In 2018, the Board of Deputies of British Jews lodged a complaint against Reverend Dr Stephen Sizer, the former vicar of the Anglican parish of Christ Church, in Surrey, England, accusing him of anti-Semitism. DR REEDERWAN CRAAYENSTEIN presents his arguments in support of Dr Sizer, whose Tribunal is scheduled for May 23 – 27, in Central London.
I COME from the anti-apartheid struggle and live in the UK. I am writing to the church in solidarity with Dr Sizer. I hope that in recalling the role of the church in the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa, that the Tribunal might have a richer context to consider the charges against Dr Sizer.
Remember that four human rights organisations accuse Israel of being an Apartheid state; that it commits crimes against humanity; that the international community has a legal duty under the 1968 Apartheid Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute to do everything that it can to bring an end to this Apartheid regime. Dr Sizer is doing what he can to hold an Apartheid regime to account. His accusers routinely defend that regime.
Dr Sizer stands accused of engaging in anti-Semitic actions that are incompatible with being a serving officer of the church.
An accusation of anti-Semitism is controversial and vague. I admit that hatred of the Jewish people is endemic in Europe, and the Holocaust has been a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Being critical of the actions of a state can hardly be anti-Semitic. No one accused anti-Apartheid activists in South Africa of being anti-white or anti-Afrikaner or racist.
To accuse Dr Sizer of anti-Semitism assumes that there is a consensus, agreed, uncontroversial standard of what constitutes anti-Semitism. We have competing definitions e.g. International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the Jerusalem Definition of Anti-Semitism. They lead to different conclusions. For the accusers of Dr Sizer, every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic as per the IHRA. That means that the conclusions of Yesh Din, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are that Israel is an Apartheid state that commits crimes against humanity.
They call for the international community to hold Israel to account in terms of the 1968 Apartheid Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute. In terms of these two international instruments, Israel cannot continue committing crimes against humanity inside Israel against its 20 per cent Arab population against whom it structurally discriminates; it cannot continue to apply two sets of laws and policies over Jewish and Arab people in the one geographic area between the river and the sea where it alone is the sovereign power.
Dr Sizer is known to oppose Israel as an Apartheid state. That puts him at odds with his accusers, who are not known to have ever come out in radical criticism of the actions of Israel as commanded in the Bible. Jeremiah says, ‘Do not stand idly by the bloodstained shirt of your neighbour.’ Apartheid in Israel systematically creates bloodstained shirts.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself. Dr Sizer has chosen to answer the call of Jeremiah and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Israel cannot exist as an Apartheid state. It must treat its Arab citizens as equal to its Jewish citizens. It must end the occupation of the Palestinian and Syrian territories from 1967 until today. It must allow for the right of return of Palestinian refugees in terms of international law. Israel cannot be a Jewish state that is founded on war crimes, crimes against humanity, violations of international law, breaches of international humanitarian law, politically at odds with norms in the UN General Assembly, routinely ignoring UN Security Council resolutions.
Dr Sizer’s accusers cannot allow a serving cleric to be a prophetic voice in England echoing the prophetic voice of Jerusalem and the Bible. Yet, the legal case, the political case, the case in terms of international law, humanitarian law, moral law favour not his accusers but Dr Sizer, the accused.
It is not Dr Sizer alone who stands accused. I recall Cannon Collins, of St Paul’s Cathedral, and Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, Dr Beyers Naude, Reverend Alan Boesak, Dr Frank Chikane, who were lighthouses to the ships as we fought against Apartheid South Africa. They were involved in declaring Apartheid in South Africa to be a heresy. The tradition of the prophets of Jerusalem led them to accuse the perpetrators of Apartheid and call them to return to the Jesus who loves all the children of the world, the Jesus who died for all the children of the world. Jesus loves widows, orphans and foreigners.
Dr Sizer has not even gone to where these anti-Apartheid clergy and churches had gone. Even Sabeel-Kairos is not there yet. An Apartheid system creates widows, orphans and foreigners. Where would Jesus stand today? Why is Dr Sizer being accused for raising questions that the prophets of Jerusalem, including Jesus would have raised? He should not stand accused. On the contrary, the church might consider giving him a standing ovation in public, and a radical critique in private. But, he stands accused against the backdrop of an Apartheid state.
This is not the first time that Dr Sizer stands accused by the same fraternity. This is an accusation that goes back ten years, at least. His accusers suggest that he spends an inordinate amount of time on anti-Semitic activity. One could respond that his accusers are spending a similar amount of time either trying to bully and harass or stalking him online. When Conciliation Meeting concluded in 2012, his accusers did not accept in good faith. On the contrary, they reiterated their accusation, at the conclusion. That is arguably un-Christian.
Dr Sizer has been followed, if not stalked, by his accusers when he left parish ministry. His support for Jeremy Corbyn and comments on the people who also now accuse him, was taken as further evidence of anti-Semitism. Dr Sizer was accused of anti-Semitism when he referred to Israel’s alleged role in bringing down Jeremy Corbyn. There was a TV series on this subject, where members of the Labour Party were collaborating with staff at the Israeli Embassy on the subject of Jeremy Corbyn. His accusers are silent about this documentary series.
One could argue that Dr Sizer is being singled out because he stands out in the Anglican Church as being critical of injustice in Israel-Palestine. But Dr ML King, today celebrated by the African American Church, was unwelcome in most of the black churches during the days of the civil rights campaign. Prophets are usually unpopular amongst their own people. One need not always agree with his choice of words, company that he keeps or social media platforms that he uses. But, he is on the right side of the argument legally, politically, from a human rights, humanitarian, moral and spiritual perspective. Dr Sizer stands accused because he dares to lift his head above the parapet in the Church of England.
Why did the church not discipline Cannon Collins or Archbishop Trevor Huddleston when they took a stand against Apartheid South Africa? Why did the Anglican Church not discipline Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who played a role in the anti-Apartheid struggle, turned St George’s Cathedral into a sanctuary for prayer and resistance right next door to the Apartheid House of Parliament? Yet, that same Arch Tutu was able to use that moral force to call the anti-Apartheid resistance to order when it burnt enemies alive.
Dr Sizer can play a Canon Collins, Archbishops Huddleston and Tutu role as the church recalibrates to find its voice on Apartheid Israel. He is not a problem. He is probably a path to a solution for the church. Sanctioning him will place the church in a moral and spiritual cul de sac on Apartheid Israel. After all, the church has hardly dealt with the legacy of slavery that haunts the UK.
The Anglican Church should not be disciplining, monitoring and silencing Dr Sizer. On the contrary, what would Jesus do when faced with an Apartheid state? What does the Anglican Church, and the accusers of Dr Sizer say about ‘Christ at the Checkpoint?’
This is not a trial for Dr Sizer. One would not be uncharitable to say that this is a Kairos and Road to Damascus moment for the Church of England. Yesh Din has spoken, B’Tselem has spoken. They are Israeli human rights organisations. The two biggest human rights organisations in the world have spoken. Israel is an Apartheid state.
Israel is the sole sovereign power between the river and the sea. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are irrelevant when it comes to deciding anything in Israel-Palestine. Israel applies two sets of standards to two ethnic communities in one geographic area, with the sole purpose to ensure the domination of Jews over Arabs in terms of access to land and resources. That is Apartheid they say. This is a moral, spiritual and existential catastrophe, from the church perspective. The prophets of Jerusalem would not hesitate to place the charges against Dr Sizer in this context.
I would further suggest that this context of Apartheid and the prophetic legacy of Jerusalem should be the frame within which the accusations against Dr Sizer should be considered. Without this framework, empathy will likely be in short supply.
The Anglican Church played a significant role in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. There, the regime was buttressed by the Dutch Reformed Church. Not only should the church understand the Apartheid context in which Dr Sizer stands accused but the church itself has to find its own prophetic voice on Apartheid in Israel. The facts are not in dispute. The prophets of Jerusalem need voices to be raised.
Dr Sizer has had ten years, at least of having to deal with what amounts to stalking, harassment and bullying. No one did this to Canon Collins or Archbishop Huddleston. All that I am appealing for is moral consistency. Apartheid anywhere is a crime against humanity.
The church is under pressure to impose severe sanctions against Dr Sizer. But, in any inquiry the sanctions is a balancing act between retribution, deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation. The accusers want Dr Sizer to be completely silenced and dissociated from the church. They are opposed to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against an Apartheid state but they want BDS to be applied to DR Sizer.
Imposing sanctions is probably the most severe actions that the Tribunal can impose on Dr Sizer. In doing so, there is no right or wrong answer. There are only better, and the accusers of Dr Sizer would want a more severe sanction than October 2012. The aim is likely to shut down any criticism given that human rights organisations agree that Israel is an Apartheid regime.
Sanctions are a combination of relevant church regulations, logic, reason and empathy. The church would not easily argue that Israel is not an Apartheid state. In fact, a workshop with the four human rights organisations would be a positive step for the church. The bible and prophets of Jerusalem would hardly argue in favour of a system that creates the bloodstained shirts that horrify Jeremiah. But sanctioning Dr Sizer would institutionalise the standing by idly that causes Jeremiah sleepless nights and days.
Dr Raul Hilberg, the founder of Holocaust Studies, in his ‘The Destruction of European Jewry’ says that there were perpetrators, victims and bystanders. The question facing the church, in light of its role in the struggle against Apartheid South Africa is: will it institutionalise bystanders who stand idly by? Or will it encourage its followers as it did in the days of Apartheid South Africa?
The regulations of the church, the reasoning of the prophets of Jerusalem, the logic of the bible and empathy would suggest that Dr Sizer should not be sanctioned. Ten years of arguably being harassed, bullied, trolled and stalked by his accusers have been stressful enough. Acquit Dr Sizer and advise him to continue on his prophetic Anglican journey while remaining self-critical so that he does not slip into a dogmatic position that could blinker his otherwise important contribution to call for an Israel-Palestine where there is justice for all, irrespective of differences.
Let Dr Sizer be a bridge to a prophetic role for the church on Apartheid Israel. Despite the protestations of his accusers, Israel stands accused of crimes against humanity. Will the church play the role that it played against Apartheid in South Africa? Sanctioning Dr Sizer is not a step along that path.