Why the ABC should apologise for its Good Friday interview of Rev Dr Stephen Sizer

April 11, 2018 by Peter Wertheim
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For centuries, Easter Holy Week was an occasion for incendiary sermons and outbreaks of mob violence against Jewish communities throughout Europe…writes Peter Wertheim.

Peter Wertheim

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 Rev Dr Steven Sizer’s public statements have been in that vein and were explored, in part, in David Rutledge’s interview of Sizer on the ABC RN Breakfast program on Good Friday.

In fairness to David Rutledge, he did question Sizer about his 2014 appearance at the New Horizon conference in Tehran, and about his 2015 Facebook post which blamed Israel for the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001.  He asked Sizer “do you accept you do sail pretty close to the wind or at least invite that accusation [of antisemitism]?”

However, on any fair view, David Rutledge projected a generally supportive attitude towards Sizer from the outset, which resulted in a soft interview that allowed Sizer’s self-serving, inaccurate answers to pass unchallenged.

For example, David 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 government-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’ ”.

Rev Dr Steven Sizer

In questioning Sizer, David Rutledge gave only partial information about, and under-played the full extent of, Sizer’s own statements legitimising outlandish conspiracy theories that blame Israel for the September 11 terror attacks in the US.  The audience was not informed that the link which Sizer posted on his Facebook page in 2015 was to an article entitled “9/11 Israel did it”, and that Sizer publicly apologised for posting it. There was no mention of the fact that Sizer’s Church in the UK had been so embarrassed by his public statements that it had extracted an undertaking from Sizer to stop commenting on the subject while he remained a vicar, an undertaking which Sizer 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.

Worse still, David Rutledge took it upon himself to tell Sizer “I accept you are not an antisemite”, instead of allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews described Sizer’s 2015 Facebook post as “unquestionably anti-Semitic” and the Church of England voiced “sorrow and shame” at what he had done.

Under the working definition of antisemitism adopted by the 31 democratic countries of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, including the UK, the US and most EU countries, certain kinds of criticism of Israel are internationally recognised as antisemitic.  It is strongly arguable that some of Sizer’s statements about Israel, including his promotion of conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, and his opposition to Israel as an expression of the Jewish people’s right of self-determination, fall within that definition. This question was not put to Sizer, and David Rutledge ought not to have made the concession that Sizer is not an antisemite.

Sizer should also have been challenged over his 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.

When David Rutledge told Sizer “You seem to have stuck your neck out further than most”, it was said as an admiring, not a critical, statement.
Overall, I believe the interview was far beneath the standards of probing, well-researched, journalism that regular listeners expect from an ABC RN current affairs program.  For this reason we called for the ABC to apologise not only to the Jewish community but to the ABC’s entire audience.

It also seems odd to us that an examination by the ABC of any idea, such as Christian Zionism, should feature only one of its critics.   The ABC audience is surely entitled to know what Christian Zionism is from the point of view of a knowledgeable and articulate exponent, not merely from the point of view of a harsh and discredited critic.

The ABC said it received only one formal complaint about the interview. The interview occurred on the eve of the festival of Pesach (Passover).  For Jewish people it is both a religious and a national holiday.  According to a just-completed study by Monash University, Pesach is observed by 90% of Jewish Australians. Jewish families began their preparations for Pesach on the morning of the interview, so it comes as little surprise that few of them initially would have heard or responded to the interview.

However, our organisation subsequently received some two dozen email, text and phone complaints, an unusually high level of response for our community.  The fact that these complaints were not directed to the ABC indicates to us a loss of faith in the ABC’s internal complaints process and perhaps in the culture of the ABC itself.

We have written to the ABC’s Managing Director offering to meet with her, David Rutledge and his producer to discuss these matters further and to give them an opportunity to respond.

 

Peter Wertheim is the co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

 

Comments

7 Responses to “Why the ABC should apologise for its Good Friday interview of Rev Dr Stephen Sizer”
  1. Gary Inberg says:

    Peter,

    any response from the ABC?

    • Leon Poddebsky says:

      The ABC derives an enormous amount of gratification from seeing Jews squirm; that is why it actually cultivates people like this ABC-revered reverend.

  2. Leon Poddebsky says:

    For supersessionist Christians no source of chagrin can be more dismaying than the spectacle of Jewish independence in the form of the Jewish nation-state, Israel.
    That reality eats away at their innards, and causes them endless insomnia, for it contradicts one of the pillars of Christian theology, the one that asserts that the Jews must forever remain a degraded pariah people.
    Hence the support for Hamas; hence the slanders against Israel.

  3. Liat Kirby says:

    This is all very disturbing. I had not heard of Reverend Sizer before reading Peter Wertheim’s article and am so pleased that a formal complaint has been made to the ABC. It’s just like them to airily respond with the fact that they received minimum complaints, ignoring the fact that it was Pesach when the interview was broadcast. Indeed, why would a Jew be listening on Good Friday morning to a programme of this kind anyway!? The ABC have a responsibility to all its listeners to refrain from scheduling this kind of sensationalist rubbish on Good Friday or any other day.

    ABC RN have run documentary programmes in the past that have been highly critical of Israel, with the criticism being presented in the guise of distortion of facts and history, and the producer/writer of the material having heavy bias against Israel. So, in that sense, this effort of David Rutledge’s is not new, although it seems he’s soft, weak and lacking in perception, rather than having a particular agenda.
    What a travesty, just the same. And an ironic travesty at that. On Good Friday the ABC chooses to air an interview that goes against the precepts of the man Jesus, a Jewish man paramount to Christian worship, and peddles the age old anti-Semitism existing in the Gospels written by his followers and most obviously manifest in the mind of Reverend Steven Sizer. Just what can they be thinking here? How production-wise and with time scheduling in mind, could this have happened on Good Friday/first day of Pesach? Hopefully we shall get some answers to ECAJ’S efforts.

  4. Hilary Rubinstein says:

    This is an excellent critique of the ABC’s interview with the Reverend Sizer. Reverend Sizer campaigns in Africa and Asia against Christian support for Israel, and his book denouncing Christian Zionism has been translated into several languages. Many Jews will probably shrug their shoulders and say something along the lines of “What else is new? What do you expect from a churchman? Isn’t undermining Jews and Judaism what the Christian church has done virtually since its inception?” Such a view discounts the view expounded by such Christian thinkers as the 19th century English magazine editor Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna (the Canon of Norwich’s daughter) and the 20th century Reverend James Parkes – both Anglicans like Stephen Sizer – that Judaism constitutes its own path to redemption. Stephen Sizer, in contrast to them, is a supersecessionist, holding that the Almighty’s Covenant with the Jewish People is null and void and that Jews can only be redeemed by accepting Jesus as their saviour. His capacity for doing the pro-Israel cause enormous damage shouldn’t be underestimated, and it’s good to read so able a statement as Mr Wertheim’s. Although by no means as potentially influential as his ABC broadcast and not as scandalous, Sizer also got his viewpoint across on a broadcast from Adelaide on the Reverend Lynn Arnold’s programme, the latter being the same Lynn Arnold who was once premier of South Australia. Arnold encouraged listeners to look at Reverend Sizer’s two websites for more information about his opposition to Christian Zionism. The broadcast can be heard at https://soundcloud.com/lifefmadelaide-1/sets/sunday-nights-with-lynn-arnold-stephen-sizer The Reverend Sizer has also been interviewed on 3CR in Melbourne!

  5. Raymond Phillips says:

    The fire and brimstone preaching is one many reasons I walked away from the church. I follow and practice Judaism in saying that I am still not Jewish. But does that matter?

  6. Michael Burd says:

    Peter isn’t this all part of diversity, inclusion , tolerance etc

    You should have been at anti Jewish rally in Melbourne to listen to our Muslim/Arab commity member day the Jews in Israel should go back to Europe
    Oh multiculturalism working well here huh?

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