King's Evangelical Divinity School

14 March 2012

Interfaith Council and Bishop Issue Statement Criticising Stephen Sizer

The RPP website has posted a link to a statement just issued by the Council of Christians and Jews critical of Stephen Sizer for linking to anti-Semitic websites from his blog. The Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester and chair of CCJ, said:
The content and the delay in removing the link from Mr Sizer’s Facebook page was disgraceful and unbecoming for a clergyman of the Church of England to promote. Members of the CCJ have described the website as ‘obscenely antisemitic.’
The full CCJ statement is available here. It is important to note that this statement is issued by a longstanding interfaith organisation and a Bishop of the Anglican Church. This is not (as some extremists will claim) a Zionist conspiracy.

Is Stephen Sizer anti-Semitic? It is a serious charge and not for me to say (others in the Anglican Church will now decide). I have sought to avoid some of the more extreme language in the current debate and avoid this term unless absolutely proven. In negotiations prior to our televised debate Stephen made clear he felt there was no place for discussing anti-Semitism (and other issues) in such a debate. I believe such a position is dangerous as it can be misconstrued, unfortunately it also meant we never had the opportunity to discuss this issue reasonably and openly.

But one thing is clear: when CCJ state, "We are conscious that The Revd Stephen Sizer’s contributions have caused widespread disquiet and hurt in both communities and led to confusion and polarization of views" they have identified a key aspect of this whole debate. Indeed I raised this very issue towards the end of my television debate with Stephen. The polemical and unnecessarily pejorative nature of the current debate is not helping anyone, and it's certainly not contributing to a nuanced understanding of the complexities of the Middle East. For that Stephen must take his fair share of blame.

I do hope we can all, at some stage, get to a less emotive and more objective examination of the Middle East crisis and the relationship between the Church and Israel.

26 comments:

Dissenters said...

For all the chat about anti-Semitism, we need to remember that the Palestinian people are also a semitic people, many even descendents of Jews and Israelites even if that identity is not today recognised. Surely we can move beyond 'mud-throwing' accusations.

On another topic, the Messianic participants of the conference have themselves added a statement that would be worth drawing attention to.
http://stephensizer.blogspot.com/2012/03/christ-at-checkpoint-messianic-response.html

LeeW said...

This does not surprise me. I sensed/discerned that Stephen was not a totally honest person during your debate with him Calvin but I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, he has proved himself a chameleon. It shows me that Stehpen Sizer has an agenda and he is not prepared to deviate from that at any cost!

The fact that this has drawn the attention of the Surrey police is disquieting to say the least but it highlights just how seriously this is being taken. Personally, I don't think this is doing anyone any good. I do not like tags such as "race hatred" or "hate speech" because it stifles genuine debate on these sort of issues (and others such as homosexuality). The type of thing Sizer is engaging in will only hasten more laws to "muzzle" good honest open debate even more. We are already at a crossroads with freedom of speech and the actiuons of Stephen are unlikely to improve things.

Anonymous said...

"For all the chat about anti-Semitism"... there is a lot of chat because there is a lot about!

Redefining anti-Semitism to try dilute its actual definition as hatred of Jews as Jews, is just inexcusable. It is akin to the KKK trying to redefine the word 'Nigger' to claim it is not racist because rappers use it.

Richard

Olivier said...

@Dissenters: Just a clarification, while the word "Semite" or "Semitic" does mean a descendant of Shem and can describe both Arabs and Jews, the word "anti-Semite" has never been used to include hatred of anybody else but the Jewish people, since the very first use of the word by German journalist Wilhelm Marr in 1873.

Jeremy Moodey said...

The CCJ's campaign against Stephen Sizer is ill-judged and intimidatory and I have written to CCJ saying so. This matter was resolved to the satisfaction of Sizer's supervising bishop weeks ago, so why raise this issue now? Why set one bishop against another?

Involving the Surrey police is a ridiculous over-reaction, and will, I guarantee, lead nowhere. It is grandstanding on a massive scale.

The timing of all this is suspicious. Is it because Sizer was a leading organiser of Christ at the Checkpoint, where the very large number of evangelical Christian attendees present (over 500) has caused Christian Zionists to worry that their support from the evangelical committee may be beginning to ebb? I might have expected such a personal vendetta from an overtly Zionist lobby group, but not the 70-year old CCJ, with its Royal Patron and with two Archbishops as Presidents.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Lee and Jeremy, I agree with your comments about the police. It is an over-reaction and will lead nowhere.

But Jeremy, don't you answer your own question in that last contradictory paragraph? How can it be motivated by CZs when it was initiated by the very 70-year old CCJ you describe?

Don't you think Stephen is overly and unnecessarily inflammatory? It seems to me you can't have it both ways, flustered by CZ rhetoric and activity but turning a blind eye when it is a cause you believe in.

Like I say above, I do hope at some stage we can all quickly reach a stage where the debate becomes more intelligent, nuanced and less driven by emotion.

Phil Groom said...

*sigh* ... this is all making me very sad. I shall reiterate here what I've said elsewhere...

I am a CCJ member, and maintain an active role as the webmaster for CCJ Hillingdon, http://ccj-hillingdon.org.uk, and I have today written to David Gifford (cc'd to the Bishop of Guildford and to Surrey Police) to express my concern about this statement by CCJ and in particular against the decision to take this matter to the police.

Whilst I fully appreciate the strength of feeling and the differing viewpoints that exist on the matter of Israeli-Palestinian relations, to me a number of points are abundantly clear: Stephen is neither an anti-semite nor a holocaust denier, and he most emphatically does not promote racial hatred. On the contrary, I'd argue that if Stephen is to be branded an anti-semite, then so too must the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who criticised Israel of old when she stepped out of line. Yes, Stephen works and writes close to the edge, but I do not believe that he has stepped over the edge: he is wise enough, I think, to know the difference between endorsing something and discussing it. As for linking: who has not linked to something that they do not endorse? The web is littered with disclaimers to this effect: our links do not imply endorsement.

CCJ exists to promote dialogue: "making dialogue make a difference" is one of their straplines. To challenge Stephen is one thing, but to attack him and report him to the police now, in March, over the matter of a facebook link which he removed in January when the nature of the site concerned was brought to his attention by the Jewish Chronicle, is another and in my view goes entirely beyond CCJ's remit as a facilitator of dialogue.

I have been in contact with Stephen via facebook over this matter and he has explained to me exactly what happened, as he no doubt did to David Gifford and others with whom he met after the JC report:

"The reality is I add many Facebook links daily and get criticised weekly. I did not look at the website till January and only then appreciated its anti-semitic content. I removed the link as soon as I found it. Its not easy to find a link from months ago on FB. The article itself that I linked to was about Israeli threats to Iran. No one has actually criticised the article itself."

I find myself bemused and saddened that CCJ seems to find such a straightforward explanation unacceptable and must ask why, some two months on, they have now chosen to pursue the matter in this way rather than engage in further dialogue with Stephen, or indeed with CCJ's wider membership?

I have assured Stephen of my personal support and advised him that CCJ does not have the universal support of its membership in this matter.

Methinks something has gone seriously wrong with the dialogue process, and I hope and pray that somehow grace and peace will prevail...

Dissenters said...

Evan Thomas interview is worth listening to on the need for understanding and healing between communities on both sides.
http://stephensizer.blogspot.com/2012/03/evan-thomas-on-christ-at-checkpoint.html

Soupy One said...

Jeremy,

I think a member of the cloth should be criticised for linking to an extremist web site, whatever shade, any.

Imagine for a moment, hypothetically, that a Vicar had very strong views on immigration, was against it. Nevertheless stated very clearly that he was opposed to anti-immigrant sentiment. Further suppose that this imaginary member of the cloth posted a link or two to the BNP or other Far Right and didn't remove it for ages.


Should he be criticised? Or would he be immune to criticism?

I think, in the example of our imaginary Vicar, that people would naturally wonder if there is some connection between an anti-immigrant sentiment and linkage to the Far Right, as you might reasonably expect an intelligent member of the clergy to apply judgement and to realise how extremists exploit these issues, thus he should have avoided such sites.

So if the hypothetical clergyman could be criticised, then why not Rev. Sizer?

Or is he immune to criticism? To be placed above it?

Or is Rev. Sizer a special case?

Anonymous said...

Imaginary Rev like Rev West of the BNP? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Council_of_Britain

Richard

Soupy One said...

Phil,

How exactly will Rev. Sizer linking to the antisemitic, Veterans Today web site, be explained away?

Calvin L. Smith said...

SoupyOne, yes, I noticed a comment about this on Harry's Place and now removed from Stephen's blog. What is Veteran's Place? Is it properly anti-Semitic or predominantly anti-Israel?

Phil, further to your comment above and own blog post on this issue, do you know anything about this site?

Soupy One said...

Hi Calvin,

Yes, Veterans Today is a proper antisemitic site.

It is part of a wider range of web sites which might be considered to be an outreach programme from the Far Right.

Their front pages plausible but as you examine material it becomes more and more extreme.

I will do a post to explain the nature of the site.


PS: Good question, I wish more people would asked such points.

Soupy One said...

Sorry for some reason couldn't reply on Twitter. A bug?

Calvin L. Smith said...

SoupyOne, your post just now on the Veterans Today website is enlightening (and shocking... Anyone reading the above thread unaware of the site like I was will find his post useful: http://soupyone.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/rev-sizer-and-the-questions-of-veterans-today/)

Unfortunately it muddies the waters further. Why would Stephen link to that site, especially just several months after Nick Howard's comment and the JC article? Ignorance? Over-enthusiasm? SoupyOne, you ask several pertinent questions at the end of your blog.

I know Stephen visits this blog so I hope he will see this thread and comment at some stage. It is quite one thing to accuse him of anti-Semitism over every inflammatory comment he makes about Israel and bring in the police (though he has done that himself against a critic in the past). But this issue does raise questions and one might be forgiven for beginning to consider the issue in a new light.

Soupy One said...

Calvin,

Thank you for the link.

I think the the people concerned and their defenders need to ask the question, what impulses made this material seem plausible?

I don't believe that Rev. Sizer is motivated by prejudice, that doesn't seem a satisfactory answer, yet to post once from a extremist site could be considered a mistake, after the third occasion you have to question what judgement led him to pick this material?

Again, just so there is no misinterpretation, I will be clear I do not think that Rev. Sizer is an antisemite.

However, I have difficulty finding a rational reason as to his choice of material, not once, not twice but three times.

The defensive "he's a jolly good fellow, not racist, so wouldn't do that, etc" is not a satisfactory answer, and it does not engage with the why of this issue.

I think, why is the important question, as I would like to understand where Rev. Sizer and his defenders are coming from.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Yes, these are revelant, certainly not provocative or unreasonable questions you raise.

I had never heard of Jeremy or Phil (or indeed you) before this week but they (and you) seem like thoroughly decent, honest chaps. Given how they have loyally sought to defend Stephen it would be good to hear their further views on this. Jeremy's tweet to me earlier today suggests more recent unease in light of this development, but this aside it would be good to have a more detailed response and honest, objective discussion between us all.

But ultimately I do hope Stephen will post his thoughts, whether here or elsewhere. Like you, SoupyOne, I'm not convinced he's anti-Semitic (though certanly anti-Israel at times), but the longer these questions go unanswered it will only add fuel to the fire for those out to get Stephen no matter what. Getting lots of hits on this post and really want to keep it objective and fair.

Dissenters said...

It is of course impossible to trawl through 100s of pages of a blog/website to see if there is anything unpleasant therein. So this outrage is really over the top. The only thing in response is to restrict one's sources to a few trustworthy sites, but that may restrict the flow of an argument.

But Calvin wrote this important point "I do hope we can all, at some stage, get to a less emotive and more objective examination of the Middle East crisis and the relationship between the Church and Israel."

So here are some points for discussion. How can Messianic Jews live out their faith as witnesses for Jesus in Judea and Samaria in seeking to 'make disciples of all nations' including the State of Israel?

How can Palestinian Christians and Messianic believers seek to build bridges between both communities as representatives of the 'one new man' in Messiah?

How can each side demonstrate practically the love of God to the other side?

How can we all - including those of us not directly involved - show love as the fruit of the Spirit to both sides?

Soupy One said...

"It is of course impossible to trawl through 100s of pages of a blog/website to see if there is anything unpleasant therein."

Sorry, but it took me less than 30 seconds to determine the nature of Veterans Today.

It is perfectly possible to know, see the warning signs and then avoid certain sites, if you have the inclination.

If sites proffer conspiracy theories and use euphemisms such as "Zionists" then it's fairly clear what direction they are going in.

Educated people have a duty to avoid extremist and racist web sites, if that means putting in an extra minute of effort to look out for certain warning signs, then that's what they will have to do.

It's perfectly possible using google to search these sites in seconds and it doesn't involve trawling hundreds of pages.

The real question is, why do people get taken in by these sites?

Fran said...

Calvin

CCJ are to be congratulated for challenging the tone of Stephen Sizer's activities, particularly his linking to anti-semitic websites. His own Bishop should have done this privately much earlier.

Their action is particularly courageous as I feel sure it will draw much opprobrium from CCJ ranks, Phil's for instance. I have attended several CCJ functions and encountered disdain for the very concept of a Jewish homeland from its Christian members several times. I should also say that I found much (by no means uncritical) support as well.

That CCJ should issue such a stinging rebuke at this time suggests to me not mischievous timing as Jeremy Moodey insinuates, but frustration at the refusal of the proper Church authorities to address activities whose tone alarms many people within the Church and the Jewish community whose dialogue CCJ exists to facilitate.

Jeremy Moodey said...

Sorry SoupyOne, but in what sense is the term Zionist a 'euphemism', or even more an indication that a website is "extremist and racist"?

As Ben White has written in his recent book, Palestinians in Israel, the self-styled World Zionist Organization has a symbiotic link to the State of Israel and has a semi-official role on many Israeli government agencies It has also bought Palestinian land on behalf of the Israeli state, as a recent Israeli Supreme Court case showed. Further evidence of Israeli discrimination against non-Jews (which is why the WZO's links to the State of Israel have been challenged - sadly unsuccessfully - in the courts).

So I can see why, as an apologist for Israel, you might be embarrassed by the word 'Zionist', but euphemism it ain't!

But this has been my point in my largely fruitless dialogues with you online (and I see you have now engaged in a similarly obsessive stalking of Phil Groom on Twitter): you see anti-Semitism behind every nook and cranny, because it suits your purpose to invoke the spectre of anti-Semitism to shut down debate (cf the CCJ and Stephen Sizer). You even see it when a website uses a word that goes to the very heart of Israel's exclusivist, exceptionalist and colonialist project in Palestine.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Jeremy, I know you have very strong personal opinions about Israel (we all have our own opinions for that matter). But this thread is about the CCJ statement, the suggestion someone involved in this debate has linked to antisemitic websites, and information that has come to light since. Let's stick to that for now. I'll post another comment in due course on the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict you and others would be very welcome to post comments on. You tweeted concern about this second website, Veterans Today, and I'll like to know a little more of your views on that.

Calvin L. Smith said...

PS "Zionist" is a well-known antisemitic euphemism in some circles. It depends who uses it, but when you come across references to a "Zionist conspiracy", "worldwide Zionism", "Zionist agenda" etc these are code and employed in an antisemitic sense. I'm surprised you didn't know that. I would wager even low-level students of the social sciences and humanities are aware of the use of such terminology in this way.

Fran said...

Calvin

Another thread might be helpful. I'd like to learn what Jeremy means by 'Palestine' in the context of his comment above:

"You even see it when a website uses a word that goes to the very heart of Israel's exclusivist, exceptionalist and colonialist project in Palestine."

Does he mean the area now known as the Palestinian Authority which may form into a second state in the region now known as Israel and the Palestinian Authority, or does he mean the entire region we know as the Holy Land?

And does he find Palestinian aspirations for self determination in their own judenrein state valid and reasonable?

Soupy One said...

Jeremy,

Calvin explained it well, but let me add that I actually wrote:

"If sites proffer conspiracy theories and use euphemisms such as "Zionists" then it's fairly clear what direction they are going in.

I appreciate than in our many exchanges that you have managed to consistently misread my views, but you really should take more care I said "and".

I might have equally said, sites that use the term "Zionists" in a pejorative sense should ring alarm bells, but as you seem to employ the term "Zionist" in a wholly negative usage I am not sure that you would see that point.

And I really wish you would engage with this, in nothing else, in my exchanges with various Western Palestinian activists (and I mean, Westerners) I find at least two bad habits:

1) an unwillingness and inability to understand anti-Jewish racism
2) an incredible insensitivity and aggressive manner.

I am sure that's not what you intend, but that's what comes over.

Finally, let me deal with one of your misrepresentations when you say "it suits your purpose to invoke the spectre of anti-Semitism to shut down debate"

I have no wish to shut down debate, quite the opposite.

I think debate is helpful and healthy, but what is needed is a degree of sensitivity, a degree of understanding of anti-Jewish racism and I would hope that all reasonable people would appreciate that.

Equally, I would expect rational people who defend Rev. Sizer to be able to engage with the issues. I am more than happy for Rev. Sizer to aid the Palestinians.

That's an excellent endeavour, however, he and others do not help matters by linking to or using material from racist or extremist web sites.

In fact, they weaken the Palestinians’ cause by associating it with racism.

I don't think that should happen. I think the Palestinians have a very good case, are often treated terribly and deserve plenty of support. But they don't need Western supporters using racist material.

Jeremy, I would hope when you step back that you would agree with me on that?

Calvin L. Smith said...

Fran, a really quite valid question. Jeremy's silence suggest you might be on to something here (I'm disappointed, he seemed to be interested in genuine debate at first, but now I can't help but feel he is driven purely by ideology).

SoupyOne, you seem to be driven by quite commendable objectivity, recognising Palestinian suffering and offering good advice on how such a viewpoint is damaged by how it is expressed. I think many people will look at this thread and wonder why the angst by others when we've pretty much sought to try and discuss this in a civilised manner.