Saturday, 14 February 2015

The turbulent Priest and the arrogant Board - Reflections on the Stephen Sizer affair

This has been a difficult post to write.

Like many readers of my blog, I've been a supporter of Revd. Dr. Stephen Sizer, the Anglican priest who has written extensively on the misconceptions and dangers of Christian Zionism. In the past Stephen Sizer has been kind enough to share some of my own writing on his website. His work deconstructing Christian Zionist theology has been a helpful contribution to many Christians, pointing out the pitfalls of interpreting a biblical love of Zion to justify the actions of the modern day State of Israel. He's also emphasised that the Christian call for love and justice cannot exclude the Palestinians whether Christian or Muslim.

But this week he found himself in very hot water after sharing a link on his Facebook page to an article blaming the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 on an Israeli/Jewish conspiracy. As a consequence, his Diocesan boss, the Bishop of Guildford, has silenced his work on all things Middle-East and instructed him to keep to his parish responsibilities if he wants to keep his job.

Stephen Sizer did not endorse the article he linked to but he did comment on the piece asking his Facebook friends: "Is this anti-Semitic? If so no doubt I’ll be asked to remove it. It raises so many questions." Here's my link to "9-11/Israel did it" if you want to see for yourself what's caused the fuss.

There's been a great deal of support for Stephen Sizer this week from pro-Palestinian activists accusing the Board of Deputies of British Jews of hounding him by referring his actions to his Church superiors. Sizer's supporters fear another example of Israel's advocates trying to blur distinctions between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism.

So did Stephen Sizer cross a line?

I'm not a great fan of conspiracy theories as a rule. Human frailty rather than human conniving usually looks like a more likely cause when tragedy strikes. As with all good conspiracy theories, the evidence "9-11/Israel did it" is presented as comprehensive and overwhelming. It is also deeply anti-Semitic.

Stephen Sizer should have been smart enough to spot this immediately.

It's not just Israel that the authors of the piece are attempting to stitch-up. That in itself is pretty far-fetched. The motives don't stack up and implications of the conspiracy being discovered would surely outweigh any possible benefit. But the accusations go far wider. Apart from blaming the Israeli State and its security services, the authors have assembled an extensive cast list of American and Israeli Jewish businessmen, politicians, lawyers, judges and speechwriters and accused them of working together to create a new 'Pearl Harbor' one that will galvanise American public opinion to support wars on Israel's enemies.

Claiming a Jewish cabal is operating as a shady Zionist network bent on destabilising the world for Jewish advantage, is straight out of the classic play book of anti-Semitism. Stephen Sizer was right that it raises so many questions. The problem is that most of them relate to his personal judgement.

After the link was spotted by The Jewish News, Sizer emailed the newspaper saying: "Encouraging research and debate on all aspects of [9/11] is not anti-Semitic… Suppressing discussion on such grounds will fuel suspicion, not remove it.”

I don't agree. The article is not worthy of being described as contributing research or debate on 9/11. It's hardcore racism dressed up as anti-Zionism and a trained academic like Stephen Sizer should have realised what he was reading. So too should anyone looking to defend him for sharing the piece without clearly condemning it.

If you want to criticise Israel there is no shortage of uncontested material to draw on. You don't need to make it up. For a start there is a nearly fifty year occupation of Palestinian land going on that both the British and American governments (and most of the rest of the world) consistently agree is illegal.

Then there is on-going land theft, collective punishment, child arrests, imprisonment without charge, shoot to kill policing, parallel and discriminatory jurisdictions, and, in Israel itself, a gaping democratic deficit both constitutional and cultural if you happen to be Palestinian Israeli citizen. Shall I go on?

By sharing the 9-11 article Stephen Sizer has caused offence (especially to those of his critics who are eager to be offended). But that's not the only cause of my disappointment.

What's really frustrating is that Stephen has pulled attention away from the issue of civil, political and national rights for the Palestinian people and shifted the debate to anti-Semitism and crack-pot conspiracy theories. It's a situation that allows his critics, and other defenders of Israel's behaviour, to associate all support for the Palestinian people with an anti-Semitic agenda "There, look, we told you so! Anti-Zionism is just a mutation of anti-Semitism."

Stephen Sizer has now publicly accepted his mistake. At least in terms of promoting an anti-Semitic agenda via his Facebook page. His Bishop, Rt. Revd. Andrew Watson, is quoted in this week's Church Times saying: "[Stephen] is certainly hugely remorseful, and embarrassed and ashamed by it. He has been shocked by his own stupidity". That makes two of us.

However, like Bishop Watson, I don't believe that Stephen Sizer is motivated by anti-Semitism. 

Passions ride high on both sides of this conflict. And one consequence of that is that supporters on each side are willing to believe the absolute worst about their opponents. It's a situation that does not bode well for eventual reconciliation.

Stephen Sizer's views on Christian Zionism deserved to be heard and understood and I hope after a suitable period of remorse and silence he can continue to make this contribution to the debate.

As for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which referred the incident to the Diocese of Guildford, on this occasion it was fully appropriate for them to do so and to expect the Church authorities to take disciplinary action.

I'm sure the Board couldn't care less about what I think of them. But just in case they are getting carried away by my new found support, let me make this observation.

I would have a great deal more time for the Board's watchdog role on anti-Semitism if it could spread its concerns for respect and the protection of an oppressed people to the situation in Israel itself. 

As I've highlighted, there is no shortage of internationally accepted facts that demonstrate a human rights scandal happening every hour of the day in the Jewish State that claims to speak for me and every single member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Instead, we get at best silence and more usually tacit support of Israel's actions . If the Board could be courageous enough to point out, just occasionally, that all is not well in the Jewish homeland, its credibility on issues of discrimination and racism against Jews would be greatly enhanced.

As a well-known Jewish teacher from Judea is quoting as saying: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"



  1. A very good article on behalve of Stephen Sizer, except one thing. You still make the mistake to use the word 'anti-Semitism' when it comes to the possible connection 9/11 and Mossad false flag operations.

    Now, 14 years after the 9/11 massacre, its is proven beyond reasonable doubt that the WTC towers 1, 2 and 7 collaps was the result of controlled demolition, not of airplane impacts and office fires. It is even proven beyond reasonable doubt that what flew into the Twin Towers were not the hijacked commercial airplanes and that the suspected hijackers never boarded one of these planes. This rules out Al Qaeda (who alway's denied they did it) as possible perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. This is not a conspiracy theory, because it is even not a theory anymore; it are facts.

    These facts ask for a new criminal investigation to answer the question who are responsible for this mass-murder and the total destruction of the World Trade Center. Such an inquiry cannot objectively and proper be done as long as we call it 'anti-Semitic' to take the possibility in account that there was a zionistic motive behind the attacks on 9/11 and it were mossad agents who planted the nano-thermite in Larry Sliverstein's new investement. To many traces that should be investigated pointing into that direction to call it beforehand 'anti-semitic' when they are mentioned.

    If you, like me, hope that one day the real perpetrators of 9/11 will be brought to justice, you could sign this petition of Architects and Engeneers for 9/11 Truth:

    1. Max, thanks for taking the time to contact me. In the spirit of free speech I've published your comment. But I still don't buy it. I'm quite sure that Mossad are capable of acting in ways thoroughly immoral and investigating their possible involvement in 9\11 would not in my view automatically be anti-Semitic. I still can't see a credible motive worth the risk of being exposed though. Where I draw the line is scenarios that paint a picture of Jewish individuals working together in clandestine ways to bring about mass murder and the destabilization of the world for some narrow Jewish advantage.

    2. Not one of the conspiracy theories has ever explained where the listed passengers and crews of four planes disappeared to, and why their loved ones are mourning them to this day, if no planes were hijacked that morning. Nor why the named hijackers, if they never boarded those planes as the conspiracists say, have not been seen or heard from since. Yes, Mossad is notorious for false-flag ops, but 9/11 is not one of them.

  2. As always, Robert - you are 'spot on'. Thank you for making the point yet again, we must ALL strive rigorously to be fair and balanced in our comments about other people's actions and our reaction to them - whilst being always aware of our own shortcomings! God bless you

  3. To: Max G
    No, you and the other conspiracy-inclined folks are not 'spot on' to claim that your views and the 'facts' you claim are "proven beyond reasonable doubt". The so-called "Truthers" are akin to 'Jehovahs Witnesses' and various other cults in clinging to false 'beliefs' -- but it is virtually impossible to dissuade folks like you from such beliefs so I'm sure this note will go nowhere in changing you. Stephen Sizer is a trusted friend of mine and I am inclined to show him the benefit of 'grace' concerning why he thought it wise to even let the "Truthers" views be considered -- but I've seen them show up for events here in Seattle when they sought to take over and shut out the advertised speakers -- i.e. they are a rude, obnoxious bunch of 'true believers' who don't earn the right to be heard. Perhaps I should recall St. Paul's words in I Corinthians: " all things are permitted [lawful] but not all things are beneficial", i.e. liberty is great up to a point but not when taken to extremes -- like the so-called "Truthers" do.

  4. I am very disturbed by this piece, not so much by what is in it, most of which I agree with, but by what is left out. No one is more entitled to be frustrated by Stephen than me and I am not among those that are “ looking to defend him for sharing the piece without condemning it.”
    Rather than focussing on Stephen and his admitted rank stupidity in this instance, we should be looking more intently and critically at what has been done to him, since it has long term implications for all of us.
    You seem to be ok with the appalling behaviour of Welby and Watson and the complete dismantling of a man’s human and professional rights. It doesn’t seem to trouble you that the disciplining was done by diktat and not due process.
    “As for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which referred the incident to the Diocese of Guildford, on this occasion it was fully appropriate for them to do so and to expect the Church authorities to take disciplinary action.”
    Really ? They can do what they want of course, but the word you used was “appropriate”. Whether it was appropriate or not has to be judged in the context of it being part of a vicious, vindictive and remorseless vendetta that has been going on for many years. You neglected to mention this.
    “ There has been a great deal of support for Stephen Sizer this week from pro Palestinian activists” . There has ? Where ?
    You seem to be ok with the silencing of Stephen Sizer.
    There are those of us that are not, and feel that it must be strenuously opposed as it has clearly been done pour encourager les autres.

    Ask not for whom the bell tolls

    For more detail see

  5. Robert, I always read and appreciate posts on Micah’s Paradigm Shift and the latest, about Stephen Sizer, helped put a bit more shape to my own thoughts about all this.
    I’m a member of the Council of Christians and Jews – CCJ – and first heard of Stephen Sizer because of the CCJ complaint to Surrey Police about an earlier social media link; my interest piqued because Dr Sizer’s parish is almost of my doorstep.
    I had never quite made my mind up about the wisdom of CCJ’s complaint. I gathered that furious anti-Sizerism was counteracted by a host of supportive testimonies (I probably read them on Dr Sizer’s own website it has to be admitted). Several were from people whose judgement I tend to respect.
    But I don’t need to refer to others to form a view about the argument made in the article at the centre of the latest controversy. Its heredity was very evident from not too many paragraphs in.
    I am not challenging the opinion that Dr Sizer has no anti-Semitic motivation but as he felt it necessary and appropriate to ask the question, ‘is this anti-Semitic”, of such an unsubtle expression of the genre, I am left wondering about the depth of his understanding of what anti-Semitism actually is.
    Jennifer Britt