InterVarsity Press and the Jews: A Troubled History

Earlier this year, InterVarsity Press, an Evangelical publishing house in the U.S. which shares content with the similarly named Inter-Varsity Press in the United Kingdom, published a 192- page book about Christians who saved Jews during the Holocaust. The book, released on March 17, 2020, is titled Defying the Holocaust: Ten Courageous Christians Who Supported Jews.

Written by Jim Dowley, a U.K. historian who, according to his bio, “has written widely on church history and music,” describes the small number of Christians who chose “to stand with suffering Jews in the Holocaust,” while lamenting that ‘[M]any more Christians however, chose to stare silently away from the flames while embodying twenty centuries of anti-Jewish theology.” In his introduction, Dowley adds that “helping Jews escape the Nazis was the exception.”

Given the history of IVP in both the United States and England, the publication of Dowley’s book, with its repudiation of “twenty centuries of anti-Jewish theology,” can be interpreted as a gesture of contrition. The two IVP publishing houses have a lot to atone for.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer speaking at a Christ at a 2017 Checkpoint Conference in Oklahoma. (Photo: Dexter Van Zile)

IVP’s wings in both the U.S. and U.K. distributed two notoriously hostile books that, sadly enough, contributed to 20 centuries of anti-Jewish theology. In 2004 IVP published Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon? and in 2007 it released Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church (2007) by Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer, a particularly hostile and bigoted critic of the Jewish state and its supporters.

In 2008, Sizer appeared at a Holocaust denial conference in Jakarta. Six years later, he spoke at a conference in Iran, a huge exporter of genocidal antisemitism, about the evils of Christian Zionism.

He has even suggested, on Iran’s PressTV no less, that because of their misdeeds, Jews might be thrust forth from the Holy Land (as if the mullahs in Iran needed another polemic to justify their hostility toward the Jewish state). He did it during a 2008 interview with Alan Hart, who asked Sizer “Are you saying that by its behavior at the moment the Zionist state of Israel is setting Israeli Jews up to be exiled again?” Sizer responded by saying, “Yes, I am unfortunately.”

Huh? Israeli Jews are some of the best-behaved people in the Middle East, but it’s they, and not folks like Bashar Al Assad or the Mullahs in Iran who risk being exiled. Funny how that works.

Sizer was eventually instructed by his bishop to refrain from speaking publicly about the Arabi-Israeli conflict and finally, after some more controversies, he finally retired from his post as an Anglican priest in 2017.

Sizer’s hostility was astonishing. His IVP-distributed texts portrayed Christian Zionists as having the power of veto over peace in the Middle East, as if groups like Hamas and Hezbollah do not have a role to play in the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In his 2007 book, Sizer described Christian Zionism as a “formidable and dangerous movement” that is “leading the West, and the church with it, into a confrontation with Islam” (as if Muslim extremists hadn’t been oppressing and attacking Christians in the Middle East for centuries).

His 2004 book Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon? falsely declared that Arab children born in Israel are “stateless at birth, and must earn Israeli citizenship, whereas the Jewish child is born with it.” He also falsely declared that an Israeli child’s benefits are contingent on parents completing military service and since most Arabs do not serve in the military, Arab children do not receive state benefits. (So much for the fact checkers at IVP’s wing in the United Kingdom.)

It gets worse. Researchers at the UK-based blog, Harry’s Place, uncovered a number of other huge problems with this text. For example, on page 251 of his 2004 book, Sizer used a footnote to suggest Israel was responsible for 9/11. He also approvingly cited the writings of Rev. Dale Crowley, a well-known antisemite who, before his death, gave the invocation at a Holocaust denial conference organized by the Barnes Review. Sizer described Crowley as a “religious broadcaster,” omitting any reference to his antisemitism.

Sizer’s real assault on the modern state of Israel is theological. In his books, every effort for the Jewish people to affirm their sovereignty over contested territory – whether it be Jerusalem or the West Bank – is a violation of Christianity’s strictures placed around the Jewish people after the arrival, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is deployed not as a source of blessing for the world, but as a curse directed at the Jews, stripping them of their rights as a sovereign people and de-legitimizing their historical and physical reality.

In Sizer’s writings, Israel’s claims on Jerusalem contradict the New Testament’s shift away from an earthly Jerusalem to a “heavenly Jerusalem.” With this hermeneutic, Sizer turns Evangelical support for Israel’s efforts to exercise sovereignty over its capital into a heretical act.

The underlying logic is that Christians cannot support the presence of sovereign Jews in the Holy Land without betraying the Gospel and Jesus Christ himself. The implication is that for Christians to be faithful to their religion, they must refrain from assisting Jews as they struggle to maintain their sovereign presence in their homeland and turn a blind eye to Arab and Muslim attempts to deprive Jews of their state.

Predictably, Sizer portrays Christian organizations that have the temerity to point out the problems of antisemitism in the Middle East as promoting “hatred” for Arabs. The overall impact of Sizer’s IVP books was to hinder or problematize Jewish efforts to achieve self-determination and safety in the Holy Land while turning a blind eye to Arab and Muslim efforts to undermine these rights.

Fortunately, both wings of the IVP conglomerate stopped publishing Sizer’s books in 2016. That same year, they published The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land, which was edited by Rev. Gerald R. McDermott, Ph.D. The messages in this book are that Christians can support Israel without resorting to dispensationalist arguments regarding the end times and can support Jewish self-determination without betraying their faith and that there are even ways to read the Gospel that affirms the continued existence of the Jews.

Sadly, IVP has fallen off the wagon when it comes to Jew-hatred. It recently published two books that portray Jewish sovereignty – and not efforts to undermine it – as a threat to human right rights and world peace. The books are not as explicitly hostile to Israel as Sizer’s, but they’re bad enough.

First, there’s Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age by Rev. Dr. Mae Cannon. This text, published by IVP on May 26, 2020, problematizes Jewish sovereignty while affirming the Palestinian push for statehood, without acknowledging the violent and corrupt actions perpetrated by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority against Palestinians and Israelis. Cannon also obscures the manner in which Palestinian Christians have lent their voices to the cause of anti-Zionism in the Holy Land.

For example, Cannon whitewashes the anti-Jewish hostility inherent in the liberation theology promoted by notorious anti-Zionist Naim Ateek, emending his writing to obscure from her readers how he tries to strip Jesus of his Jewishness. In a book quoted by Cannon, Ateek wrote “Jesus Christ was a Palestinian as we are.” In her text Cannon alters Ateek’s sentence to read: “Jesus Christ was a Palestinian [Jew] as we are.” A sneaky bit of editing.

Cannon also downplays the anti-Israel hostility inherent in the Hamas-organized “March of Return,” describing it as an effort to draw attention to the “right of return” demanded by the Palestinians. Affirming the pipe dream of the right of return, which has consigned several generations of Palestinians to fruitless conflict with Israel, is unkind toward the people she is trying to help.

It is worse, however, for Cannon to ignore the genocidal rhetoric promoted by “March of Return” organizers. One organizer, Hamas Political Bureau member Fathi Hammad, declared in a July 2019 speech that Palestinians abroad should “attack every Jew on planet Earth and slaughter and kill them.”

On June 16, 2020, IVP published another book, The Other Side of the Wall: A Palestinian Christian Narrative of Lament and Hope by Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, academic dean at Bethlehem Bible College and a prominent organizer of Christ at the Checkpoint Conferences. In this text, Isaac tells us that Palestinians can’t be antisemitic because they themselves are semites and that Western Christians are trying to atone for the Holocaust by forcing Christians in the Middle East to accept the theology of Christian Zionism, “a theology designed to solve a Western problem (anti-Semitism) with the purpose of dealing with the inner guilt.” He adds “it is ironic that the West, which has a long history of anti-Semitism, wants to educate Palestinians on this issue—even rebuke and correct us now, and teach us the right way.”

Isaac writes these things as if his readers do not know about the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al Husseini’s meetings with Hitler during World War II, or the letters he wrote to Nazi officials telling them not to trade Jewish children headed to death camps for German prisoners of war. He writes these things as if his readers do not know about the Grand Mufti’s Arabic radio broadcasts from Germany during the war in which he incited hostility toward Jews throughout the Middle East.

In February, 2020, IVP’s wing in the U.S. published a book lamenting the failure of Christians to stand up to antisemitism in Europe and just a few months later, it releases two books that do just that in the context of the Middle East. IVP will come to the defense of dead Jews killed in the 20th century, but it promotes a Christian narrative that undermines the ability of living and breathing Jews to defend themselves in the 21st century. (So much for confronting “twenty centuries of anti-Jewish theology.”)

And what was that about the Christian obligation to stand with the Jews in the face of Jew-hatred again?

About the Author
Dexter Van Zile is Shillman Research Fellow at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.
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