Monday, April 28, 2008

Overstepping the mark

I'm belatedly reading Stephen Sizer's latest critique of Christian Zionism, Zion's Christian Soldiers? (IVP, 2007). If I'm honest, there's a lot of value in his critique of loopy American dispensationalist Christians and their theological and political views. I spat feathers, though, when I read this statement on pp. 69-70:

"The 'dividing wall of hostility', typified by the barrier that separated Jews and Gentiles in the temple, has been broken down by Jesus Christ. It is ironic, if tragic, that despite his willingness to comply with all the petty temple regulations concerning ritual purity, Paul would eventually be arrested for allegedly bringing Greeks into the temple and defiling God's house (Acts 21:28-29). Today, their successors in the government of Israel are seeking to erect a much higher and longer 'separation barrier' to preserve their racial identity and exclusive claim to the land of Palestine."

"Today, their successors..." Why not simply say, "Those racist Jews have learnt nothing"? Since there are both Jews and Arabs both to the East and to the West of Israel's security barrier, Sizer's claim is demonstrably false. Rather, the security fence was built to stop Israelis being killed, and has been demonstrably successful: 431 Israelis were killed in 137 suicide bombings between September 2000 and the completion of the northern and most of the Jerusalem sections of the wall, 100 in March 2000 alone. After the completion of the wall in the north, there was not a single terrorist attack across that section. By December 2004, the number of suicide attacks launched from the West Bank had fallen by 84% in less than two years. (Figures from Sir Martin Gilbert's updated Israel, A History, p. 631.) Since Sizer neither mourns these Israeli dead nor condemns (or even acknowledges) their killers, and instead denounces the structure designed to protect Israelis as a symbol of racist imperialism, I can only conclude that he has no objection to Israelis being killed*.

Sadly, this is not an isolated instance in Sizer's book. At page 8, the Union of Jewish Students (i.e. your friendly local J-Soc) is cast as an opponent of intellectual freedom. On the same page, Sizer refers approvingly to Jewish Voices for Peace, a left-wing hate group which equates Israeli policies with the Holocaust and cooperates with extreme left-wing organisations the Socialist Workers' Party and Revolutionary Communist League. On page 10, Sizer asks, "Why is Israel allowed to retain nuclear weapons, while Iran is threatened with a pre-emptive attack for aspiring to obtain nuclear technology?", yet inexcusably fails to mention that Iran's president has denied the first Holocaust and has threatened to perpetrate a second. At footnote 12 on page 6, Sizer draws on the conspiracy theories of Mearsheimer and Walt. In a footnote on page 15, he refers approvingly to the flawed and highly partisan works of Jimmy Carter and Ilan Pappe (see here and here), and also to Uri Davis, a PLO observer member who helped to promote the antisemitic play "Perdition" in the 1980s, which alleged that Zionist leaders collaborated with the Nazis in perpetrating the Holocaust.

But then, what should we expect from a man who demonises supporters of Israel as "people in the shadows" and for whom Uri Davis, neo-Nazi favourite Israel Shahak and Holocaust-denier-defender and intellectual crook Noam Chomsky are "leading Jewish academics"? For all that Sizer says that "Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally" (p. 15), some of his terminology and sources seem to point in the other direction. If Sizer wishes to make legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies and make theological arguments, he is free to do that: but why does he have to employ such dubious sources and phrases in the process?

Saddest of all, though, is the fact that, Zion's Christian Soldiers? has, like Sizer's previous book, been published by IVP, a reputable Christian publishing house, and has been endorsed by various prominent Christian leaders, including Dick Lucas and Rico Tice. OK, so we cannot expect reviewers to check every source and factual assertion (though we might hope that a responsible publisher would), but frankly this is of little comfort to those of us who are Jewish, who recognise antisemitism when we see it, and who are all too aware of what antisemitism has led to through the centuries.

* None of this is to deny that the wall undoubtedly causes serious hardship and suffering to the Palestinians; it clearly does. I should also say that I disapprove of those instances where the wall cuts into land beyond the Green Line, which could otherwise have been allocated to a future Palestinian state.


Matt said...

Excellent, concise review, James. I hope that more people can recognize where the thinking of those such as Sizer, et. al., are leading to. Your piece is both timely and important, and should be more widely read by those with a concern for a balanced perspective on where Evangelicals should stand on these issues.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, I purchased a copy of the book as soon as it was released, in order to write a review of it on the IVP website. Having taken the time to write a polite and Biblical review, I sent it off, and was surprised when weeks later it had yet to appear. I then contacted IVP again, and asked what had happened. They explained that, while their form includes a rating scale of 1-5, they only place favouable reviews on their webpage (I had given the book a 1), as they wish to make money. They continued that nevertheless, theirs was a policy of intelectual and Biblical integrity. Presumably, such a policy should require them to mention that, while showing a 1-5 scale, only the higher numbers are actually presented!

James said...

Interesting indeed! - feel free to post what you wrote here if you still have it.