Jeremiah’s Underpants and a Link Too Far: CCJ, Stephen Sizer and The Ugly Truth March 16, 2012Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Current Affairs.
Tags: Anti-Semitism, CCJ, Council of Christians and Jews, Euphrates, facebook, Insane ramblings of a deranged Christian, Israel, Jeremiah, Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Sizer
JEREMIAH’S UNDERPANTS: it’s one of those wonderful Bible stories that for one reason or another doesn’t tend to make the Sunday School lessons, or even the sermon slots; but it did pop up earlier this week, at Evensong. I sat there chuckling at the absurdity of it whilst the rest of the congregation either didn’t get it or were too busy being solemn, as per Anglican tradition.
“Go buy yourself some new underpants,” said the Lord to Jeremiah. “Put them on but don’t wash them.” So off he went and bought some new undies and put them on. A while later — Jeremiah doesn’t tell us how long — the Lord spoke to him again: “Take off your new underpants and go, hide them under a rock down by the River Euphrates.” So off Jeremiah duly toddled and did as he was told: he was a good lad like that; and a while later — again, Jeremiah doesn’t tell us how long — the Lord spoke to him again: “Go back, get your underpants from under the rock.” So off he went and after a bit of scrabbling around, he found the spot, dug them up and — shock, horror! — they were ruined! Yes, ruined.
The story doesn’t tell us how bad the smell got, what Jeremiah wore whilst his underwear were rotting down by the riverside, or whether he put them back on again, and I suspect that without all those details he’d have been hard pressed to find a publisher today; but Jeremiah was no fool: it was self-publishing all the way for him, and no copyright restrictions — he just wanted his story out there.
And the story was wroth: God’s wrath against Israel, who, God declared, were just like Jeremiah’s filthy underpants, rotten, smelly and useless. Oh, for a Euphrates youtube: I leave it to your imagination and any budding film producers out there…
IN TODAY’S WORLD, methinks, Jeremiah would have been declared anti-semitic and reported to the police: how dare he, how dare anyone, liken Israel to a pair of filthy underpants? And in truth, that’s the way ancient Israel all too often treated its prophets, ostracising them, abusing them, and, in Jeremiah’s case, throwing him into a well and leaving him to die.
So who dares speak up about Israel’s misdemeanours today? One such person is Stephen Sizer, an Anglican cleric and writer who blogs at stephensizer.blogspot.com and speaks out freely against Israel’s contemporary apartheid against the Palestinians. I’m happy to say that I know nothing about Stephen’s underpants, but I do know that he tends to use facebook rather like Jeremiah used the Euphrates: somewhere to deposit things that come to his attention, especially links pertaining to Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Stephen is not alone in using facebook like that, of course: I do it all the time with links and snippets about the Christian book trade; but the fact that I post a link does not imply that I endorse everything that you might find at the other end of that link; indeed, if linking carried that implication, none of us would link to anything and the internet would implode, no longer a net at all, just gazillions of navel-gazing orphaned pages. Some people play it safe anyway with disclaimers: those are not my underwear out there, or words to that effect.
Other people, unfortunately, just don’t get it: like the congregation at Evensong listening to what has to be one of the Bible’s most hilarious stories and failing to laugh, all they seem able to do is make like the end of the world is nigh. This week Stephen has fallen foul of one such group, the otherwise excellent CCJ, the Council of Christians and Jews, specialists in Christian-Jewish relations — of which I happen to be a member — and it’s no joke: they’ve lodged a complaint with his bishop and with the police, accusing him of promoting racial hatred: CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website.
Their problem: Stephen posted a link to an article about Israeli threats to Iran on a website called ‘The Ugly Truth’, a site which some members of CCJ have described “obscenely anti-semitic”, and Stephen, apparently, did not remove his link to the article fast enough for them:
We have paid particular attention to a link posted by Mr Sizer on his Facebook page to ‘The Ugly Truth’, an antisemitic website. We consider this to be wholly unacceptable. We cannot accept it was an accident, because Mr Sizer was alerted to the antisemitic nature of the website in November and again in December, but only removed the link in January when contacted by the Jewish Chronicle.
Stephen’s response to that, via facebook, of course:
The reality is I add many Facebook links daily and get criticised weekly. I did not look at the website till January and only then appreciated its anti-semitic content. I removed the link as soon as I found it. Its [sic] not easy to find a link from months ago on FB. The article itself that I linked to was about Israeli threats to Iran. No one has actually criticised the article itself.
… which to me, as another heavy facebook user, makes perfect sense; and I wonder if that is part of CCJ’s problem: they simply don’t get social media? Be that as it may, however, as a member of CCJ, I find the way they have elected to handle this situation extremely disappointing on two particular fronts:
First of all, the announcement itself seems disingenuous at best: entitled “CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website” it is, in fact, nothing of the sort: it is rather a direct, personal attack on Stephen Sizer. Far better, I suggest, to thank Stephen for drawing attention to the site and then go, with even greater determination, after the people who run The Ugly Truth website.
Next, one thing that I’ve always admired about CCJ, one of the things that makes me proud to be a member, is its commitment to dialogue: making dialogue make a difference is one of CCJ’s straplines, used on almost every poster we produce at CCJ Hillingdon, where I’m the webmaster. What, I wonder, has happened to the dialogue process in this instance? Stephen removed the link as requested; and at CCJ CEO David Gifford’s invitation he met with some Jewish leaders where, in Stephen’s words, “we had a heart to heart about what had happened, but nothing materialised except this press release.” Why, I ask, some two months on, have CCJ now chosen to pursue the matter in this way rather than engage in further dialogue with Stephen, or indeed with CCJ’s wider membership?
I have written to David Gifford to this effect, cc’d to the Bishop of Guildford and Surrey police, and now await their response. In the meantime, beloved readers, let’s talk it through…
A brief response from CCJ on twitter, over a series of 4 tweets:
All CCJ has done, in its founding role to combat antiSemitism, is, on receipt of complaints about Mr Sizer’s actions… … to have expressed grave concern to his bishop and drawn the attention of the police to the matter. ….It is not within our remit or competence to decide whether or not the accusation of incitement to race hatred is sustainable or not… … – which is why we have referred it.
A brief response from David Gifford, received today:
Many tx for this. I appreciate you taking the time and trouble to write and have noted your comments, which I fully understand
ELSEWHERE… (most recent first)
- Anti-Semitism Complaint Resolved by Conciliation: Stephen Sizer, 23/10/2013
- Board of Deputies complaint against Rev Sizer resolved: Jonathan Arkush, Board of Deputies of British Jews, 23/10/2013
- Sizer, the Teflon Vicar and the de-Judaization of Jerusalem: Rosh Pina Project, 26/3/2012: Stephen Sizer vilified for entitling a photograph ‘The Judaization of Jerusalem’ – photograph now entitled ‘The Colonisation of Jerusalem’
- Rev’d Stephen Sizer and his ‘disgraceful’ anti-Semitism: Cranmer, 24/3/2012: Fran from Anglican Friends of Israel expands upon her query below regarding my observation, ‘When Israel behaves as it does, is it any wonder that antisemitism is rife?’ and falsely asserts that I did respond.
- End of the road for anti-Israel vicar Stephen Sizer? The Times of Israel, 22/3/2012: Simon McIlwaine, Founder of Anglican Friends of Israel, lambasts Stephen Sizer as “a highly articulate campaigner against Israel and Zionism” and states that “Anglican Friends of Israel have been battling to show that much of the hostility towards Israel is linked to, if not based on, dislike of the Jewish people and faith.”
- Rev. Sizer And The Questions of Veterans Today: Soupy One, 18/3/2012: Examines Veterans Today, an antisemitic website, and questions Stephen’s judgement in posting a link to the site, a link which Stephen has since removed.
- Jesus Confronts Racism: Stephen Sizer, 16/3/2012: With video in which Stephen expounds briefly on the parable of the Good Samaritan; emphatically denies charges of antisemitism/racism that have been levelled against him.
- When Will the Diocese of Guildford Stop Defending Rev. Sizer? Guest post by Nick Howard at Harry’s Place, 15/3/2012: Includes response to CCJ by the Bishop of Guildford.
- Stephen Sizer, the Council of Christians and Jews and Bishop Nigel McCulloch: eChurch Blog, 15/3/2012: Cross-post of Doug Chaplin’s piece, below.
- Interfaith Council and Bishop Issue Statement Criticising Stephen Sizer: Calvin Smith, 14/3/2012: following a televised interview with Stephen Sizer before the CCJ statement was issued; concludes, “The polemical and unnecessarily pejorative nature of the current debate is not helping anyone, and it’s certainly not contributing to a nuanced understanding of the complexities of the Middle East. For that Stephen must take his fair share of blame.”
- Stephen Sizer, the CCJ, and the accusation of anti-semitism: Doug Chaplin, 14/3/2012: Another member of CCJ who concludes, “… this will remain a story worth watching, for a very particular exploration of when anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian support is held to tip over into anti-Semitism. The CCJ thinks Sizer has crossed that line. I fear they may be right.”
Those are not my underpants out there, OK? The fact that I’m expressing solidarity with Stephen Sizer over this matter does not imply that I agree with everything he says, my links to facebook do not imply that I approve of everything on facebook, and my use of WordPress does not imply that I universally applaud everything that’s posted on WordPress hosted blogs. So don’t get your knickers in a twist, and if you do, try a hot iron — but take them off first. Thank you.