Following accusations levelled against Revd Stephen Sizer of anti-Semitism, which I blogged about here, the Council of Christians and Jews have issued a press statement.
The following is a cross-post written by Revd Doug Chaplin commenting on recent developments:
When it comes to Israel and Palestine (even to using those names together), most people are either biased or confused, or in some measure both. Most sites which discuss the topic tend to be partisan on one side or another. Looking especially at the comments on such sites, it is easy to accuse them of either anti-semitism or Islamophobia (or simply anti-Arab sentiment).
One prominent Christian activist who regularly gets accused of anti-Semitism is Stephen Sizer, an evangelical priest in Guildford Diocese. Certainly he is outspokenly pro-Palestinian, and to say the least, he has a record of keeping very dubious company. Nonetheless many of the attacks on him come from Zionist sympathisers and sites whose commenters are rabidly anti-Palestinian. That makes it easier for Sizer’s supporters to dismiss them, whatever the strength or weakness of their case.
However yesterday, the moderate and mainstream Council of Christians and Jews issued an unusual press statement, following criticism in the Jewish Chronicle and elsewhere, which effectively called for Stephen Sizer to be disciplined for posting a Facebook link to an unquestionably anti-semitic site.
What makes it so unusual is that the Bishop of Manchester (the Chair of CCJ) implicitly criticises the inaction of his fellow Bishop of Guildford. Nigel McCulloch of Manchester calls Sizer’s behaviour conduct “unbecoming a clergyman”, and the CCJ’s press release finishes by saying they have referred the incident to Surrey police as a hate crime.
Until recently I would have said Sizer was not anti-Semitic, and it is important to point out that he repudiates the accusation. I further note that only last autumn, I heard the CEO of the Board of Deputies of British Jews saying that he didn’t think Sizer was anti-Semitic, although he certainly kept anti-Semitic company because of his pro-Palestinian campaigning. (He is obviously not a Sizer supporter!)
Sizer does have some theological questions to put to the Christian Zionism more common in his conservative evangelical circles that ought to be considered – as Christian theology. It is an inescapable part of recognising that the New Testament and the Mishnah largely grew out of a contest between two visions for the future of Judaism, and that both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were the squabbling children of Second Temple Judaism. I don’t agree with many of the ways Sizer answers those questions, but they need to be faced.
In my view, however, his voice has moved so far to an uncritical support for Palestinians that it has also become an unthinking criticism of Israel. An awful lot of criticism of (as well as an awful lot of support for) Israel is uncritical. However, Sizer has seemed to align himself more and more not only with the unthinking, but with the racist and prejudiced rhetoric of some of Israel’s most vociferous enemies.
He may not have used it himself, but he links to it without criticism. He may not say it himself, but he seems willing to appear on platforms where other speakers indulge in it, and he does not seem to distance himself from it or them. I think that passes the point where it looks like guilt by association and looks more like guilt by complicity.
There may or may not be a case against him. If Surrey police think there is, his bishop can act. If they don’t then, given the labyrinthine law of the Church of England, and its protections for political and theological dissent, his bishop probably has no action available to him. It is not irrelevant also that Sizer’s church is at best semi-detached from the Church of England and wealthy enough to show the bishop two fingers.
Nonetheless, this will remain a story worth watching, for a very particular exploration of when anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian support is held to tip over into anti-Semitism. The CCJ thinks Sizer has crossed that line. I fear they may be right.
(Note: in the interests of transparency I should state that I am a member of CCJ, and that I also once (some 25 years ago) occasionally attended the church where Sizer was curate. His theology was too conservatively evangelical for me.)