For centuries, Easter Holy Week was an occasion for incendiary sermons and outbreaks of mob violence against Jewish communities throughout Europe. In recent years we have seen a more subtle version of that tradition take shape. Commentaries about Israel, especially in the lead-up to Easter, often go beyond mere criticisms that are similar to those levelled against any other country or government, and are couched in terms that evoke ancient calumnies against Jews as a group. Some of Steven Sizer’s public statements have been in this category.
Although David Rutledge’s interview of Sizer on the ABC RN Breakfast program on Good Friday explored some of these statements, it was a soft interview that allowed Sizer’s self-serving answers to pass unchallenged.
Rutledge allowed Sizer to get away with claiming that none of the speakers at one of the conferences he addressed in Tehran in 2014 were criticised as antisemitic. In fact, as was reported at the time, the Iranian-run Press TV described the conference as intending to “unveil the secrets behind the dominance of the Zionist lobby over the US and EU politics”, with one session devoted to examining “Mossad’s role in the 9/11 Coup d’Etat”, and another discussing “9/11 and the Holocaust as pro-Zionist ‘Public myths’ ”.
Rutledge gave only partial information about, and under-played the full extent of, Sizer’s own statements legitimising outlandish conspiracy theories blaming Israel for the September 11 terror attacks in the US. There was no mention of the fact that Sizer’s own Church in the UK was so embarrassed by his public statements that it extracted an undertaking from Sizer to stop commenting on the subject while he remained a vicar, an undertaking which Sizer subsequently broke.
Nor was there any mention of the fact that in November 2016, Inter-Varsity Press (IVP), one of Britain’s largest Christian publishers, withdrew Sizer’s books from sale and ceased to list them on its website.
Rutledge took it upon himself to tell Sizer “I accept you are not an antisemite”, instead of adhering to proper interviewing standards and allowing the audience to make up its own mind. Under the working definition of antisemitism adopted by the 31 democratic countries of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, including the UK, the US and EU, certain kinds of criticisms of Israel are internationally recognised as antisemitic. It is strongly arguable that some of Sizer’s statements about Israel fall within that definition, but Rutledge did not put this question to Sizer.
Finally, Rutledge should have taken to task Sizer’s egregious comments about Israel ceasing to be a democracy if it retains the settlements in the West Bank. At official permanent-status negotiations between Israel and Palestinian leaders at Camp David in 2000, in Taba in 2001, in Jerusalem in 2008 and in Washington DC in 2010, both parties accepted the principle of “land swaps”. This would involve incorporating into Israel’s territory a small part of the West Bank where the major settlement blocs are located in exchange for Israel ceding to the Palestinians an equivalent area of land from within Israel’s pre-1967 territory.
Overall, Rutledge’s interview was far beneath the standards of probing, well-researched, quality journalism that regular listeners expect from an ABC RN current affairs program. For this he should apologise not only to the Jewish community but to the ABC’s entire audience.
Instead of pre-judging Christian Zionism by only featuring one of its critics, the ABC should for once set aside its customary hostility towards Israel and its Jewish and Christian supporters, and interview one of Christian Zionism’s more able exponents, such as Dr. Jürgen Bühler, the President of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.