Rev. Stephen Sizer, an Anglican vicar in Great Britain who has exaggerated the influence of Christian Zionists and demonized Israel in a number of venues (including a state-supported television station in Iran), has complained to the police about one of his critics in England and has apparently threatened call the police on another critic in Australia.
Rev. Sizer's actions have drawn attention to a number of troubling aspects about his ministry, including his appearances on Press TV in Iran and his appearance at an anti-Zionist conference that took place in Indonesia in 2008.
The controversy comes at a bad time for Rev. Sizer. In November 2009, The Review of Biblical Literature published a critique of Rev. Sizer's most recent text, Zion's Christian Soldiers as espousing a sincere, theological, Christian anti-Judaism.
Rev. Sizer's effort to use the power of the state against his critics became public on January 23, 2009 when blogger Joseph Weissman, (who goes by the non de plume Seismic Shock), posted an article (Anglican Vicar Uses Police to Intimidate Blogger) on Harry's Place, a pro-Israel website.
The article described a chat Weissman had with British police officers who came to his door on Nov. 29, 2009 after receiving a complaint from Rev. Stephen Sizer and another theologian who who both objected to being associated with terrorists and Holocaust deniers.
Weissman had stopped posting articles about Rev. Sizer after his chat with the police, but went public with the discussion after seeing the following comment posted on a blog published by a writer Australia:
In an effort to determine if in fact Rev. Sizer did in fact leave this message, CAMERA attempted to contact Rev. Sizer via email and Facebook on Jan. 25, 2009 but as of this posting has yet to receive a response.
Rev. Sizer himself provided some detail about his complaint in a posting on his website in September, 2009. In the post, the vicar mentions various police authorities who have monitored [Weissman's] writings over the past year. He continues:
Soon after Weissman posted his original article, it was reposted on a number of sites throughout the blogosphere. Sizer's use of the police to silence a critic was roundly condemned. Writing at Z-Word Blog, Ben Cohen wrote cowardly and odious, Sizer's action underlines the fanatical determination of the pro-Palestine lobby in the UK to shut down open debate.
Writing for the BBC, Rory Cellan-Jones addressed the controversy on Jan. 26, 2009 in an article that stated the whole incident raises interesting questions about the limits of free expression on the web, and the role of the police in pursuing complaints about the contents of a website.
Rev. Sizer also suggested (without providing any direct proof) that Weissman's writings had provoked acts of vandalism and stated that he felt his life was put in danger by Weissman's "defamatory statements."
To be sure, the blogosphere can be the source of contentious debate, but the fact remains that Weissman's efforts to expose the connections between Rev. Sizer and some hostile anti-Zionists are, by most accounts, within the bounds of free speech, despite his earlier depiction of Weissman's these writings as an attempt to incite religious as well as racial hatred or to intimidate and harass those [Weissman] disagree[s] with.
First, I share Sizer's goal of a secure Israel and viable independent Palestine. However, it is remarkable that Sizer has pursued this goal
(a) by (for example) speaking at conferences alongside terrorists and Holocaust deniers; and
(b) Then astoundingly arguing that to point this out amounts to harrassment [sic] and incitement to religious hatred.
(As will be seen below, Rev. Sizer appeared at an anti-Zionist conference attended by representatives of Hezbollah and where the daughter of Ayatollah Khomeini promoted hatred toward Israel and its supporters.)
Big in Iran
The major problem Rev. Sizer faces in this controversy is that he himself has played a role in the effort to delegitimize Israel and demonize its supporters in the West.
For example, as noted on numerous blogs (most notably Seismic Shock and Harry's Place), he has appeared on state-supported television in, of all places, Iran, to recount the evils of Christian Zionism. In one instance, he appeared in Press TV's studio in Tehran. At the opening of the show, the English-speaking host stated blithely that No religious persuasion has ever been more clearly responsible for so much bloodshed and destruction as has Christian Zionism. This 100-year-old offshoot of fundamental Christianity, has almost single-handedly legitimized wars in Arab states since January 1991.
The absurdity of this statement is self-evident. America attacked Iraq and liberated Kuwait in 1991 with the support of Saudi Arabia, not Christian Zionists, and most of the bloodshed in the Middle East has been the result of conflict between Muslim and Arab countries which cannot be blamed on Christian theology in any way, shape, or form.
Sadly, Rev. Sizer did nothing to correct these falsehoods. Instead he buttressed them by stating that Christian Zionists argue that Israelis are above the law and that they are no longer required to keep international law.
Rev. Sizer is entitled to his opinion and is entitled to express it, even on state-supported television in Iran (which is led by a regime not known for respecting the rights of its own citizens), but how would he respond if Israelis, Jews and Christian Zionists stated that they felt like their lives were put in danger by Rev. Sizer's rhetoric that portrays them as lawless warmongers?
As documented by the Community Security Trust, anti-Israel rhetoric encouraged hostility toward Jews in Great Britain during the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.
On The Hart of the Matter
Rev. Sizer also appeared on the Press TV show Hart of the Matter hosted by British journalist Alan Hart who lionized Yassir Arafat in his 1985 book Arafat: Terrorist or Peacemaker, which was reissued in the U.S. in 989 under the title Arafat: A Political Biography. He also authored a 2009 text titled Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews.
On Hart's show (a 13-segment series which aired between October 2008 and January 2009), Sizer asserted that Israeli Jews are being set up for another exile because of their inability to make peace with the Palestinians. Here is a portion of the interview.
Alan Hart: Are you saying that by its behavior at the moment the Zionist state of Israel is setting Israeli Jews up to be exiled again?
Rev. Sizer: Yes I am unfortunately. Unless they learn to repent and recognize, if you like, the writing on the wall and recognize that they must share the land and
find reconciliation. We've done that in Europe.
and treat those they live among equally.
Stephen Sizer: We've done that in Europe after the Second World War, we've seen it in South Africa and we've seen it in Northern Ireland and that's our responsibility.
Alan Hart: You can say Stephen, that we didn't have the Holocaust.
Rev. Sizer: We didn't. But the Holocaust has been perpetuated over the last forty or fifty years. It's the Palestinians who are going through their Nakba.
(The video of Sizer's appearance can be obtained from his website).
In addition to obliquely and falsely equating the plight of the Palestinians with the destruction of the Jews in Europe, Rev. Sizer, uses the Hebrew Scriptures to assess Israel's behavior while ignoring the behavior of its adversaries in a manner similar to the anti-Israel polemic proffered by Rev. Dr. Gary Burge in his text Whose Land? Whose Promise?.
The absurdity of Sizer's argument becomes obvious when he asserts that the inhabitants of Europe, Northern Ireland and South Africa have been able to achieve peace, for none of these countries are currently homes to eliminationist mass movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
During this interview, Sizer also states that America is following Israel's foreign policy. It's doing Israel's dirty work. You won't find a single serving U.S. politician critical of Israel in public because it's political suicide.
Rev. Sizer's assertion that you won't find a single serving U.S. politician critical of Israel is false and preposterously so. For example, then-President George Bush criticized Israel for staging raids against terrorists in the West Bank in January 2008. (Knight-Ridder, January 10, 2008). And Bill Clinton criticized Israeli settlements in the West Bank on numerous occasions during his presidency.
Here, Rev. Sizer is offering a patently obvious falsehood to affirm a powerful trope of Israel controlling discourse in the U.S. a trope that clearly serves to fuel hostility toward the United States in the Middle East.
Christian Zionist Bogeyman
Rev. Sizer also used this false assertion on page 12 of his 2007 text, Zion's Christian Soldiers:
[Are Christian Zionists a] powerful lobby? You bet. Christian Zionism is undoubtedly a dominant force in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East. Why else will you not find a single serving U.S. politician openly critical of Israel? (Emphasis added.)
If the Christian Zionist community is the dominant force in American foreign policy as Rev. Sizer asserts, then how does he account for President Barack Obama's recent election and the pressure the Obama Administration placed on Israel to impose a settlement freeze? To be fair, these events took place after the book was published; events that took place before 2007 undermine Sizer's assertion that Christian Zionism is a dominant force in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East.
This is demonstrated, by, of all people, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in their text The Israel Lobby (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). Walt and Mearscheimer warn that the influence of Christian Zionists should not be overstated. They continue:
Their strong commitment to a greater Israel and resulting opposition to a two-state solution did not prevent the Clinton Administration from pursuing the latter at Camp David in 2000, did not halt the 1998 Wye Agreement mandating an Israeli redeployment from parts of the West Bank, and perhaps most revealingly, did not stop President George W. Bush, who has close ties to the Christian Right, from declaring his own support for a Palestinian state in 2001. (Page 138)
The overall thrust of Rev. Sizer's argument is that through their influence over American foreign policy (which, in light of the quote above, he exaggerates), Christian Zionists somehow play a spoiler role in efforts to bring the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end by reducing American pressure on Israel to make peace with its adversaries. This does not square with reality. Israelis have repeatedly negotiated with Palestinians, made peace offers, and withdrew from territory even in the face of opposition from Christian Zionists in the United States.
The Company He Keeps
Another aspect of Rev. Sizer's ministry that has received renewed attention as a result of the police controversy is his participation in an anti-Zionist conference that took place in Jakarta, Indonesia in May 2008. The Indonesian Society for Palestinian Freedom (also called the Voice of Palestine), the organization that sponsored the conference, calls for a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict in other words the destruction of Israel.
This event proved to be a font for for anti-Zionism, Hezbollah members, and terrorist supporters. According to this Voice of Palestine video posted on Youtube, the event was sponsored by the Neda Institute, an Iranian group that helped organize the Holocaust denial conference sponsored by the Iranian government in December 2006. The list of speakers for the conference indicates that members of Hezbollah spoke at the conference, as did a representative of from the Neda Institute.
Other speakers at the conference include Dr. Zahra Mustafawi, a daughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, who sent an open letter to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. In this letter she told Nasrallah:
The jihad you have commenced at present is not to defend a land alone, but the entity of Islam, Quran, and all Muslims.
The only bitter and heartrending side of the holy jihad is the martyrdom of the Lebanese and Palestinian hero children
whose martyrdom is moving for every free man.
It Gets Worse
In her opening remarks to the conference at which Rev. Sizer spoke, Mustafawi made the following statement, which is emblematic of the hostility toward Israel expressed by Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East:
These days the Zionists in an illegal state called Israel, are celebrating the 60th year of their aggression against the nation of Palestine as well as the crime of occupying their land, killing them and obliging them to leave their land. They are celebrating the cruel attacks they had against Palestinians and many old people, children, women and innocents were killed and a lot of orphans are left, so, this is their nature to celebrate the crime and at the same time expecting Germany to be ashamed of so called Holocaust.
Palestine is the holy land of all the religions and due to the aggression of the Zionists its oppressed people have either been martyred or rendered homeless and displaced from their home and hearth or are enduring suffering and hardship due to the pressures exerted by the usurping Zionists. There is not a single day when we don't hear the news about the genocide of the innocent Palestinian people, civilians, children and women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Later in her statement, Mustafawi makes her intentions for the conference perfectly clear the creation of an umbrella organization for anti-Israel and anti-Zionist groups that will work together to increase the vulnerability of Israel.
If Rev. Sizer truly supports Israeli safety and sovereignty as he insists, then what exactly was he doing at a conference such as this?
Was he taken surprise by this rhetoric? Did he not know that Mustafawi would be speaking?
Did he condemn these statements afterwards?
Was he shocked by the appearance of Hezbollah officials at the conference?
And if Rev. Sizer truly believes that Christian Zionists are obstacles to making peace in the Middle East, then how can he justify attending an anti-Zionist conference that was held in a country that refuses diplomatic relations with Israel, was sponsored by Holocaust deniers and featuered a known supporter of terrorism such as Mustafawi?
Does Rev. Sizer's disagreement with Christian Zionists in the U.S. really justify his appearence at a conference that included representatives from Hezbollah, an organization responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American servicemen in the 1980s and a terrorist attack in Buenes Aires that killed 29 people and injured almost 300 in 1992?
Zion's Christian Soldiers
Rev. Sizer's hyperbolic beliefs about Christian Zionists and his discriminatory attitude toward Israel can be seen in his most recent book, Zion's Christian Soldiers (Intervarsity Press, 2007). On page 10 of this text, he writes:
Why, after forty years, does Israel continue to occupy territory in Lebanon (the Sheba Farms), Syria (the Golan Heights) and Palestine (the West Bank), while Syria has been pressured to withdraw from Lebanon?
Here, Rev. Sizer is mouthing the party line of Hezbollah regarding Sheba Farms, an eight-square mile piece of land the juncture of Syria, Lebanon and Israel that is currently held by Israel.
What he fails to report is that Israel took the territory from Syria not Lebanon during the Six Day War and that there is ongoing disagreement over the territory between Lebanon and Syria. If Israel returns the land to Lebanon, as Rev. Sizer suggests it should, then what guarantee is there that this will not provoke the ire of Syria whose leaders have raised concerns about the status of Syrian-populated villages in the territory?
Also on page 10, Rev. Sizer posits a false equivalence when he asks Why is Israel allowed to retain nuclear weapons, while Iran is threatened with a pre-emptive attack for aspiring to obtain nuclear technology?
Here, the author ignores a basic fact: Iranian leaders have openly spoken about their desire to achieve Israel's destruction even if it costs millions of Iranians their lives; Israeli leaders have done no such thing.
Rev. Sizer's point becomes clear in the following passage:
And how have Britain and America become the focus of so much hate in the Arab world and the target for Islamic terrorism, despite our commitment to the rule of international law, democracy and human rights?
The answers to these questions remain inexplicable unless we factor in what is probably the most influential and controversial movement amongst Christians todayChristian Zionism.
Later, on page 19, Rev. Sizer asserts that Christian Zionist leaders are leading the West, and the church with it, into a confrontation with Islam.
Responding to these passages, Faydra L. Shapiro, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, wrote the following in a recent issue of the Review of Biblical Literature:
suffers from some significant weaknesses. Sizer not only overestimates the influence of Christian Zionism among American evangelicals and significantly overrates the importance of dispensationalism [end time theology] to their Zionism, but he utterly exaggerates the role of Christian Zionism in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and global politics more generally. Sizer's suggestion in the introduction that Christian Zionism explains everything from the West's concern about Iran's development of nuclear capability to Arab terrorism in Britain and America (despite our commitment to the rule of international law, democracy and human rights ) is simply hyberbolic.
Zion's Christian Soldiers
She also correctly states that Sizer writes as if were it not for evangelical support for Israel, the West and Islam would have nothing to disagree about. Shapiro does not describe this Sizer's work as anti-Semitic, but as expressing something more complex, deeper, and ultimately more terrifyinga sincere, theological, Christian anti-Judaism.
Paul Merkley, professor emeritus in history at Carleton University in Ottawa, and the author of numerous texts including American Presidents, Religion and Israel (Praeger, 2004) has also weighed on Rev. Sizer's book, Zion's Christian Soldiers. In a 2007 book review published by Christianity Today, Merkley wrote:
It is a common feature of anti-Christian Zionist literature that little interest is shown in the actual historical circumstances that brought the modern State of Israel into existence. In Sizer's book there is absolutely none, unless we count this oddity on page 148: "in 1948 the U.S. government was just as opposed to the founding of the State of Israel [as was] Britain." Is this revisionism, or what? It is Franklin Roosevelt attacking the Japanese fleet at Pearl Harbor. Did none of that long list of people who are thanked on the Acknowledgements page twig to this incriminating bit of confusion? Does InterVarsityPress not have fact-checkers? This is embarrassing.
Merkley is correct. It is embarrassing. President Harry S. Truman and U.S. Congress supported Israel's creation, as did a vast majority of the American people. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that President Truman recognized Israel within minutes of declaring its independence in 1948.
As embarrassing as these errors are, it is even more embarrassing that Rev. Sizer, a man who has been given a platform to express his opinions by a murderous and dictatorial regime in the Middle East, has complained to the police in Great Britain about a blogger who criticizes him.