What’s the problem with our vicar going Iran to stand alongside convicted anti-Semites and talk about “the Israel lobby” and “how it influences Western capitals”? What’s all the fuss?
That’s what the Church of England seemed to be asking us this week, when we approached them for comment on Rev. Stephen Sizer, after he attended a “conference of anti-Semites” in Tehran. One of their press officers even asked us whether “it was the turn of phrase” that most bothered us.
In the end, they came back with a limp and predictable holding statement saying they would look into whether he breached the terms of a Conciliation Agreement struck between the Church and the Board of Deputies in 2012.
Never has a point been quite so spectacularly missed. It’s not about what he said out there, or whether it breaches Section 2, Paragraph 6 of an agreement. It’s the fact that he went in the first place.
This is an event that included talks such as “Mossad’s involvement in 9/11” and the subsequent “Zionist cover-up”. It isn’t just at the far end of the scale: it’s so far off it that the scale’s now just a small Star of David on the horizon.
And let’s not pretend this isn’t about Jews. Throughout modern history, anti-Semites have railed against “the Jewish lobby” and now Sizer’s preferred subject matter is “the Israel lobby”. Come on, Reverend. Who’s kidding who here?
The reverend has a history of goading the Jews with statements about Israel, much like MPs David Ward and George Galloway, and French comedian Dieudonne Mbala Mbala, who incidentally attended. Together they must comprise Sizer’s Holy Trinity.
Despite what the Church of England would want us to believe, the story is not about an anti-Israel cleric continuing to be anti-Israel.
It is about the Church of England utterly failing to grasp that this is not about the Conciliation Agreement between the Board of Deputies and Stephen Sizer. It is about conduct unbecoming a priest of holy orders. It is about an organisation either unable or unwilling to discipline its troops for giving credence to racists and bigots.
As the Board’s Jonathan Arkush says, Sizer “could have stood there and preached the gospel for all we care – it’s the fact that he went and leant legitimacy not only to a line-up of anti-Semites but also to a regime that persecutes Christians”.