Sunday, 25 November 2012

Venerable Michael Lawson, Chairman of CEEC, Challenges Accusations of anti-Semitism

11th April 2012

Dear Bishop Christopher and Bishop Nigel,

I write about the Revd Dr Stephen Sizer and the recent accusations of anti-Semitism made against him.

Though Bishop Christopher, you know my credentials in relation to Judaism, for Bishop Nigel perhaps I may outline them here.

I was born into an orthodox Jewish home (my original family name is Levi,) and all through my childhood and teenage years was made conscious of the evils of the holocaust and of anti-Semitism. On my mother’s side many of our (Polish) family from Lodz perished in Auschwitz, and I grew up with, and have retained, an abhorrence of all anti Jewish attitudes and action. When I became a Christian at Sussex University, I did not throw off my Jewish identity and values at all, but rather absorbed my heritage into my new Christian commitment. Perhaps this is why today I have so many Jewish friends, and for these reasons of friendship and promoting understanding of Jewish Christian relations of I was made an honorary life member of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain in 2002.

Stephen Sizer has been accused of “Explicit anti-Semitism, implicit anti-Semitism; and complicity with anti-Semites.” Furthermore the delay in removing the link from his Facebook page has been described as “disgraceful and unbecoming for a clergyman of the Church of England.” The CCJ have understandably described the Ugly Truth website as ‘obscenely anti-Semitic’ which it is. However, Stephen has offered his own convincing explanation for the delay in removing the link.

My purpose in writing these few words, is therefore to give a personal perspective on Stephen and his views, not to comment on the alacrity or otherwise with which he removed his Facebook link.

I have known Stephen very well as a friend and later as a ministerial colleague for forty years. This I would imagine is considerably longer and more thoroughly than most people who would seek to comment on him and his outlook on the Jewish people. I feel I know him well enough to comment with some authority.

May I say I don’t agree at all with everything Stephen Sizer writes. We approach things in a different way, though both of us are very concerned for the rights of Palestinians. Nonetheless, I have not read any statement in any of his books, articles, or teaching or any other place where Stephen could ever be said to be anti-Semitic. Pre-programmed as I am from my upbringing and its unquenched flow into my present convictions, I would pick up any nuance of this kind like a shot, and I would have done so at any point over the forty years we have been friends. He simply is not ant-Semitic and it is very wrong indeed to suggest that he is so.

In his book, “Zion's Christian Soldiers” Stephen wrote, "Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally...I respect Judaism, repudiate anti-Semitism, encourage interfaith dialogue and defend Israel’s right to exist..." Those are clearly not the words of an anti-Semite. I can assure you that if there were even a whiff of ant-Semitism about him, our friendship would have ended years ago.

I hope this personal perspective is useful to you.

All good wishes

Michael Lawson

Venerable Michael Lawson
Archdeacon Emeritus
Chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC).

Permission to publish this letter was obtained from the author and recipient. 

See also letters from:

Dr Mark Braverman, Author of the Fatal Embrace
Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Lampeter University
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Islington North
Professor Scott Elias, Royal Holloway, University of London
Tony Greenstein, Founding Member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Professor Mary Grey, Patron, Friends of Sabeel UK
Dr Jeff Halper, Co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
Canon Garth Hewitt, Founder of the Amos Trust
Dr Ghada Karmi, Exeter University
Venerable Michael Lawson, Rector of St Saviour’s, Guildford
Jeremy Moodey, Chief Executive, Biblelands
Professor Ilan Pappe, Exeter University
Rabbi Dr Stanley Howard Schwartz, Hospice Chaplain and retired Army Chaplain

Church Times:Vicar is not Anti-Semitic
Church Times:Rabbi Clears Vicar of Anti-Semitism
Jewish Chronicle: Bishop: anti-Zionist vicar ‘no antisemite’