Web Only: The Asymmetry of Racism Awareness
The Church of England’s decision not to censure Rev. Stephen Sizer highlights its, and wider society’s, reluctance to condemn anti-Semitic bigotry
For much of 2012, racism has been in the news. The Stephen Lawrence case returned to the headlines with the conviction of two men for his racially-motivated murder. Diane Abbott’s tweet, “White people love playing ‘divide and rule'”, was widely condemned by both white and black commentators. The footballer John Terry stands accused of racially abusing QPR player Anton Ferdinand, and has been stripped of the England captaincy as a result. Another footballer, Luis Suarez, has served an eight-game ban for similar charges; and two supporters of his club, Liverpool, have been arrested on suspicion of abusing black players during games.
Yet despite this flurry of race-related news and comment, one similar story has struggled to gain attention beyond the pages of the , the Church of England Newspaper and the Jewish Chronicle. The lack of wider attention is best explained by society’s unwillingness to treat anti-Semitism with the same seriousness as racism based on skin colour.
This is not something that Jewish people often complain about. To borrow Elaine Feinstein’s stoical words, it ranks as a “minor irritation in the general context of historical experience”. But on occasion it can be profoundly frustrating when anti-Semitism is overlooked while equivalent examples of anti-black racism rightly receive immediate attention.
On October 4 last year, Rev. Stephen Sizer, vicar of a well-attended church in Surrey, posted a link on his Facebook page to an unashamedly racist website called “The Ugly Truth”. 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. Demoralising entire swathes of civilisation through unchallenged Jewish domination of the media. The complete corruption of every political office from the president to the town dog catcher.” It piously declares: “God’s people are all those who do His will, who are righteous, who are compassionate and who do not submit themselves to the false gods of voracity, vengeance, vulgarity and viciousness, which pretty much leaves the Jews out.” One article on the site is simply titled: “God how I hate these people”.
In the past, at least one Church of England clergyman has been suspended for offensive use of Facebook (Bishop Pete Broadbent, after posting highly unpleasant remarks about the royal wedding). But on November 22 Bishop Christopher Hill, Rev. Sizer’s local bishop, declined to apply that precedent, promising merely to “speak to the Revd Stephen Sizer about his use of Facebook”.
Rev. Mark Rudall, the bishop’s Director of Communications, has confirmed that the bishop did then raise the matter with Rev. Sizer. And yet he plainly refused to remove the link, because it was still there on December 27, more than a month later. On that date Rev. Sizer was publicly accused of anti-Semitism on Harry’s Place, a free speech blog, which cited, among many other things, the link on his Facebook page to The Ugly Truth. Rev. Sizer defended himself in general terms on the following day on his own blog, but failed to respond to any of the specific accusations, and still refused to take down the link. In fact his Facebook page remained a gateway to a Jew-hating website for a further week, until the link was at last removed on January 4, under pressure from the Jewish Chronicle.
Since then Rev. Sizer’s diocesan overseers have stood by their man. Rev. Rudall has personally vowed to “defend him to the hilt”. Yet this readiness to give him the benefit of the doubt is hard to justify, to put it mildly, given Rev. Sizer’s track record.
For example, when interviewed on Iranian TV (note the context) Rev. Sizer said that because of Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians, “the Holocaust has been perpetuated over the past forty or fifty years.” Give that claim a moment’s thought and you’ll see that it amounts either to Holocaust denial or a blood-libel comparable to those levelled against Jewish people in the Middle Ages. Last year Rev. Sizer promoted a boycott of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, L’Oréal and Nestlé on the basis that they “channel their profits to the Zionist agenda”—baseless scaremongering worthy of the infamous anti-Semitic handbook The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which warns of shadowy Jewish control over world affairs. In the same vein, one of Rev. Sizer’s books alleges Israeli complicity in 9/11, without acknowledging any alternative view. Sometimes his obsession with Jewishness is overt. When, in March 2011, it looked as if America had decided not to support the proposed intervention in Libya, he devised his own conspiracy theory based on the rumoured Jewishness of the Gaddafi family. Commenting on that rumour, he said on his blog, “Blood is indeed thicker than water. Perhaps this is why the US is reluctant to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.” Towards the end of last year he pulled off the extraordinary feat of simultaneously campaigning for the arrest of Tzipi Livni, the leader of Israel’s moderate opposition, and the release of Sheikh Raed Salah, the Hamas fundraiser and anti-Semitic preacher who caused a furore last summer after illegally entering the UK. The one-sidedness of that dual campaign is obscene.
Rev. Sizer’s link on Facebook to The Ugly Truth cannot therefore be seen as uncharacteristic. Which leads me to a very simple question: if he had linked to a website pouring similar vitriol on black people, and spurned two separate opportunities to remove the link, only taking it down under pressure from The Voice, would he still be in his job? My strong feeling is that both the diocese and Rev. Sizer’s own congregation would have forced him to step down.
Their ongoing support represents yet another example of asymmetric concern about anti-Jewish and anti-black racism. One might have hoped that the Church of England would rise above this depressing trend. I am still waiting.