“See no evil”: Israel, anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, and British evangelicals (2008)

Evangelical Christians should be well-placed to stand against anti-Semitism. Not only do they have a Biblical mandate against anti-Semitism (Romans 11), they are also – uniquely – indwelt by God’s Spirit to enable them to obey His Word. Yet in recent years, as theological and political anti-Zionism has pervaded much of the church, features of classic anti-Semitism have entered evangelical discourse: tropes of Jewish wealth and power; conspiracy theories; even Holocaust revisionism. How should we respond?

They said what?
“Six million Jews in the USA have an influence that is out of all proportion to their numbers in the total population of 281 million. Through wealth, education, skill and single-mindedness over many years they have gained positions of power in government, business and the media. It is widely recognised, for example, that no one could ever win the presidential race without the votes and the financial support of substantial sections of the Jewish community.” (1)

“… in the 1930s the German Zionist Federation, the Stern Gang and Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of revisionist Zionism, were all sympathetic towards fascism, or collaborated with the Nazis.” (2)
“For allegations of Israeli complicity in the 9/11 tragedy, see…” (3)

The above quotes come not from the Iranian media or from a neo-Nazi rag, but from the pens of two British Christian anti-Zionist writers, Colin Chapman and Stephen Sizer. Are they voicing legitimate criticism of Israeli policies, or are they straying into anti-Semitism? And, if the latter is true, how are their fellow British evangelicals responding?

Criticism of Israel or anti-Semitism?
Both Chapman and Sizer carefully condemn anti-Semitism. (4) Sizer, in particular, has taken pains to emphasize that he is a mere “critic of Israel”, and not an anti-Semite. (5) Certainly, no-one should ever argue that legitimate criticism of Israeli policies is anti-Semitic. Yet nor should anti-Semitism be construed as mere “criticism of Israel”. Suggesting that Israelis were complicit in 9/11, or that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis, can scarcely be construed as mere “criticism of Israel”. When Sizer refers to supporters of Israel as “people in the shadows” (echoing, whether intentionally or otherwise, the language of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion), this seems to have little to do with merely “criticising Israel (6). Nor does the use of some highly questionable sources.

Questionable sources
Both Chapman and Sizer approvingly cite the American Jewish writer Norman Finkelstein (7). Yet Finkelstein’s 2003 book The Holocaust Industry has been described as “not a courageous expose by a marginalized dissident but a toxic stream of defamations, falsifications and fabrications aimed at his fellow Jews.” (8) Finkelstein supports Hezbollah and hosts anti-Semitic cartoons on his website.

In an article on his website responding to Melanie Phillips, Sizer cites Noam Chomsky, Israel Shahak and Uri Davis (9).  Sizer describes them as “leading Jewish academics”. Yet Chomsky wrote the foreword to a book by Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson (10). Shahak’s works can be found on Nazi websites; he once wrote that “A pious Jew arriving for the first time in Australia, say, and chancing to pass near an Aboriginal graveyard, must – as an act of worship of ‘God’ – curse the mothers of the dead buried there” and that “All modern studies on Judaism, particularly by Jews … bear the unmistakable marks of their origin: deception, apologetics or hostile polemics, indifference or even active hostility to the pursuit of truth” (11). Davis, as well as being an observer member of the PLO, helped to promote the anti-Semitic 1980s play Perdition, which alleged that Zionist leaders collaborated with the Nazis in perpetrating the Holocaust (12).

If Chapman and Sizer insist they are not anti-Semitic, why are they citing such dubious sources, without any qualification whatsoever?

Omitting context
Both Sizer and Chapman broadly approve of the UN’s notorious 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution and its 2001 Durban Conference against Racism (13). The 1975 resolution was passed shortly after the UN General Assembly had applauded an anti-Semitic speech by Idi Amin, and is described by the historian Paul Johnson as “the greatest triumph” of “professional anti-Semites” within the Soviet and Arab blocs in the UN (14). In 2001, Syrian representatives reputedly issued statements denying the Holocaust (15), while copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and literature glorifying Hitler were made openly available. 16 Neither Chapman nor Sizer, their purported opposition to anti-Semitism notwithstanding, gives any of these important contextual details whatsoever.

Evangelical plaudits
If it is concerning that Chapman and Sizer are making such claims and using such sources, it is no less concerning that both are (or least were) warmly admired by some leading British evangelicals.Chapman is widely respected as an Islamics scholar. The foreword to Sizer’s Christian Zionism was written by David Peterson, former Principal of Oak Hill College. The book was published by IVP, a reputable evangelical publisher, and drew plaudits from various British evangelical leaders including John Stott and Dick Lucas. IVP invited Sizer to write Zion’s Christian Soldiers? for a wider readership: though in some ways more moderate, this book nevertheless casts the Union of Jewish Students as an opponent of intellectual freedom and draws on various anti-Semitic sources (17). The book was again endorsed by various influential evangelicals, including Terry Virgo, leader of New Frontiers International, and the evangelist Rico Tice. None, to my knowledge, have condemned (or even noticed) the use of dubious sources and terminology, nor the mutilation of historical context. Sadly, it seems that some leading British evangelicals are blind to the evil of anti-Semitism – at least when it comes wrapped up in anti-Zionism. (Note: following a series of antisemitic incidents, Stephen Sizer’s books were finally withdrawn by IVP in 2016.)

What must we do?
I am sure none of these people or organisations are intentionally anti-Semitic – indeed some, including Steve Motyer and Phil Duce of IVP, have written openly philo-Semitic material (18). Nor should we expect reviewers to check every source or historical assertion (though we might hope that responsible publishers would). These evangelicals commend Sizer and Chapman because they concur with their theological views. But what comfort is that to those of us in the church who are Jewish, who recognise anti-Semitism when we see it, and who know what it has led to down the centuries?

Firstly, we must recognise the danger. Throughout history, anti-Semitic discourse has led to anti-Semitic actions. We cannot sit back and allow mainstream evangelicalism to become comfortable with anti-Semitic ideas, even where this happens unintentionally. Evangelicals have the freedom to criticise Israel or endorse theological supersessionism (though we ourselves may disagree with it); they have no right to use anti-Semitic terms and sources in the process.

Secondly, we must educate ourselves. We must be able to recognise where criticism of Israel stops, and where anti-Semitism begins. (The Engage website is highly recommended: https://engageonline.wordpress.com). We must then educate others.

Thirdly, we must speak out. Write to publishers and Christian newspapers. Challenge the use of questionable sources or of anti-Semitic terminology. Point these things out to our church leaders. We should not seek to stifle legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies or theological debate concerning God’s continuing purposes for our people; but nor can we allow anti-Semitic discourse to become mainstream within evangelical circles. Let us be quite clear: to criticise Israeli policies or to argue that the church has superseded Israel is one thing; to suggest that Israelis were complicit in 9/11 or that Zionists collaborated with Nazis is quite another. Some views may be merely political or theological; but some are downright racist and we must not tolerate them, whether they come from BNP spokesmen or from Christian writers.

References:

1. C. Chapman (2002), Whose Promised Land? (Oxford: Lion), p. 270. Chapman never explains or substantiates his claim that 2% of the US population is so indispensable, particularly as the majority of American Jews have traditionally voted Democrat.

2. S. Sizer (2004), Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (Leicester: IVP), p. 243. Sizer cites a book by the extreme left-wing writer Lenni Brenner, one of whose books was reprinted by the Neo-Nazi Noontide Press.

3. Sizer (2004), P. 251 footnote 170, citing an article in a Scottish tabloid.

4. Chapman, ibid, pp. 245-250; S. Sizer (2007), Zion’s Christian Soldiers? (Leicester: IVP), p. 15.

5. See http://www.cc-vw.org/articles/wolf.htm and http://www.cc-vw.org/articles/spectator.htm (both accessed 21 April 2008)

6. See http:www.engageonline.org.uk
/blog/article.php?id=259 (accessed 21 April 2008)

7. Chapman, ibid, pp. 16, 81-2, 261, 264-5, 267; Sizer, ibid, (2004) p. 21.

8. E. Alexander & P. Bogdanor (eds.) (2006), The Jewish Divide over Israel (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2006), p.154

9. http://www.cc-vw.org/articles/spectator.htm

10. A. Dershowitz (2003) The Case for Israel (New Jersey: Wiley), p.213

11. http://www.ety.com/HRP/racehate
/shahakfw.htm (Accessed 12 May 2008)

12. http://www.weissmandl.org/Book_Text/Uri_Davis
/CrossingTheBorder_pt1.htm (Accessed 21 April 2008)

13. Chapman, ibid, p. 266; Sizer, ibid, (2004), pp. 208-9.

14. P. Johnson (2001), A History of the Jews (London: Phoenix Press), pp. 578-579.

15. http://www.jcpa.org/brief/brief2-5.htm; http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article.php?id=1026 (both accessed 12 May 2008)

16. http://www.palestinefacts.org
/bayefsky%20un%20article.pdf (Accessed 12 May 2008)

17. Have blogged on these at http://largebluefootballs.blogspot.com
/2008/04/overstepping-mark.html

18. E.g. S. Motyer (1997) Your Father the Devil? (Carlisle: Paternoster); S. Motyer (2002), Anti-Semitism and the New Testament (Cambridge: Grove Books); P. Duce, Not Fiction (Letters, Evangelicals Now, April 2006, p. 23)

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