Some thoughts on Al Quds Day, Sadiq Khan, antisemitism and anti-Muslim prejudice

Some thoughts on Al Quds Day, Sadiq Khan, antisemitism and anti-Muslim prejudice

A guest post by James Mendelsohn

No decent person could fail to be appalled by last Sunday’s “Al Quds Day” march through the streets of London. The prospect of Hezbollah flags being paraded through the capital, so soon after the recent terror attacks, was always horrifying.

In these circumstances, it is entirely understandable that many called for the march to be banned; or, at least, for a ban on the parading of Hezbollah flags. (In the event, the flags seemed arguably mild in comparison with some of the chilling rhetoric from the front.)

It concerns me, however, that many have singled out Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, for failing to prevent the march from taking place, in spite of pleas for him to do so. As pointed out by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (“CAA”), and as acknowledged by Khan himself, the Mayor does not have the power to ban the march. Indeed, CAA explicitly notes that

“despite various calls from within the Jewish community for the Mayor of London to take action against this procession, he has no statutory power to do so and criticism of him for failing to exercise a power he does not possess is misplaced. Both the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime have been very helpful in facilitating contact with the right people within the Metropolitan Police Service, and we are grateful to them for their efforts.”

The only person with the ultimate power to stop the march would have been the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd. This has not prevented some from blaming Khan for failing to exercise a power he does not possess; and, in some cases, specifically linking this to fact that he is a Muslim. Here are just a few examples (typos etc in the originals):

Appalling but not surprising. We have a Muslim mayor, so God help us. 

Well fancy that! And as the London Mayor IS a Muslim – well surprise surprise!

Khan is Muslim And he is using his job as a hobby horse which there must be rules against folks should ask for him to be investigated to see if he is using his post to influence people to his religion . If so that should be a sackable offence Split illegencies he should only have illegence to the crown while in a Job like this leave Islam at the door

A number of other examples are documented here.

To my mind, such comments are virtually indistinguishable from the traditional antisemitic libel that diaspora Jews cannot be trusted because they supposedly owe greater allegiance to Israel/Judaism/the worldwide Zionist conspiracy than they do to the UK/US/wherever. This libel has been expressed or echoed by various individuals/publications in recent years, including Oliver MilesPaul Flynn,  the New Statesman and the Daily Mail.

If it is unacceptable to make such comments about British Jews, it should be equally unacceptable to make such comments about  British Muslims. And no, I am not unaware of the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of Khan’s past relationship with Islamism; nor do I deny that his strong words on antisemitic hate crime will only be as meaningful as any actions that follow. One could say the same, however, about numerous other political leaders. To single out Khan for failing to exercise a power he does not have, and to link this to his Muslim faith, is as objectionable as (say) suggesting that “ardent Zionists” in public roles work against the interests of the UK or US.

Many who are (rightly) concerned about antisemitism fail to spot the similarities with some forms of anti-Muslim prejudice. This needs to stop.

PS these thoughts were originally expressed on Twitter, before the news of the horrific Finsbury Park terror attack. Following the attack, I tweeted some further thoughts here.

 

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Ben White inverts reality, justifies violent intimidation

On the Middle East Monitor site, the freelance journalist and anti-Israel activist Ben White has written this piece about the recent disruption, by pro-Palestinian students, of an event hosted by the University College London Friends of Israel Society, at which the Israeli activist Hen Mazzig was the speaker. Some reports of what happened are available here, here (£), here, here, here and here. A cursory glance of White’s article will show that he puts a very different spin of events, essentially blaming pro-Israel activists for “smearing” pro-Palestinian students, rather than blaming the latter for the violent intimidation of the former.

Ben White, of course, has previous: he has (among many other things) claimed to “understand” why people may be anti-Semitic; he has seemingly decried police action against those planning to blow up a synagogue; he has called for a boycott of an Israeli theatre company on the basis of Howard Jacobson’s face; he has recently defended Malia “Zionist-led media” Bouattia. Yet even by his standards, his recent MEMO article is an absolutely shocking piece of “journalism”. Four comments will suffice:

(1) In his third paragraph, White cites UCL’s statement, dated 28 October, which described the protest as “non-violent”. However, he neglects to mention that UCL issued an update to their statement on 30 October, stating that they had indeed received allegations of violence and intimidation. Since White’s own piece is dated 2 November, it is difficult to see how he could have been unaware of the update – particularly as it is available at the same link as the original statement.

(2) Some of the very articles that White himself links to describe, among other things, how a female Jewish student was assaulted (i.e.: held against a door for two minutes); how the Friends of Israel group was forced to move from its original venue to a different room, and how its members were chased across the campus by pro-Palestinian students; how the speaker had to leave out of a rear entrance for his own safety; how pro-Israel students had to leave in threes, under the watchful gaze of the police, and then had the words “Shame shame” chanted at them. By any reasonable standards, these things constitute the violent intimidation of pro-Israeli students, not to mention the suppression of free speech on a university campus. Yet White simply airbrushes these details out of his account.

(3) White quotes a veteran pro-Israeli activist as saying that “I cannot in all honesty say I felt particularly threatened or anxious. It was pretty much water off the proverbial duck’s back.” Tellingly, however, he omits the same activist’s very next words: “However here is the rub. It was very real and intimidating for inexperienced Jewish students, especially the freshers, who had never experienced such visceral hate and nor of course should have to.”

(4) In summary, it is hard to resist the conclusion that Ben White has no objection to the violent intimidation of pro-Israeli students (and others) – most of whom will be Jews and which will include many if not most Jewish students – on a UK campus. He would rightly be appalled if pro-Palestinian students received similar treatment from pro-Israeli representatives. And yet he wonders why he himself is so frequently accused of being anti-Semitic.

James Mendelsohn lives in Leeds. He teaches Law for a living.

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IVP: three writers, double standards?

You’ve probably heard of Inter-Varsity Press (IVP), one of Britain’s best-respected Christian publishers. They have a long history of publishing lots of great Christian books.

Depending on your age, and how long you’ve been a Christian, you might remember Roy Clements, an influential pastor and author in the 80s and 90s. Many of his books were published by IVP.

In 1999, Clements resigned his ministry and left his wife, because of his relationship with another man.  IVP responded by withdrawing his books from the shelves, and they no longer sell them.  IVP now has a completely different management team, but it would be hard to imagine them responding differently today. They withdrew Clements’ books because of his personal conduct.

More recently, Australian theologian Peter O’Brien has hit the news. He’s written a number of books, some of which were, until recently, published by IVP in the UK.

Earlier this year, IVP investigated and upheld allegations of plagiarism which had been made against Dr O’Brien. As a result, IVP have released a couple of statements on their website, here and here. IVP recognise that Dr O’Brien did not intentionally commit plagiarism, but have nevertheless withdrawn the offending books, pulped the stock, and placed them out of print. In their own words, IVP rightly wish to “maintain the highest possible standards of academic writing and business practice.”

A third author, Stephen Sizer, is the vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water. He’s written two books on Christian Zionism (i.e. Christian support for Israel): Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (2004) and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? (2007). Both books are published by IVP.

In October 2011, Rev Sizer posted a link, on Facebook, to a racist website called The Ugly TruthYou can tell it’s racist because it hosts images like these:

 

uglytruth3-stinkinguglytruth2-homerugly-truth-jig

To remove any doubt, The Ugly Truth charges 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.”

Following this, the Board of Deputies of British Jews formally complained about Rev Sizer. This complaint was resolved when Rev Sizer entered a “conciliation agreement”, agreeing to have his blog and website monitored by three observers.

In January 2015, Rev Sizer posted an article on Facebook blaming Israel for 9/11 – a claim more usually made on racist sites such as The Ugly Truth. Following an investigation by the Diocese of Guildford, Rev Sizer was banned from using social media for six months and agreed to refrain from commenting on Middle East issues. His bishop, Andrew Watson, said, “It is therefore my decision that Stephen’s work in this area is no longer compatible with his ministry as a parish priest.”

In short, Rev Sizer’s personal conduct was so troubling to the Church of England that it forced his total withdrawal from any involvement with or commentary on Middle Eastern current affairs.

Rev Sizer’s academic work is also problematic.

These few examples raise questions about the academic standards of Rev Sizer’s work.

A much fuller description of Rev Sizer’s various offences – both personal and academic – can be seen in this 2011 piece by Rev Nick Howard – a piece which, to my knowledge, has never been refuted. If you’re still unconvinced, please read the article on pp.39-48 of this journal. It was written by Mike Moore, then General Secretary of Christian Witness to Israel. Moore outlines Rev Sizer’s numerous misrepresentations and misinformation, as well as his use of unreliable sources, distortions of historical fact, inaccuracies and omissions, questionable alliances, and endorsements from the far right.

You can probably see where this is heading.

Earlier this year, I contacted IVP to ask them why, given their stance on Roy Clements and Peter O’Brien, they continue to publish Rev Sizer’s books. I received some initially promising responses. IVP even said they would remove the words “excellent and informative” from their description of Christian Zionism, as a sign of good faith. They told me it was likely that the rights in the books would be reassigned to Rev Sizer, so that he could develop his writing as he wished. Following this, however, I was later told that IVP would not enter into further discussions, for contractual reasons. Last week, IVP told me that they would be unlikely to release a statement. They continue to sell his books; the words “excellent and informative” have been restored to the description of Christian Zionism. IVP have given me no explanation for this decision.

This leads me to make the following, simple point:

IVP withdrew Roy Clements’ books because of his personal conduct. They withdrew Peter O’Brien’s books because of concerns about academic standards. In Rev Sizer’s case, there are concerns about both. It is therefore hard to understand why IVP continue to sell and market his books. IVP seem to be operating a double standard which, surely, is difficult to reconcile with their stated desire to “maintain the highest possible standards of academic writing and business practice.” This grieves me.

If you also wish for IVP to consistently uphold their own high standards, please send a polite email to IVP’s Publishing Director, Steve Mitchell, at IVP@IVPBooks.com. You’re welcome to link to this piece. If you disagree with me, or have any questions, please feel free to comment below and I’ll try my best to answer. Thanks for reading!

Update:

A Christian contact of mine, who has had work published by IVP, has said he won’t support my “censorship campaign” (his words).
His phrase is misleading, for the following reasons. In no particular order:
(1) If IVP stopped selling Rev Sizer’s books, they would still be available for purchase from Amazon etc (at least until stocks ran out).
(2) At one point, IVP were talking about reassigning the rights in the books back to Rev Sizer, which would presumably mean he would be free to market and sell them himself. Ergo, no censorship.
(3) There is a place for a thoughtful Christian critique of Christian Zionist theology and politics. I am not against that. However, there should be no place, within Christian discourse, for insinuations of Israeli complicity in 9/11, Nazi-Zionist collaboration, citations of writers linked to Holocaust Denial etc (all of which are staples of modern anti-Semitism, some of which are currently being manifested in the Labour Party). Some evangelical writers, such as Peter Walker and Steve Motyer, manage to critique CZ perfectly well, without feeling the need to use anti-Semitic sources and claims along the way. IVP could usefully commission a new study on CZ written by (say) one of those two.
(3) The issue is not one of censorship, it is simply asking why IVP have not taken the same approach to Stephen Sizer as they have to Roy Clements and Peter O’Brien. It is they themselves who say that they wish to “maintain the highest possible standards of academic writing and business practice.”
(4) Stephen Sizer is free to write and publish what he wants (within legal boundaries of course). That doesn’t mean IVP have to continue to promote it, particularly given the standards they set for themselves.
James Mendelsohn teaches Law at the University of Huddersfield.

 

 

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Does Stephen Sizer misrepresent Walter Riggans?

In this post, I will attempt to show that Stephen Sizer has misrepresented Scottish theologian Walter Riggans. He does this by claiming that Riggans says Christians should support both the existence and the policies of the state of Israel. Riggans does indeed say that Christians should support the sovereignty (i.e. the right to exist) of the state of Israel, but says that Christians should support Israeli policies only in accordance with biblical criteria, and not unconditionally. The post is divided into three parts:

Part A: what Stephen Sizer says Walter Riggans says

Part B: what Walter Riggans actually says

Part C: Conclusions

Direct quotes from Stephen Sizer are in blue. Direct quotes from Walter Riggans are in red. Emphasis is mine throughout.

Part A: what Stephen Sizer says Walter Riggans says

(i) On pp.19-20 of Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (IVP: 2004), Stephen Sizer writes the following:

Walter Riggans, for example, elaborates on the relationship between theology and politics in Zionism:

A biblical Zionism, which is surely the desire of every Christian, will be fundamentally about God and his purposes. Thus Zionism, when seen in a proper Christian perspective, will be understood as a branch of theology, not of politics… The state of Israel is only the beginning of what God is doing for and through the Jewish people.

Sizer’s footnote states that this quote comes from pp. 91 & 93 of Riggans’ book The Covenant with the Jews (Tunbridge Wells: Monarch, 1992). The first two sentences quoted are from p.91; the third from p.93.

(ii) Sizer then writes the following:

[Riggans] goes on to suggest that Christians should not only support the idea of a Jewish State, but also support its policies: ‘…in the most modest of ways, I would suggest that Christians… must give support in principle to the State of Israel as a sign of God’s mercy and faithfulness, and as a biblical mark that God is very much at work in the world.’

Sizer’s footnote indicates that this quote comes from p. 21 of Riggans’ 1988 booklet Israel and Zionism (London: Handsell Press, 1988). This is incorrect – it is actually from p. 31 (no doubt a typo on the part of Sizer and/or his publisher).

Note that Sizer claims that Riggans suggests Christians should support Israeli policies; but then quotes an extract that says nothing about support for Israeli policies. Note, also, that Sizer is duplicating what he wrote at pp. 14-15 of this own PhD thesis. Part B, however, will show that Riggans nowhere says that Christians should support Israeli policies, but should be free to disagree about them and judge them on biblical criteria. 

Part B: what Walter Riggans actually says

(i) This is what Walter Riggans says on p. 91 of The Covenant with the Jews.

What we need to do is to find a mediating way between rejection of Israel and the full-blooded ‘Christian Zionism’, so-called, of those who see Israel as the key to all of God’s work in the world today. Modern political Zionism is secular, it is not centred on the desire to seek the will of God. A biblical Zionism, which is surely the desire of every Christian, will be fundamentally about God and His purposes. Thus Zionism, when seen in a proper Christian perspective, will be understood as a branch of theology, not of politics. This does not mean that there will be no political implications or applications, but support for any given decision or action in Israel will have to be judged in accordance with the full range of biblical principles, and not in some unconditional manner. In the same way there should be no such thing as unconditional support for every decision or action taken by the churches or any ‘Christian country.

The highlighted text, which clearly states that Christians should not give unconditional support to Israeli policies, is omitted by Rev Sizer (see Part A(i) above).

(ii) On p. 93 of The Covenant with the Jews, three paragraphs before the extract quoted by Rev Sizer (see Part A(i) above)), Walter Riggans writes this:

it is our responsibility and privilege as Christians: (a) to support the sovereignty of the State of Israel, even though we must be free to disagree with one another on the proper borders, government policies, etc….

Here, again, Riggans does not say that Christians are obliged to support the policies of the Israeli government. Stephen Sizer omits this clear statement. This omission is worse because Riggans is actually repeating a statement he makes previously, on p. 75 of The Covenant with the Jews.

(iii) On p. 31 (not p. 21) of Israel and Zionism, Walter Riggans writes this:

each Christian is free to make their own judgement about the decisions and performance of any Israeli government or agency… in the most modest of ways I would suggest that Christians… must give support in principle to the state of Israel as a sign of God’s mercy and faithfulness, and as a biblical mark that God is very much at work in the world.

The highlighted text makes Riggans’ view clear, that there is no obligation on Christians to support Israeli policies. It is omitted by Rev Sizer, even though it is on the same page as the extract he actually quotes (see Part A(ii)).

Part C: Conclusions

Walter Riggans repeatedly says that Christians are free to disagree about particular Israeli policies, that they should not support those policies unconditionally, but should weigh them in accordance with biblical principles. Rev Sizer, however, says that Riggans says Christians “should not only support the idea of a Jewish State, but also support its policies”. He is only able to do this by quoting selectively from Walter Riggans and ignoring those statements of Riggans that state the clear opposite. It is submitted that such a methodology falls far short of IVP’s stated commitment to “the highest possible standards of academic writing.”

 

 

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Who was Dale Crowley?

Dale Crowley, who died in August 2016, is cited on pp.21-22 of Stephen Sizer’s Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (IVP: 2004). Rev Sizer describes him simply as a “religious broadcaster”.

Crowley did indeed run a talk show called Crowley’s Spotlight on Israel. The show was taken off air in 2006 (warning: link to far-right site). This is what the respected religious affairs blogger Richard Bartholomew wrote at the time:

…a certain Dale Crowley was fired from a Christian radio station recently for publicly blaming Israel for Palestinian Christian woes. That firing may have been unfair, but it was no great loss: the fundamentalist Rev Crowley keeps company with unsavoury characters connected with the far-right Liberty Lobby and its Spotlight magazine.

In what way was Crowley connected with the far right?

Crowley contributed to The Barnes Review (“TBR)”, a journal and website of revisionist “history” that has defended Nazi Germany, denied the Holocaust, and promoted white nationalism. Its blog continues to discuss “the Jewish question” (note the swastika in the background). The Southern Poverty Law Center describes TBR as “one of the most virulent anti-Semitic organizations around.” Crowley participated in the Barnes Review conference, at which participants denied that Holocaust took place, and was a member of the journal’s board of contributing editors (see p.2 of linked journal).

Surely, therefore, it is concerning that Rev Sizer not only cited Dale Crowley but also described him as a mere “religious broadcaster”, without mentioning Crowley’s connection with the world of Holocaust denial and the American Far Right. It is also difficult to see how the citation of Crowley squares with IVP’s stated commitment to “the highest possible standards of academic writing.”

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IVP homepage 10 10 2016

ivp-home-page-10-10-2016-2

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DEXTER VAN ZILE: UPDATING THE ANCIENT INFRASTRUCTURE OF CHRISTIAN CONTEMPT: SABEEL*

Lengthy but worthwhile and well-researched article at http://www.spme.net/cgi-bin/articles.cgi?ID=7683

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