…” she said, (and it’s on Stephen’s post, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine”. (we might object to the language but the sentiment is in line with international law!). To be clear, Thomas is referring to Israel in Palestine, not “Jews in Israel”. As to Stephen’s end comment, “bring it on” which BoD wants to link with the “go home” comment; in context it seems much more logically associated with Thomas’ desire to “work again”. Perhaps the BoD could be invited to explain why they have distorted the item to read this way?
Fourth, the complainant has to show that, in making these links and comments Stephen did so from a position of racial hatred. It is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel, nor is it anti-Semitic to criticize individual Jews, or even to criticize a collective of Jews who represent a particular viewpoint, such as Zionist extremism; if such were the case no comment would be possible on anything involving people!
Should you wish I can provide my own analysis of the ‘Evidence’ and its ‘Appendix’. Frankly, I view this complaint as an attempt to silence a godly man who works for peace with justice in the not-so-holy-land. As Christians we are called to speak out against injustice wherever we see it, and we do so echoing Israel’s prophets. That is what Stephen does: as critical of anti-Semitism as of Islamophobia. To their shame many of our forebears forgot or ignored the call of righteousness and they persecuted Jews. That wrong cannot be righted by doing injustice to Palestinians.
What the BoD complaint and evidence demonstrate is that any criticism of Israel is regarded as anti-Semitic. That surely is the kind of idolatry that Israel’s prophets spoke against. The Board of Deputies is uncomfortable with hearing truth spoken about Israel’s behaviour, and want to limit freedom of speech to exclude criticism of Israel. This cannot and must not be allowed.’
With hindsight, it would have been better to go to a CDM in January. Despite the outspoken and unwise criticism from Welby and Watson, an examination of the facts must have resulted in the BoD losing. Stephen has demonstrated grace,Their Graces have not, and that is sad for the church. On this crucial issue the people of the Middle East, and those of us battling the ‘Evangelical Anglican’ corner, have been let down. Justin Welby and Andrew Watson, who hardly know Stephen, have spoken — what do other people say?
“I have followed your career and ministry for many years now and by all standards it has been blessed, brave and controversial! I have not always agreed with your take on Israel but am prepared to accept your right to speak out freely. That is why I believe the imposition of silence on you to be wrong.” The Right Reverend and Right Honourable The Lord Carey of Clifton George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury
“I am quite clear in my own mind that Stephen is not anti-Semitic, nor has he said or written anything that could possibly be construed to be anti-Semitic. Thus the central thrust of the Board of Deputies’ complaint – that Stephen has made anti-Semitic statements and/or republished the anti-Semitic sentiment of others –simply does not stand up to scrutiny.”
The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna AnisBishop of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa and Primate of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East
“Stephen has devoted a great deal of his intellectual and theological gifts to resisting every endeavour to provide a religious and specifically Biblical justification for Zionism. Holding such a view is not and should not be treated as anti-Semitic. His target includes those Christians who believe the Bible supports the Zionist vision. Stephen has sought to de-construct any religious/theological wall preventing us facing the difficult questions of justice for Palestinian people in the Holy Land. This important, if controversial work, has the support of some key Jewish thinkers and activists. These strongly held views have not prevented Stephen from a clear commitment to the peace and well-being of all the people in the Holy Land and of all whatever their ethnic and political identity. He may be a controversial figure but he is a courageous and godly man.”
The Right Revd John Gladwin,retired Bishop of Guildford and chair of Christian Aid.
“I have known Stephen for over thirty years. I know him as a man of integrity and forthright views with the courage to express those views. He has always been measured , and his message is, and has been, one of Christian faith and the love of truth. His books and his articles are suffused with objective discipline. There is nothing in them, or him, that could be remotely construed as anti-Jewish, anti-Jew, anti-Semite or even anti Israel as a state.”
The Right RevdRiah Abu El Assal, retired Bishop of Jerusalem.
“No doubt Stephen Sizer’s detractors are acting in good faith, and I agree with them that antisemitism must be confronted. But they are regrettably misguided in their allegations about Stephen Sizer. He is in no sense antisemitic, and instead is fully in sympathy with those who seek to eradicate all forms of Jew-hatred in the modern world… Having worked with the Counter Terrorist Agency of the Crown Prosecution Service, I am fully in agreement with such sentiments. We in the Jewish community must be vigilant to insure that our community does not suffer from attack. But it would be a travesty of justice to construe Stephen Sizer’s mistake in linking an offensive website to his Facebook and not removing it immediately as a deliberate attempt to encourage racial hatred.”
Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Professor Emeritus of Judaism, University of Wales.
“I await your vindication. You are a messenger just like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. Unlike them you may find that in this life you will not be accepted except by a few but in years to come the world will realize you were a champion of justice and human rights. Do what is right in God’s eyes. May the Holy Spirit give you strength. Keep your roots and values in God’s word in a loving relationship with Jesus. You are always in my thoughts and prayers.”
“I am astonished at the fact that this charge has been made when it has been so clear from former investigations that he has done nothing to warrant it. I suppose that the disturbing thing is the way that the moment a person questions the policies or actions of Zionists, they are accused of being anti-semitic. My grandfather experienced that as Bishop of Jerusalem in the post first world war period when he supported some of the Rabbis who were questioning the philosophy of Zionism. He was immediately branded as anti-semitic. It has been my own experience, on the occasions when I have challenged the biblical interpretation of the Christian Zionists, that there has been an unreasoning and often almost violent reaction, so I have sympathy with the situation in which Stephen finds himself.”
Revd Canon David MacInnes, former Rector, St Aldates, Oxford
“I have read with great sadness the complaint which came to you through the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Stephen’s response. I am afraid there is a pattern across many sectors of society of mobilising such complaints against people who criticise Israeli policy… Stephen is not in the least way anti Semitic. This is a disgraceful and completely false allegation and those who have made it should be held to account for their wickedness.”
Clare Short, Former Labour Minister and Secretary of State for International Development.
“I was shocked to read the very recent allegations made against Revd. Dr Stephen Sizer – a recent wave in a never ending campaign to try and silence a human Christian voice. As someone who is a victim of a similar campaign, indeed by the very same people, I am only too familiar with the potential damage such a sinister enterprise can cause in the long run. I have read all of Stephen’s works and participated with him in numerous panels and seminars. Quite often in churches and community centres all over the country. The audience was always mixed: people of all religions and persuasions were present on such occasions. If there was a dividing line it was between the humane, peaceful and inclusive message of Stephen and those who sought to challenge him in the name of religious, national or ethnic eccentricity and false purity. There was not a hint of anti-Semitism in anything Stephen wrote or spoke about. On the contrary, the message was always clear – a concern that some of Israel’s policies and ideologies can create a misguided association of Judaism with dispossession, colonisation and discrimination. This is why there are always many Jews, like myself, who work in close association and collaboration with Stephen for the sake of a universal goal of bringing peace and justice to Israel and Palestine. This is also why many progressive Jews read and rely on Stephen’s scholarly work and come in great numbers to attend his talks.”
Professor Ilan Pappé Professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies.
“He (Stephen Sizer) has recently explained, however, that he ‘categorically reject[s] any position that threatens the territorial integrity of Israel as a sovereign nation…. Stephen Sizer’s work has the merit of clearly setting out the issues that divide the two sides, and furthermore doing so without the rancour or sheer nastiness of tone typical of the polemics in the conflict.”
Anthony Julius, chairman of the London Consortium and a Visiting Professor at Birbeck College, University of London.