Within the Church of England, the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Winchester is holding a tribunal concerning The Revd Dr Stephen Sizer between Monday 23 - Friday 27 May. It arises from a complaint made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews against the Revd Dr Sizer in 2018. The Tribunal will be held at St Andrew’s Church Centre Holborn, Central London which Sizer insists happens in public. This is the second time he has been hauled before a religious Tribunal at the instigation of the Board of Deputies, the organization claiming to represent British Jewry. A previous complaint was resolved by conciliation in 2013.
Dr Stephen Sizer was ordained as a priest in the Church of England nearly 40 years ago. He is one of the world’s experts on Christian Zionism, his books presenting a comprehensive overview of its roots, its theological basis, and its political consequences. Sizer is just one of scores of people who have falsely been accused of being anti-Semitic and what is unique about him is that he is a member of the clergy who has sought to stand with Palestinian Christians while the leadership within the Anglican church has remained silent.
But the issue of Dr Sizer’s being tried by Tribunal because of his legitimate criticism of Israel is a matter that should concern us all. What is known as the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is more than just a political issue, important as that is on the global scene. It is also a moral test, not only for governments (who consistently fail their moral tests and from whom we expect little) but for those who actually hold themselves up as our moral guardians and guides, organized religions and their clerical establishments. This applies particularly to Jews and Christians.
Zionism, after all, was a Jewish movement whose settlers came to Palestine at the start of the twentieth century with the expressed intention of transforming an Arab country into a Jewish country. With the help of the international community that largely happened. The League of Nations denied the Palestinians their right to national self-determination and instead gave Palestine as a colonial “mandate” to the British. The British government and Mandate authorities proceeded to promote the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine by force and governmental fiat. The UN in 1947 gave the Jews 56% of Palestine and after the 1948 war allowed Israel to keep the 78% of the country it conquered, while failing to enforce its own international law by enabling the 750,000 Palestinian refugees of the war to return home. And over the past 55 years, since the Occupation began in 1967, the US, Britain, France and other major powers have allowed Israel to conquer and keep the rest of Palestine. They continue to support its ongoing occupation and displacement of Palestinians – all resulting in what Amnesty International documents describe as an apartheid system. For its part the organized Jewish community also supports Israel’s violent assault on the Palestinian people, even though it reflects the tragic and somewhat similar experience of the Jewish people itself over its history.
And the Christians? Palestine is the very crucible of Christianity, and no one in the world has stood with the besieged Christians of Palestine more than Dr Sizer. He has given voice to their distress when the Church of England has been silent. The fact that the Church has gone to the extreme of accusing Dr Sizer of anti-Semitism because he speaks up in defence of Palestinian Christians only compounds the sin. It is morally grotesque that the Church of England is submitting Dr Sizer to a medieval Tribunal (euphemistically called a “Clergy Discipline Measure”) at the instigation of the organized British Jewish community instead of examining its own role in facilitating Israel’s persecution of Palestine’s Christians. And it is equally outrageous that Jews even consider participating in religious Tribunals given what Jews experienced in the Inquisition. “Support for Israel,” it seems, is exposing the immorality and cynicism of the highest figures in our major religions.
The following statement of support comes from ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. It is written in a more personal way, however, by Dr Jeff Halper, ICAHD’s Director, because he wanted to protest not only the politics, immorality and illegality of trial-by-Tribune in the 21st Century, but to express his own outrage that Jews would be part of such a process, as if they learned nothing from their own trials-by-Tribune during the Inquisition.
ICAHD calls on you to #StandWithStephen.
May 15, 2022
As an Israeli Jew and the head of an Israeli human rights organization – ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – I am appalled by the very thought of bringing anyone, let alone such a principled person as Stephen Sizer, before a religious Tribunal. What, are we back to the Medieval days of the Inquisition? I can’t speak for the Church of England, but Jews, the British Board of Deputies, participating in a religious Tribunal?! The very thought is appalling. What has happened to us, Jews and Christians together? Are we willing to return to the dark processes of Tribunals with no legal underpinnings, no genuine evidence or testimony, conducted solely against people whose views we don’t like – besmirch and destroy people’s lives – just to prevent criticism of Israel? Is it really so easy, in the 21st Century, to persecute people for their religious and political views? Savonarola meets Trump?
The charges against Dr. Sizer are untrue and trumped-up – and you all know it. Antisemitism?! How do you possibly defend yourself against such a charge? In the intellectual and democratic world in which most of us live, Dr. Sizer has made a rational, well-researched case for his views and analysis presented in articles, books and lectures based firmly on academic research and religious history. But that is exactly the type of person for which Tribunals are necessary, since analyses like Dr. Sizer presents, unpopular in some partisan circles as they may be, cannot be dismissed in academic circles or barred in courts of law. They must be denounced in Tribunals with no moral, legal or intellectual authority, and as in all religious Tribunals, the person maligned and destroyed in order to somehow delegitimize his or her views. I am embarrassed for all of you – and downright angry at the Jews who participate in the dark proceeding of religious Tribunals.
Let me say this as plainly as I can. I have known Dr. Sizer for over twenty years. I respect his moral position on Israel. I certainly respect his academic work on Christian Zionism, one of the most insidious and antisemitic religious doctrines in modern history and profoundly anti-Israel (Israel exists to bring on the Christian End of Days in which virtually all Jews die or become Christians). I respect Dr. Sizer’s willingness to go beyond the comforts of parish life to engage critically in an issue of central concern to us all: how to prevent Israel from becoming the next apartheid South Africa, how to prevent Jews from becoming Afrikaners, and how to liberate the Palestinian people from the yoke of occupation and apartheid – causes Christians and Jews should be engaged with rather than outdated and discredited Tribunals. And while I don’t use Dr. Sizer’s faith-based language, I have never heard him utter a word that I would consider antisemitic. To accuse or “convict” him of such is truly medieval. It is all the more outrageous if you and your Tribunal are basing your judgement on the false and tendentious position represented by the IHRA assertion that any criticism of Israel is de facto antisemitic – a position disavowed by Kenneth Stern, who drafted the IHRA paper (only intended as a “working definition”), as well as by dozens of prominent Jewish and Israeli scholars and progressive Jewish and Israeli organizations.
Not only should Stephen Sizer be “acquitted” of such ridiculous charges, he should not have been brought before a Tribunal at all. I would have advised him to disassociate from this entire inquisitorial process completely – and I urge you to do so as well. Especially the Jews, for God’s sake!
In solidarity (with Stephen),
Dr Jeff Halper