Stephen Sizer vs Seismic Shock

Back in September Rev Stephen Sizer posted a blog entry about the blogger “Seismic Shock”. He told us that the blogger was being monitored by “various police authorities”, and that

… Having now identified the author as a recent graduate of Leeds University, the authorities there confiscated his computer and have retrieved all his deleted files. Evidence of breaches to university internet regulations and the misuse of university computer equipment are clear and has, I believe, been passed on to the police.

I wholeheartedly support free speech and legitimate debate on issues such as the Middle East conflict, but not the use of anonymous blogs to incite religious as well as racial hatred or to intimidate and harass those you disagree with.

On my own blog you can read of my attempts to meet with and be reconciled to the author of Seismic Shock through an open letter.

Stephen quoted Seismic Shock’s description of his blog as evidence (links in original):

My starting-point for blogging was discovering the links between Stephen Sizer and sections of the American Far Right, the anti-Zionist hard Left in the UK and hardcore Islamists in Britain and in the Middle East. You can look back over the early posts in order to see this.

…this blog is focused on the political outworkings of anti-Zionist and antisemitic theology, as well as the misuse of Christianity by fascist thugs.

Seismic Shock – now using his real name of Joseph Weissman – did not respond to this or publicise what had happened, but we now know that he was visited by the police in November and agreed to delete his blogspot blog (most of it was backed up to WordPress). The story became public last week, after Stephen warned an Australian Christian Zionist blogger named “Vee” that

You must take a little more care who you brand as anti-semitic otherwise you too will be receiving a caution from the police as the young former student of Leeds did recently. One more reference to me and you will be reported.

“Vee” had linked to Seismic Shock, describing the site as a resource for Christians to learn about anti-Semitism in the Church, including “lots of info on Stephen Sizer and Sabeel”. The author has now amended the link description to “A look at anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism which is found within certain Christian circles.”

Stephen’s comment prompted Seismic Shock then to go public with his side of the story, setting off a small media storm. He explained that he had not in fact received a caution, and, in an interview with Paul Lewis of the Guardian, he tells us that the police came on a Sunday morning:

“I was told to remove the blogspot,” he said. “The whole entire blog. They said Stephen Sizer … objected to being associated with terrorists and Holocaust deniers. I didn’t want to argue with the police. I just wanted to acquiesce. I did say ‘Can you tell me what is specifically the problem?’ He just said he didn’t want to get involved in the argument.”

Lewis adds:

We can’t know what was said, or what wasn’t. But if they were seeking to avoid controversy, the police may now reflect that they could have approached matters differently. Among the many to cover Weissman’s story are the BBC, @bengoldacre, Index on Censorship and, with typical gusto, Melanie Phillips. Loads of others are weighing in, too.

Obviously, for any blogger in the UK this is an alarming story. If there was a legitimate complaint about specific material on the Seismic Shock blog, the police should have been able to explain what it was. And if they couldn’t manage that, it seems to me that all they should have done is to have advised him that a complaint had been made and asked him for his side of the story – and given him time to find a lawyer.

But that’s the process – what about the substance?

First, I should disclose that I have had cordial communication with Stephen over several years, and I have found his studies of Christian Zionism to be useful. It’s also no secret that I too am not a fan of Christian Zionism: its apocalpytic forms consist of preposterous mis-interpretations of Biblical texts that encourage morbid political attitudes, and while I can understand that some Christians support Israel because it accords with their wider religiously-informed political perspective, non-apocalpytic Christian Zionism is often bad news, too: a Biblical template is imposed on the modern conflict in ways that obscure its realities, and there is a romantic stereotyping of Jews and Judaism.

Stephen is not anti-Semitic, nor is he a supporter of Palestinian terrorism. I also understand that he has suffered real-world harassment, either as a result of his views and activism, or as a result of views attributed to him by hostile sources. I can see why he would be annoyed with Vee, and it’s sensible that Vee has amended her link description to something less inflammatory. However, I think that Stephen’s manner of complaint to Vee does not do him credit, appearing as it does to gloat and containing an inaccuracy. It’s also the case that Stephen has undertaken courses of action which are controversial and which were bound to attract critical reaction. He shares platforms with people that I wouldn’t be willing to, and he sometimes cites as sources persons whom it would have been better to have avoided and which cast a shadow over his judgement. I suppose that his visits to Iran are attempts to show Iranians that not all western Christians are anxious for a clash with the Muslim world, but they have brought him into some troubling company. I know he would agree that these are all matters that should be open for free debate and criticism, as he indicates the quote above.

As regards Seismic Shock, he has in the past provided me with some tip-offs concerning the BNP’s Rev Robert West, and he has given me some kind publicity through his blog on the subject of West and on other matters. He has also certainly highlighted some true examples of Christian anti-Semitism. However, he also sometimes overeggs things in a way that is misleading. This post in particular set off alarm bells for me; here’s the headline:

Ben White: the Holocaust is a ‘myth’

What is the reader supposed to make of this, besides that White believes that the story of the Holocaust is untrue? No reader would understand it in any other way. Yet when we read on, here’s what White actually wrote:

…Even more relevantly, given the use of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism as a propaganda tool of Zionist apologists, historian Richard Slotkin has described the process whereby historical events become ‘myth’ thus:

stories drawn from a society’s history that have acquired through persistent usage the power of symbolizing that society’s ideology and of dramatizing its moral consciousness—with all the complexities and contradictions that consciousness may contain.

This is extremely pertinent to the use of the Holocaust, not only in terms of the Western consciousness and relations with Israel, but also in relation to Israel’s national identity…

Now, White’s purpose in his piece – written in 2006 –  was to argue that Ahmadinejad was not a Holocaust denier. It was an unfortunate article, especially as any doubt was removed a few months later when Iran held a Holocaust denial conference; and of course Seismic Shock is within his rights to quote it with some relish. But the headline, while pedantically true, could only have been written to imply, falsely, that White is a Holocaust denier – when he’s clearly not. As for Seismic Shock’s writings on Stephen, we no longer have access to all of these – not all of the early blogspot material was backed up [UPDATE: Modernity Blog points out actually that Google cache still has most of the contents] – but we can see the same strategy here.

It seems to me that the police handled this badly, but that Seismic Shock could have avoided his troubles if he had been more careful with his rhetoric (perhaps he realises this, which is why the story only came out belatedly and why not all the material was carried over to WordPress. He has also made an effort to clarify that Stephen is not a Holocaust denier since the story broke).  However, Stephen has also brought some just censure on himself with his disappointing message to Vee.

(PS: since the police do take some complaints seriously, here’s a case of harassment which certainly should be investigated)

UPDATE: Modernity Blog is annoyed with me; you can read the discussion in the comments here.

UPDATE 2: Stephen’s side of the story can be seen on Harry’s Place.

36 Responses

  1. And while the police are at it, could they also investigate the claims made by Israeli Messianic Jew Mordechai Cohen that Stephen Sizer hired him to set up a blog about me through which he sent me threats and insults:

  2. […] Bartholomew has put up a spirited defence of Rev. Sizer. A pity, I expected a bit […]

  3. Your appraisal seems like a balanced one to me – thank you.

    I think most of us want to see free speech online. Few would be very comfortable with the police locking people up for anything short of incitement to violence.

    We do need to consider, tho, how we deal with the problem of gangs of anonymous teenagers who set out to libel ordinary people using the web. At the moment, the victim has little recourse against something that may blast his reputation. Employers do look at things posted online, which is why more and more posters are resorting to anonymity.

    But… it is not good news that all of Seismic’s gang are posting anonymously, and that Seismic himself used at least two aliases, in order to cover his tracks. He knew that he did not want to be on the receiving end of what he was handing out. That looks a lot like power without responsibility.

    That said … what is the answer? I believe we need a statutory right of free speech in this country. The trend has long been towards more and more interference with free speech.

    But we also need to address the cyber-bullying issue — itself designed to silence people –, without interfering with non-intimidatory free speech.

    I don’t claim to know what the answers are, but this whole episode has been a revelation, in both directions.

  4. How old is this Weisman?

    I have a personal protocol not to bother people older than 55+ even if they call me a “black bastard”. I think its best to keep the elderly esp if they are people who make a living from self promotions. There is no point making them poor to be killed by the winter.

  5. […] you might want to check out Stuart’s blog as well and some religious notes on the […]

  6. Richard,

    I’d note that Stephen Sizer appears to be leading a pilgrimage to the 2010 Bavarian Oberammergau passion play. In light of the history of the Oberammergau play (Hitler is reported to have loved the production) this certainly is quite suggestive.

    In any case, I think your treatment of this current flap has been quite professional.

    • Hitler is reported to have loved the production

      I’d better not mention that I own a Wagner CD, then!

      The Oberammergau play of today is very different from the production back then. And it’s hugely popular today – I don’t think the huge numbers of people who take the once-in-ten-years opportunity to go are following in the footsteps of Hitler.

  7. Sizer is blaming Joseph for everything now, reminds me of a well-known antisemitic Russian saying: no water in the tap, the Jews drank all the water – water in the tap, the Jews pissed in the resoviour!

    Sizer has accused Joseph of targetting children, putting his family in danger, burglary and theft, what next… he killed Jesus as well! How many more traditional antisemitic canards can Sizer repackage and fire at, as Stormfront have called Joseph, “the Jew blogger”!

    • As I understand it, he’s complained that Seismic Shock is part of a context for harassment he’s experienced in the real world. He hasn’t accused him of that harassment, and your imaginative extrapolation to claims of killing Jesus is simply gratuitous, as is your reference to Stormfront. Why do you feel the need to go so far overboard?

      • Your view is mine. I am getting very tired of the hate being displayed in attacks on Sizer. I don’t agree with the guy, but the attacks on him are increasingly ludicrous.

  8. “Part of a context for harassment”, what does that even mean it is an accusation and not an accusation, just sounds like the fruit of a paranoid mind to me.

    I had my car window smashed shall I go to the police and tell them it is “part of a context for harassment” that I have experienced in the real world because I also have work colleagues who are spreading rumours about my beliefs and get the cops to visit them!

    Sizer lives in an affluent part of England, I should imagine it is a real target for burgalars, churches are always targets as they don’t always have the best security. To try connect Joseph with that is certainly bonkers.

    If he doesn’t want to be associated with the people he has shared podiums with, he should stop speaking at conferences & meetings where they are. He can believe whatever he wants, I don’t care, but I do care that a state church figure give credibility to events where such characters are also speaking.

    As to my “gratuitous” claims of killing Jesus, you know that the theology of world of conservative amillenial angilican evangelicalism which Sizer inhabits is still rife with those who continue to hold that the Jews are the Christ killers. Not that gratuitous a comment really, but it was a tongue-in-cheek statement meant to also show how stupid the previous accusations against Joseph are.

  9. So let me get this straight. If I write a blog post denouncing someone for defending the views of a notorious Holocaust denier, and I give it a headline which could be read as implying that the defender is a Holocaust denier himself (although my post includes a quote from him which makes it clear that he is not), I have only myself to thank if I get a visit from the police. Hmmm.

    Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference did not come out of the blue. I started blogging about Ahamdinejad in October 2005, when it was revealed that the Iranian state publisher was displaying anti-Semitic literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair. For Ben White to have been acting as his apologist at any time in 2006 is not something I would describe as ‘unfortunate’; to anyone with a serious concern about confronting anti-Semitism it was appalling. And Joseph Weissman deserves nothing but praise for having drawn attention to it.

    • People don’t seem to care much about misleading headlines when it only affects people they dislike. I hadn’t realised that until recently. Remarkable.

      • Re. Ben White – of course it was relevant – he wasn’t talking about the Holocaust-as-myth as some kind of abstract concept, he was specifically referring to Ahmadinejad’s referral to the Holocaust as a myth, and trying to say it did not constitute Holocaust denial because the Holocaust can be construed as one.

        This is how the BBC reported Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial in 2005:

        Ben White however was more interested in the official report by Iranian state TV – and you know as well as I do how trustworthy they can be.

        I was completely within my rights to critique this – it was not Holocaust denial but it was defence of explicit Holocaust denial.

        Four days after White’s article was published, Ahmadinejad announced his plans for a conference.

        I do not think that critiquing this is incitement in any way, nor the title I chose, which you yourself admit was factually accurate.

        But according to your logic, the BBC is guilty of incitement against Ahmadinejad. If this report was written by a journalist in Iran, then the journalist in question would merit a visit from the state police and could be guilty of incitement – after all, the headline provided suggests that Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust, rather than calling it a myth.

        If this argument works for those critiquing Ben White’s defence of Ahmadinejad’s ‘Holocaust-myth’, it must work for those critiquing Ahmadinejad’s ‘Holocaust-myth’ itself.

        Do we really want to go down this road?

  10. Richard, that is a bit of a weak response. I don’t dislike Sizer, I don’t know him, I just dislike it when he shares conferences with Holocaust deniers and antisemites and lends the credibility of a vicar or the state religion participating with them. If he is a Christian then he is supposed to, as St Paul writes, “abstain for the appearance of evil”

    All Sizer can do is send the cops to a blogger who is only reporting to a wider audience what Sizer has already reported to a much smaller audience in his blog.

    “Seismic’s gang”! come on Roger, are you in Sizer’s gang because you have posted comments on many of the blogs that have commented about this? I feel a lot of hate coming from you.

  11. I wondered how long it would take one of the haters to scream “hate” at me.

    Give over, man. At the moment you and your friends are losing credibility like water out of a paper bag. I don’t even agree with Sizer, and I can’t stomach all the hate-posts — all anonymous, all demonising — that you and those like you (or are you all Joe Weissmann?) have posted.

    • Who is screaming anything Roger, don’t get in a tiz, you closed down discussion on your blog about this and yet are freely pursuing the discussion on other blogs, it is your right as it is mine in a free democracy.

      Have you not heard yet Roger, we are all Seismic now!

      • YOU are screaming, anonymously, on a whole lot of blogs.

        Nor am I impressed by your attack on me, for stopping an attempted lynching on my personal blog. Do you think that makes me love you more?

        In case you haven’t noticed, you’re beginning to put people’s backs up. Desist, you idiot.

        It’s not as if Israel has that many friends that it can afford to wantonly irritate people who are basically well-disposed. That’s what Sizer is trying to do, remember? To cause Christian zionists to abandon Israel. Why help him?

      • “attempted lynching” come on Roger!

        “idiot” Name calling now?

        “desist” Who is trying to supress free speech now?

        I don’t want you to love me Roger, I am having a perfectly reasonable debate, no need for all your attempts to smear me and characterise my opionions as “screaming”, that is disrespectful and disingenuous.

        Disagree forcefully, but less of the name calling if you please.

  12. Seismic: White’s article was a duff one, certainly, and I think I made it clear that it “was completely within [your] rights to critique this “. But as you say, he was defending Ahmadinejad against the charge of Holocaust denial. He got it wrong, the BBC got it right. But the plain meaning of the blog headline – which was not supported by what came under it, and which therefore was a detraction from the blog entry as a whole – was that White had declared his disbelief in the Holocaust. And that was misleading

  13. Richard, not sure if you’ve seen this small piece before, but it’s relevant to this discussion.

  14. That hits the nail on the head; the unscrupulous defence of a good cause by vile means of that sort is just what we have seen here.

    But perhaps we shouldn’t just concentrate on one side. I’m sure the pro-Palestinian lot are doing the same (albeit not here).

  15. I am not calling Sizer an antisemite, I am opposed to his regularly speaking at conferences with full-on antisemites and Holocausr deniers.Neither do I believe Ben White is an antisemite even though he says he understands those that are. Neither do I recall Joseph calling Sizer or White antisemites on the Seismic Shock blog. This again is a failure to engage in the real issues by claiming they are being smeared and are the victims of the mighty Zionist conspiracy.

  16. It is a real pity that no one has honestly contrasted, the real intimidation that an ex-Royal Marine could bring to the issue vs. a few electronic messages.

  17. I don’t dislike Sizer, I don’t know him, I just dislike it when he shares conferences with Holocaust deniers and antisemites and lends the credibility of a vicar or the state religion participating with them.


  18. Ben White: nowhere in this thread has it been said that you are an anti-Semite. I have learnt from it that you wrote a blog post in defence of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s views on the Holocaust at a time when he and his regime already had a clear track record of anti-Semitism. I have also learnt that a book of yours encourages readers to consult an essay by a convicted Holocaust denier.

    Are you comfortable with these things? If so, where is the problem with Joseph Weissman publicizing them?

  19. Perhaps someone would look at the logs, and tell us how many of the pro-seismic posters — all anonymous, I notice — are all posting from the same IP address?

    It looks to me as if Joseph Weissman may be up to his old tricks. Are “Aslan” and “Modernityblog” both his aliases, as well as “Seismic Shock”? They certainly seem to comment in exactly the same way, and display exactly the same vices.

    Perhaps someone tech-savvy could verify this hypothesis?

    After all, Weissman has form in this area — the use of multiple aliases, I mean.

    • Name calling, conspiracy theory, sure signs of loosing the argument.

      Who are you Roger, there is nothing on your site to say who you really are or if your name is real! Anonymity is an acceptable convention within the blogging community, and even with your name you are still anonymous to all who read this.

      You can always call the cops, waste tax payers money to get them to trace my ip and pay me a visit because you don’t like my views, it worked for Sizer against Joseph!

  20. Earlier this year, I interviewed Sizer on my blog.

    Despite our strong political / theological disagreements, I gave him every opportunity to speak his mind and I believe I was fair. I was disappointed when he responded by re-posting an edited version of the interview on his blog without a mention that it was edited. Beyond this, he prefaced the interview with what I felt were somewhat condescending comments about the use of my pseudonym. Fine. But my conclusions regarding this brief encounter was that Sizer is not an honest person. Being agenda driven, I can forgive. But dishonesty in my book is a deal breaker.

    I think your post here was fair and your concerns regarding Sizer are shared by many, including evangelical “apocalyptic cranks” such as myself.

    I would however strongly encourage you to watch Dershowitz’s documentary The Case For Israel, to gain a much needed left wing view / apologetic for Zionism. A view which I also share and which I think, if given consideration would be shared by you as well Richard.

    Blessings, Joel

  21. And now CCJ (Council of Christians & Jews) are on Sizer’s back. I’m struggling to make sense of all this – I’ve read & reviewed Stephen’s Christian Zionism, am now reading what seems to be endless bile being poured against him. His crimes seem to be associating with the wrong people and raising awareness of injustice by the State of Israel … and it seems to me someone else had that problem, ended up being crucified. Is that what’s happening here?

    Be that as it may, I find it deeply worrying that the response of a lot of people to the issues Stephen raises seems to be to slap the label ‘Antisemitism’ on him and his activities rather than tackle those issues themselves … ad hominem, anyone?

    • Why is Phil Groom commenting on this blog two years after the last comment? Anyway since he is determined to carry on his disgraceful attempt to whitewash Stephen Sizer, let me point out that Sizer’s crimes are not ‘associating with the wrong people and raising awareness of injustice by the State of Israel’. As Groom knows perfectly well CCJ accuses Rev. Sizer of linking to an anti-Semitic site on his Facebook page and then failing to take the link down over a three month period despite two separate calls for him to do so during that period. No one is denying the substance of that accusation. If Sizer had linked to an anti-black website and failed to remove the link would he still be in his job? For further comment see this piece, which for some time was the lead article on the website of highly-respected periodical Standpoint:

      • Background research, Nick, simple as that. As I said, I’m struggling to make sense of all this; and over the last couple of weeks I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time reading up what appears to me to be an ongoing attempt to blacken Stephen’s name and deflect attention away from the issues he raises; and it forces me to ask why: what exactly is going on here? Why are you so determined to bring him down?

        In my book a person is innocent until proven guilty. If that’s an attempt to whitewash Stephen, then I guess I’m guilty as charged…

  22. Phil, I suggest you read the comment above yours. As Joel Richardson says, ‘Sizer is not an honest person’. You should bear that in mind in your dealings with him and your research.

    • Accusations of dishonesty from someone hiding behind a pseudonym are questionable at best, Nick, and perhaps even more so when it’s a pro-Zionist v/s an anti-Zionist; but both postings of the interview are available for those who care to make comparisons and I’d like to see something more substantial than a vague “my conclusions regarding this brief encounter was that Sizer is not an honest person” before drawing any conclusions myself.

      At the moment, however, I’m not convinced that anyone is playing it straight with me: you are, to recycle Joel’s words above, evidently agenda driven, and belligerent with it; CCJ appear disingenuous in both the title of and their less-than-robust defence of their attack on Stephen; and Stephen seems to be keeping his head down.

      Meanwhile, every time I raise the issue of injustice in Israeli-Palestinian relations – which is the issue driving Stephen – you and other respondents simply deflect back into your ad hominem attacks on Stephen.

      Jesus told those accusing the woman caught in adultery, “Let those who have no sin cast the first stone.” I think what’s happening with Stephen is a parallel situation, and you seem very eager to throw stones rather than look at what has given rise to the situation. In the meantime Jesus tells all of us to go and sin no more: with the judgement that we mete out, we too shall be judged. Please think on that, Nick, as you point your finger of accusation at Stephen.

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