antisemitism,  Religion

Rev Nick Howard: The Church of England must take action against Rev Stephen Sizer

This is a guest post by Rev. Nick Howard

The word ‘racist’ probably brings to mind a skinhead with a snarling face. But this image can blind us to the presence of well-spoken racists in very respectable jobs, who can capitalise on their social status to inflict more serious long-term damage than their counterparts on the streets. A prime example of this is one of my fellow Anglicans, Rev Stephen Sizer, vicar of  Christ Church Virginia Water. It hardly needs saying that I would only make such a serious charge on the basis of convincing evidence, and having already pursued the official means of complaint without success.

On October 4th Rev Sizer posted a link on his Facebook page to a website called ‘The Ugly Truth’. The website doesn’t even attempt to conceal its anti-Semitism. It recently greeted its visitors with the Jew-as-Dracula cartoon reproduced below.

Jewish people have been characterised as metaphorical and literal blood-suckers for hundreds of years – and have frequently been slaughtered as a result. It’s not hard to see why ‘The Ugly Truth’ selected this cartoon to illustrate its vile scaremongering about ‘Global Zionism with its Exploitative Financial Institutions, National Debts and Permanent Wars’. But this cartoon is no one-off, as demonstrated by the other images below – which if anything are even more appalling. The entire purpose of this website is to demonstrate that ‘Zionism [is] making our world uninhabitable today’. It charges the Jews with:

‘The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The daily murder of Palestinian children “for sport”. Harvesting organs from Gentiles at gunpoint. Economic exploitation/ruination. De-moralizing entire swaths of civilization through unchallenged Jewish domination of the media. The complete corruption of every political office from the president to the town dog catcher.’

One article is simply titled, ‘God how I hate these people’. In response to a warning that the President of Iran is three months away from being able to fire a nuclear weapon at Israel, ‘The Ugly Truth’ says

‘Three months??? We have to wait THAT long??? Personally, It will be the best night of sleep I will have had in a long time, the moment when I know unequivocally that his “finger is on the button”. It will be the day wherein the seeds of peace are sown and the rest of us can breathe a little easier.’

Here are some further images from the Ugly Truth blog that Sizer recommends:

This is the website that Rev Sizer has encouraged his Facebook friends to visit – without any word of warning, apology or qualification.

Last year Bishop Pete Broadbent was suspended for posting offensive comments about the impending royal wedding on Facebook. Surely this established a precedent that should now be followed with Rev Sizer? And since Sizer’s use of Facebook is so much more offensive and serious, shouldn’t the action taken against him by the Church be correspondingly more severe? I put this to Bishop Christopher Hill, Rev Sizer’s diocesan bishop.

He replied by saying,

‘I see nothing which would merit disciplinary matters, not least because differing political opinions are definitely exempted from disciplinary proceedings in the Church of England according to the Clergy Disciplinary Measure.’

The complacency of this response is truly astonishing. The material on ‘The Ugly Truth’ bears comparison with the propaganda published in Germany in the 1930s. Would Bishop Hill excuse that, too, on the basis of the expression of ‘political opinions’? If not, why does he use that argument in this case? Rev Sizer has drawn the attention of his 850 Facebook friends to a racist website. The Clergy Discipline Measure covers any ‘conduct that is unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of the clergy.’ If Rev Sizer’s conduct does not fall into that category it’s hard to imagine what behaviour actually would.

This is not the first time that Rev Sizer has posted a link on Facebook to an anti-Semitic website: on July 2nd he recommended the Palestine Telegraph, a similarly poisonous site – at the time of writing, one of its headlines is: ‘Organ gangs force poor to sell kidneys to Israelis’, and its lead cartoon is a Jew-as-Dracula image by the notorious anti-Semitic cartoonist Latuff. More significantly still, Rev Sizer has a long track record of behaviour that shows his recommendation of these websites is not out of character. The following evidence will, I am confident, overcome any remaining scepticism about the reality of his anti-Semitism.

There are certain foul boxes that anti-Semites have a habit of ticking. Sadly, Rev Sizer ticks them all.

To begin with, one of the most long-running and virulent components of anti-Semitism is the portrayal of all Jewish people everywhere as Christ-killers. On Rev Sizer’s website there’s a gallery of photographs of Israeli soldiers, titled ‘Herod’s Soldiers Operating in Bethlehem Today’.

Herod was the king who ordered the massacre of every baby boy in the vicinity of Bethlehem, from new-borns to two year-olds, with the intention of murdering the Christ. As soon as you put a Jew in a soldier’s uniform, Rev Sizer is saying, you’ve got both a child-killer and a would-be Christ-killer.

Another feature of anti-Semitism is the belief, disseminated by the infamous forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that Jewish people or companies seek to exercise a shadowy control over world affairs. Earlier this year Rev Sizer ticked that box.

He promoted, via an interview on his blog, a boycott of McDonalds, Coca-Cola, L’Oréal and Nestlé, four of the world’s biggest and best-known companies, on the basis that they ‘channel their profits to the Zionist agenda.’ These are all publicly listed companies, open to any investor, which pay their profits to shareholders through dividends. Since a boycott of those companies wouldn’t affect Israel politically or economically – as Sizer knows very well – the purpose of this boycott must simply be to spread the lie among the easily-misled that four of the world’s biggest companies are secretly participating in a global Zionist conspiracy. Only an anti-Semite would promote that kind of sinister and totally false propaganda.

During the last ten years anti-Semites have conceived and promoted the utterly ridiculous notion that Israel was in some way responsible for 9/11. This has now become a central plank of modern anti-Semitism. Here too, Sizer gladly plays his part.

On p. 251 of his book, Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon?, there is a footnote encouraging readers to look at an article that alleges Israeli complicity in 9/11. Again, as with his Facebook link to ‘The Ugly Truth’, there is no warning, apology or qualification – nor is there any citation of material putting across the standard view of 9/11 accepted by everyone else in the world.

Holocaust denial is another inescapable feature of modern anti-Semitism. It’s not necessary to make a direct statement denying the truth of the Holocaust to tick the box. Given that two thirds of Europe’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust, any remark downplaying its significance is enough to display one’s allegiance to the anti-Semite’s cause – especially if the comment is made in a context where such hints will be readily understood. Here again Sizer reveals his true colours.

When he was interviewed on Iranian TV – note the context – he argued that because of Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians, ‘the Holocaust has been perpetuated over the past forty or fifty years.’ During the Holocaust, the Nazis systematically murdered every Jewish person within their reach. No observer of the Middle East conflict with a shred of objectivity would compare Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with the Holocaust. In view of the suspicions that have surrounded Sizer for many years – he was accused of anti-Semitism in 2002 by The Spectator – he should have been sacked for that incendiary comment alone.

Let me repeat, this statement was made on Iranian TV. Do Sizer’s Christian allies believe that Iran’s threats towards Israel are make-believe? Do they not see how valuable it is to a murderous regime when a Christian vicar from a Western country happily appears on one of their own television stations to strengthen their people in their worst prejudices?

A further way to identify anti-Semites is to look at the company they keep. Rev Sizer is a regular speaker at events run by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), whose anti-Semitic ‘toxicity’ was recently exposed by the New Statesman blogger Rob Marchant.

Sizer has travelled to Iran as the hand-picked guest of Zahra Mostafavi, the daughter of the Ayatollah Khomeini. She is a prominent supporter of the anti-Israel terrorist organisation Hezbollah, and has publicly paid tribute to child suicide bombers for their murderous attacks on Israeli civilians.

In June this year Rev Sizer went to Malaysia to work with known Hamas fundraisers Viva Palestina, whose leading activists include Matthias Chang, one of the speakers at the notorious Holocaust denial conference held in Iran in 2006; and Carole Swords, who has said of Zionists,

‘like cockroaches they hide in the dark and try to create havoc where they lay their eggs and like a cockroach they are slimy vile hard skin bugs and need to be stomped out.’

When the BBC Radio 4 ‘Moral Maze’ panellist Melanie Phillips accused Sizer of anti-Semitism in The Spectator, he responded by posting a supportive letter – since removed – from Israel Shamir on the Christ Church Virginia Water website (click to enlarge, full article here).

Shamir, an ally of the Holocaust denier David Irving, has written,

‘We must deny the concept of Holocaust without doubt and hesitation, even if every story of Holocaust down to the most fantastic invention of Wiesel [Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and author] were absolutely true.’

Shamir’s writings warn of ‘Jewish mind control on a world scale’.

Rev Sizer would probably respond to this (incomplete) list of his friends by saying that guilt cannot be proven by association.

But someone who has recommended racist websites, spread anti-Semitic rumours, flirted with Holocaust denial and characterised Jewish soldiers as child-murdering Christ-killers no longer has any right to that particular line of defence. It is entirely reasonable to conclude that Rev Sizer feels comfortable in these racists’ company, and they in his, because he shares their anti-Semitism.

Of course, Rev Sizer himself strenuously denies the charge of anti-Semitism. In his book Zion’s Christian Soldiers? he writes, ‘Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally.’

But it’s not hard to show that Rev Sizer is willing to say different things to different audiences. For example, when I contacted him by email a while ago he told me, ‘I respect, accept and defend the right of Israel to exist. Period.’ But on 14th October last year he took the opposite position on his blog.

He posted an interview with disgraced, unrepentant American journalist Helen Thomas, commenting above it:

‘Helen Thomas is one gutsy 90 year old lady to take on the Israel Lobby.’

Beneath the interview, which explains that she was sacked for saying that the Jews should ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ and ‘go home’ to ‘Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else’, Rev Sizer simply says

‘Bring it on’.

This shameless willingness to contradict himself means his word cannot be trusted. His statements opposing anti-Semitism therefore lack any value whatsoever.

Rev Sizer would also say that his criticism of Israel is unrelated to its Jewishness. But he has himself undermined that form of defence.

When Hillary Clinton rebuked Israel in March 2010, Sizer wrote a blog post titled, ‘Payback for Monica?’ (click to enlarge).

This unbelievably tasteless insinuation that Monica Lewinsky’s Jewishness motivated Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Israel shows how Rev Sizer’s mind works. If someone dislikes a Jewish individual – whether Israeli or not – the natural thing to do is to launch an attack on the state of Israel. So much for his criticism of Israel having nothing to do with the Jewishness of its people.

The Church of England needs to take action as urgently as possible, because Rev Sizer is using his status as a C of E vicar to give an aura of credibility to his racist activity. The abovementioned statement about the Holocaust on Iranian TV is one example. In addition to that, earlier this year he deliberately misled TV viewers in Malaysia by saying that the US Congress supports Israel because ‘The Israel lobby buys every single politician.’

Later in the interview he made the inflammatory false accusation that ‘The Far Right in Britain is forming an alliance with Zionists because their common enemy are the Muslims.’ Why wouldn’t Malaysian viewers believe whatever a soft-spoken English vicar says? Dr Mahathir Mohamad, their own former Prime Minister (and founder of Viva Palestina Malaysia, Sizer’s hosts), once said,

‘Even after their massacre by the Nazis of Germany, [the Jews] survived to continue to be a source of even greater problems for the world. The Holocaust failed as a final solution.’

In Malaysia Sizer was preaching to the choir. But anyone who thinks that it’s harmless to add still more venom to an anti-Semitic context has never studied the history of the Jewish people. Yet as things stand this is what the Church of England seems more than willing for one of its clergy to do.

Rev Sizer’s pernicious campaigning is not limited to his statements while overseas. When Tzipi Livni, the Leader of the Opposition in Israel, visited the UK in October of this year, Sizer joined the call for her to be arrested for war crimes, posting a video to that effect on his blog (below, click to enlarge) and encouraging readers to ‘come and see her … at 5pm today … outside Downing Street’ (the precise time and place of a PSC demonstration calling for her arrest).

Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party is to the left of the ruling Likud Party and received more votes than any other party at the last General Election in Israel – which is the longest-established democracy in the Middle East.

It could be argued, nonetheless, that calling for her arrest is not in itself an anti-Semitic thing to do. Yet when we consider how Sizer acts towards leading figures on the other side of the conflict, anti-Semitism provides the only explanation for breathtaking one-sidedness.

Earlier this year Sheikh Raed Salah, the Islamist hate preacher and  convicted fundraiser for Hamas, managed to get into the UK despite being banned from entry (causing uproar in the media and Parliament as a result). Sizer lent his wholehearted support to the campaign against Sheikh Salah’s arrest and potential deportation. He described Salah as ‘Britain’s first Palestinian political prisoner’, and publicly treated him to a meal at a North London restaurant (click to enlarge).

On Wednesday 26th October an independent immigration tribunal found that Salah engages in ‘the unacceptable behaviour of fostering hatred’, upholding the government’s original decision, which Sizer had described – in his ‘political prisoner’ article – as ‘lamentable’. (It can’t have been difficult for the tribunal to reach that decision, given that Salah incited a riot in Jerusalem in 2007 by falsely claiming that Israel planned to rebuild the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, and adding, ‘Whoever wants to build a house of God should not do so while our blood is still on his clothes, on his doorposts, in his food, in his drink’.)

Sizer therefore seeks the arrest of a popular, centrist Jewish politician, while simultaneously calling for the release of an Arab hatemonger. No political principle justifies such extreme bias against one race and towards another.

Imagine someone campaigning for the arrest of a democratically elected black American and the release of a KKK fundraiser during the civil rights protests of the 1960s. Would anyone dare excuse that kind of one-sidedness as ‘political’? The only accurate descriptive term for Sizer’s conduct is racism. By sheltering Rev Sizer, the Church of England is allowing its own reputation to be harnessed to his anti-Semitic activism.

It would have been perfectly possible for Stephen Sizer to criticise Israel without posting links on Facebook to racist websites; or joining forces with recognised anti-Semites across the world; or, when accused of anti-Semitism, turning to a known anti-Semite for support; or alluding to the archetype of the Christ-killing Jew; or downplaying the Holocaust by using the same word to describe Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians; or promoting the global Zionist conspiracy myth; or endorsing a disgraced journalist’s call for Jews to ‘get the hell out of Palestine’; or spreading the outrageous myth of Israeli involvement in 9/11; or making distasteful references to Monica Lewinsky’s Jewishness; or backing the anti-Semitic hate preacher Sheikh Salah.

Each of these actions defiantly crosses a line. They do not demonstrate permissible criticism of the state of Israel. They demonstrate a mixture of explicit anti-Semitism; implicit anti-Semitism; and complicity with anti-Semites.

No wonder a Jewish Chronicle blogger, Jonathan Hoffman, has written to Rev Sizer saying:

‘You are totally disgusting, how you remain vicar of a church is a disgrace, a complete mystery and a stain on the Anglican ministry. Many people will be delighted to see the back of you. Sincerely, Jonathan Hoffman’.

Do Rev Sizer’s defenders seriously assume that the Jewish Chronicle describes every critic of Israel as ‘totally disgusting’? Do they not understand that only the most dedicated anti-Semites provoke that kind of reaction from mainstream Jewish commentators?

Stephen Sizer is bringing disgrace on the congregation of Christ Church Virginia Water, who happily put up with him; the wider Church of England, which springs to his defence; and this nation, of which the Church of England is the established church.

The longer he continues as vicar of Christ Church, the greater the disgrace on all concerned.