Some of the most deadly and influential ideological opponents that Israel faces are within the major Churches. Were it not for this, I believe that the Jewish State would not face quite such hostility in the media and amongst opinion formers in general. Christians who deny the theological basis of Jewish statehood adhere to a doctrine known as “replacement theology”, the idea that the Church is the “new”Israel and that the Jewish people have no special place in God’s economy of salvation. To many Christians, this writer included, this is tantamount to arguing that the Almighty does not keep His promises, so we must affirm and bear witness to the Abrahamic Covenant.
Despite the ghastly legacy of Christian anti-Semitism, stretching back to the teachings of St John Chrysostom, the Protestant Reformation, especially in its more non-conformist manifestations, resulted in the theological sidelining of hatred of the Jewish people and faith in most of those countries which embraced the Christian renewal, especially the United States and England.
The Shoah and the work of theologians such as Rev James Parkes, together with popular sympathy with Israel’s struggles for survival after 1948, meant that support for Zionism was embraced by “mainstream” Christianity in the British Commonwealth, well into the 1960s.
Arafat and the PLO knew that most Westerners cannot read or understand Arabic and also that the call to “drive the Jews into the Sea” that went down so well amongst the masses in the “Arab street” received a less sympathetic hearing outside the fringe circles of Communist or Nazi groups. With the aid of liberation theologians, the PLO set about reinventing the Palestinians as meek, helpless and timid victims.
Thus the Palestinians had to be recreated as-absurdly-a Christian minority to be thrust before the Israelis as a weapon of emotional blackmail.
Now I do not doubt that Palestinian Christians have indeed been inconvenienced by Israeli security measures since 1994 and have sometimes been treated harshly, but this is most decidedly NOT because of their Christian faith, but because they reside in areas where, sadly, there are also many homicidal men and women who will adopt any subterfuge-including passing themselves off as Christians or Jews-to enter Israel to maim and kill. To sympathise with their lot does not mean, however, that we can ignore the fundamental dynamics underlying their tragic plight, such as the abuse of their Churches or homes by terrorists to fire on Israeli soldiers, or the long history of violent rejectionism of either Jewish (and, for that matter, Christian) statehood in the Middle East.
Rev Stephen Sizer is a highly articulate campaigner against Israel and Zionism who is also the author of perhaps the leading text of the “boycott Israel” movement within the Church, “Christian Zionism :Road map to Armageddon”.
In Sizer’s worldview Christians who support Israel and the Jewish people are motivated by a millennialist agenda, a wish to hasten the End Times by encouraging the Jews to build the Third Temple and are thus- mirabile dictu-the real enemy of the Jews, who are too blinded by Zionism (in other words the wish to have their own state) to know what is good for them. This, of course, with only a few exceptions, is an utter travesty.
Traditional mainstream Anglicans support the Jewish people because we recognise the special bond between Christianity and Judaism and because we affirm the Divine Inspiration of the Jewish faith. Traditional Anglicans support the Jewish people because Christianity divorced from its Jewish roots is heresy. It is interesting to note that Arab Christian prelates who are hostile to Israel are uncomfortable with the Jewish Bible, believing perhaps that the “Old” Testament is somehow, if not redundant, of passing historical interest only.
The logical theological conclusion to this is the outright blurring of the differences between Christianity and Islam with, as an example, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal’s grotesque self-abasement before Islamic fundamentalism:
“Greetings of appreciation to all martyrs that were killed on the Land of Palestine,” followed by his quote of the Koran verse: “Do not consider those that were killed for the sake of God as dead, but alive with their Lord”.
The other strand that motivates clerical opponents of Israel is the long discredited neo-Marxist doctrine of “liberation theology”, or its slightly milder “social Gospel”.
Devised primarily by Jesuit clerics to provide a theological framework for Christians supporting atheistic Communist revolutionary movements in South and Central America, its adherents have sought to recast the Palestinians as peasants victimized by colonialism and “imperialism” and the Jews as European and American interlopers, who are “too white” and too “middle class”. That most Israeli Jews are Sephardi or Mizrahi non-Europeans and that the 3000 year plus Jewish presence in the Holy Land long predates the arrival of Muslim Arabs does not seem to stop groups like Christian Aid from trying to shoehorn Palestinians into this false narrative.
Anglican Friends of Israel have been battling to show that much of the hostility towards Israel is linked to, if not based on, dislike of the Jewish people and faith.
Supporters of Stephen Sizer and Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Centre invariably try and shut down criticism by hurling the old canard that we are claiming that all criticism of the Israeli government is anti-Semitic.
Not so. I would like to see more done to help the Palestinian Christians, for example by reviving Ben Gurion’s call for a Grand Alliance between Jews and Arab Christians and offering the remaining Palestinian Christians Israeli citizenship (except for those Bishops who have distinguished themselves by supporting Israel’s enemies and who presumably will be content to live under Islamicist rule).
But when every Israeli government is treated as though it were run by Kach, every attempt at her self-defence as defilement of sacred soil and every false allegation of supposed Zionist perfidy is accepted at face value, then the charge of anti-Semitism is hard to avoid.
If you say, in effect, that the only Israeli government that you will respect is that which does the unthinkable and signs its own death warrant by allowing millions of self-styled “refugees” to take over the country, then you are denying the right of the persecuted and ancient Jewish people to have a state of their own.
On October 4th 2011 Stephen Sizer posted a link on his Facebook page to a viciously anti-Semitic website called ‘The Ugly Truth’. Sizer has also flirted with 9/11 “truthers”, tantamount to hinting at Israeli complicity in that outrage, as well as suggesting that Israel might commit some unspecified atrocity which it would then blame on the Iranian regime.
His conduct raises serious questions about his suitability for Holy Orders, yet his superiors have, in effect, tried to brush matters under the carpet.
For too long he and others like him have avoided charges of racism simply by repeating the mantra that “we are not anti Semites;some of our best friends are Jewish anti-Zionists”. (Like Deborah Fink, Tony Greenstein and other atheists of the ultra-left who only seem to “remember” that they are Jewish when they are attacking the Jewish state in the most strident of terms.)
This won’t do. Finally Stephen Sizer has been called out, not by his own Bishop, Rt Rev Christopher Hill, but by the Rt. Revd Nigel McCulloch, the highly-respected Bishop of Manchester and Chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews, in a press release issued on March 13th 2012:
“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 anti-Semitic.”
In addition, CCJ has filed a hate crime complaint against Rev Sizer with Surrey Police, meaning that he may soon become the subject of a criminal investigation.
Originating from an institution with Royal Patronage and the support of senior clergy across the spectrum, this can only be seen as a devastating rebuke, not only to Stephen Sizer, but also to those within the Church hierarchy who have looked the other way whilst he has sown the seeds of division and distrust.
It has often been assumed without clear evidence that Rev. Sizer is a “liberal” but is he?
His strident opposition to homosexuality and his recent (albeit subsequently removed) postingof an image linking to the website “Veterans Today” (a far right Holocaust-denying conspiracy theory site which has no evident connection with the US, Canadian or British military and which has published articles defending Adolf Hitler) suggest a less benevolent mindset.
It’s time for Sizer to be defrocked.
Simon McIlwaine is Founder of Anglican Friends of Israel.