Rev Stephen Sizer of Christ Church Virginia Water is a well-respected author who has written extensively about the theological movement of Christian Zionism and Christian support for the modern state of Israel. He is admired by scholars throughout the Christian world and beyond, and frequently appears as a guest on Iran’s Press TV.
Virulent in his criticism of Israel, Rev Sizer appears to have had no ethical or moral problems in appearing alongside Holocaust deniers, representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah, neo-Nazis, Jewish antisemites and Islamist hate preachers in order to denounce the Jewish state. Still ‘critical of Israel’, Rev Sizer has also forwarded overtly antisemitic emails from Jeff Rense and Michael Hoffman, and expressed his disappointment at not having met Hamas representatives in Ramallah.
Stephen Sizer has in the past been adamant that antisemitism and anti-Zionism are distinct, that they are ‘apples and oranges’, and that it is not antisemitic to criticise Israel.
Yet recently there has been somewhat of a shift by Rev Sizer on these issues, as he worries that anti-Zionism may spill over into antisemitism. In this month’s issue of his church’s magazine Connection, Sizer reviews Denis MacShane’s The New Antisemitism: Globalising Hatred.
“While MacShane does not address the correlation between Antisemitism and anti-Zionism, or with criticism of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, at least not in the Newsweek article, the two issues are clearly linked. But legitimate criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians must not be used as an excuse for racism or attacks against Jewish people. What ever the causes of the rise of the new Antisemitism, it is totally unacceptable and must be repudiated unequivocally.”
This week, Ruth Gledhill and Dr Irene Lancaster have both highlighted the terror facing Jewish communities in the UK at this time, as Jewish high schools step up security and British Jewish celebrities find themselves targeted as war in Gaza continues.
Meanwhile, several Church of England bishops have called for a boycott of the world’s only Jewish state. Worryingly, we are also seeing an increasing number of British people expressing solidarity with Hamas and Hezbollah.
Daniel Finkelstein notes in The Times today that:
‘It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don’t want to kill the Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill the Jews.’
This week, Hamas has issued a call for Jewish children around the world to be killed, and Jewish interests everywhere to be targeted. Perhaps some will seek to ‘understand’ Hamas in this call, whilst others will just ignore it.
We would be wise to listen to Nicholas Sarkozy as he warns that France ‘will not tolerate that international tension is turned into inter-community violence.’
It would be expedient for those Christian leaders in the UK who are interested in the Middle East, and interested in dialogue with Jews and Muslims, to condemn Hamas’ call for Jews in the UK to be killed, and to support the Community Security Trust in its efforts to protect Jewish communities from violence and terror.
For Jewish people in Europe, post-Holocaust statements from churches condemning antisemitism came too late. As British Jews once again become subjects to attempts to burn down synagogues, hate mail, boycott campaigns, racist graffiti daubed on buildings and cries of “Heil Hitler!” and “Death to the Jews !”, now (and not later) is the time for church leaders in the UK to raise their voices.
The state churches, the Evangelical Alliance and Christian theologians are all well-positioned to warn British society of the dangers of antisemitism, and remind their congregants to learn the lessons of history.
Should Christian leaders not speak out for peace and justice in their own country, there is little point in them calling for peace and justice in the ‘Holy Land’.