16 March 2012
From: Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok PhD, DD
Emeritus Professor of Judaism
University of Wales
I am writing to you about Dr. Stephen Sizer whom I have known for several years. I am very concerned about recent accusations made in the press that he is antisemitic.
Perhaps I should say something initially about my knowledge of antisemitism as well my involvement in a recent court case dealing with Jew-hatred as an expert witness for the Counter Terrorism Agency of the Crown Prosecution Service. I have written three books dealing with the topic of antisemitism: The Crucified Jew: Twenty Centuries of Christian Antisemitism (Harper Collins, 1992 ), Antisemitism: A History (Sutton, 2004), and The Paradox of Antisemitism (Continuum, 2006). The aim of the first two books was to trace the historical development of Jew-hatred through the ages, and to illustrate its evil nature. The third book was designed to demonstrate the paradoxical nature of antisemitism: although Judaeophobia is one of humanity’s greatest crimes and must be eradicated wherever possible, the Jewish people have paradoxically survived due to persecution and suffering. Our agonies have drawn us together and enabled us to endure: this may be the meaning of the concept of God’s suffering servant.
On the basis of these and other publications, I was hired by the Counter Terrorism Agency of the Crown Prosecution Service to be an expert witness in an important trial of two individuals who had disseminated antisemitic material on the internet. The trial took place in Leeds in 2009 and was dealt with by two separate juries. Eventually the two defendants, Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle, were found guilty of inciting racial hatred against Jews (and others) and were sent to prison. This was an important legal case because one of the central issues that was discussed at the trial was whether the Jewish community should be considered strictly a religious body or an ethnic group. This was critical because if the Jewish community is solely a religious group then the defendants could not be tried under the Race Relations Act. During the trial I attempted to demonstrate that the Jews are in fact both a religious and ethnic community–the jury eventually agreed, and this set a precedent for any further cases of antisemitic attack. During the trial the police informed me that the Attorney General was particularly interested in the case because of its legal significance.
I mention all this because I have had substantial experience with prosecution of individuals who encourage racial hatred. Given this background, I have been disturbed to read about the allegations made against Stephen Sizer. These are, I believe, completely without foundation: there is simply no evidence that he is an antisemite. It is true that many of his writings are highly critical of Israeli policy; in this respect they echo the views of a number of important Jewish historical revisionists including Professor Avi Shlaim of Oxford University and Illan Pappe of Exeter University who in a variety of publications have castigated Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. It would be a mistake to consider their views antisemitic, as it would to construe Stephen Sizer’s political criticisms as evidence of antipathy against Jews.
What is true, however, is that Stephen Sizer is an international expert on the origins and growth of Christian Zionism. Some time ago I read his seminal study of Christian Zionism: Christian Zionism: Road-Map to Armageddon (IVP, 2004) which I subsequently quoted in my own study of Christian Zionism: The Politics of Apocalypse: The History and Influence of Christian Zionism (Oneworld, 2006). Several years later he published another significant study: Zion’s Christian Soldiers (IVP, 2007) which was highly praised by such scholars as Professor Ronald E. Clements, the Right Rev Kenneth Cragg, and Professor Gary M. Burge. This is what I myself wrote about the book:
Stephen Sizer deftly expresses the many exegetical missteps of contemporary Christian Zionists. He advocates a more just and Christ-centred alternative to the politically and ethically problematic views espoused by many contemporary end-time popularizers.
In these two books, Stephen Sizer is highly critical of Christian Zionism, yet it would be a profound mistake to interpret his views as constituting an attack on Jewry.
This week I have been in contact with Stephen Sizer regarding the issue of the website that has been referred to in the press. I asked him how it happened that this offensive website (which relates to Israel’s action) on his Facebook was not removed straightaway. He has sent me all the relevant information including the offending website material. What he tells me is as follows: He assumed Nick Howard was based in the United States and did not in fact read Nick Howard’s complaint. This was a mistake and he regrets ignoring it, but due to his active involvement in Middle East affairs, he gets criticism on a daily and weekly basis. However, once he realized the seriousness of the error of linking his Facebook entry with the offending website, he did remove it and wrote to Marcus Dysch at the Jewish Chronicle on 4 January. He states that he had thought he had done so before. In his letter to Marcus Dysch (which he put on his blog), he states that he has over the years made his position clear on antisemitism and holocaust denial. Citing material from his own website, he writes:
I have for example:
*lamented the suffering of Christians under Islamic rule
*criticized the Iranian government’s human rights record
*repudiated suicide bombers and terrorism
*repudiated holocaust deniers
*repudiated racism and the British National Party
*distinguished anti-Zionism from antisemitism
*advocated a diplomatic solution to resolving tensions with Iran
*advocated for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by peaceful means based on the implementation of international law
He then went on to quote from his book, Zion’s Christian Soldiers:
“It is true that at various times in the past, churches and church leaders have tolerated or incited antisemitism and even attacks on Jewish people. Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally. However, we must not confuse apples with oranges. Anti-Zionism is not the same thing as antisemitism despite attempts to broaden the definition. Criticising a political system as racist is not necessarily racist. Judaism is a religious system. Israel is a sovereign nation. Zionism is a political system. These three are not synonymous. I respect Judaism, repudiate antisemitism, encourage interfaith dialogue and defend Israel’s right to exist within borders recognized by the international community. But like many Jews, I disagree with a political system which gives preference to expatriate Jews born elsewhere in the world while denying the same rights to Arab Palestinians born in the country itself.”
I am sure Stephen Sizer is giving an honest account of his mistake in failing to read Nick Howard’s email and not removing the offending website more speedily. I hope the Church will forgive him for his mistake (Perhaps I should mention in this regard that I am in the process of publishing a book about the Middle East crisis: it is due out next week. Alongside this book, I have also written a Companion Website (which will be available online) including about 70 websites related to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In the light of Stephen Sizer’s experience, I realize I must carefully scrutinize each website to make sure there is no offending material, and I have told the publishers that they must delay putting the Companion Website online until I have done so.)
No doubt Stephen Sizer’s detractors are acting in good faith, and I agree with them that antisemitism must be confronted. But they are regrettably misguided in their allegations about Stephen Sizer. He is in no sense antisemitic, and instead is fully in sympathy with those who seek to eradicate all forms of Jew-hatred in the modern world. Let me turn finally to the trial I mentioned in Leeds. Following the conviction of the two defendants, Bassetlaw MP John Mann, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism commented:
The conviction of Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle is proof that if you write, disseminate and publish antisemitic racist propaganda in the UK, or on the internet from here in the UK, the police will come after you and the courts will convict. This case sets an excellent precedent– antisemitic hate is not welcome here in the UK.
Having worked with the Counter Terrorist Agency of the Crown Prosecution Service, I am fully in agreement with such sentiments. We in the Jewish community must be vigilant to insure that our community does not suffer from attack. But it would be a travesty of justice to construe Stephen Sizer’s mistake in linking an offensive website to his Facebook and not removing it immediately as a deliberate attempt to encourage racial hatred.
Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok
Permission to publish this letter was obtained from the author and recipient.
See also letters from:
Dr Mark Braverman, Author of the Fatal Embrace
Anne Clayton, Coordinator, Friends of Sabeel UK
Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, University of Wales
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Islington North
Professor Scott Elias, Royal Holloway, University of London
Tony Greenstein, Founding Member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Professor Mary Grey, Patron, Friends of Sabeel UK
Dr Jeff Halper, Co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
Canon Garth Hewitt, Founder of the Amos Trust
Dr Ghada Karmi, Exeter University
Venerable Michael Lawson, Rector of St Saviour’s, Guildford
Jeremy Moodey, Chief Executive, Biblelands
Diana Neslen, Jews for Justice for Palestinians
Professor Ilan Pappe, Exeter University
Rabbi Dr Stanley Howard Schwartz, Hospice Chaplain and retired Army Chaplain
Church Times: Vicar is not Anti-Semitic
Church Times: Rabbi Clears Vicar of Anti-Semitism
Church Times: Dr Sizer is Cleared
Jewish Chronicle: Bishop: anti-Zionist vicar ‘no antisemite’
Jewish Chronicle: Sizer: I am ready to meet the Board of Deputies any time