A Church of England vicar who posted a Facebook link questioning if Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks has been banned from speaking, writing, tweeting or blogging on the Middle East by the Church of England.
The Rev Dr Stephen Sizer has also agreed a complete prohibition on using any social media for at least six months. It is believed to be the first ban of its kind issued by the church.
But Dr Sizer will be able to remain as priest in charge of his Christ Church parish in Virginia Water, Surrey, and there are no current plans to defrock him.
The ruling by the new Bishop of Guildford, the Right Reverend Andrew Watson, imposes one of the most sweeping sets of restrictions ever placed on a serving Church of England cleric.
It follows a complaint by the Board of Deputies of British Jews 10 days ago after Dr Sizer posted a link on his Facebook page to an article entitled “9/11 Israel did it” adding the comment that it “raises so many questions.”
The Board said the posting, just after Holocaust Memorial Day, promoted material which was “unquestionably anti-Semitic” and the Church of England voiced “sorrow and shame” at what he had done.
Dr Sizer is a good friend of the British Muslim community and stridently opposes Israel and Zionism.
Following his Facebook post he issued a statement which said: “I very much regret and apologise for the distress caused by the sharing on Facebook of a link to an article about 9/11 from Wikispooks. It was particularly insensitive in that last week coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day. I removed the link as soon as I received adverse feedback, and realised that offence had been caused.
“I have never believed Israel or any other country was complicit in the terrorist atrocity of 9/11, and my sharing of this material was ill-considered and misguided.”
But Bishop Watson said Dr Sizer’s “strong but increasingly undisciplined anti-Zionist agenda” had become a “liability”.
He said that even other Christians who support the Palestinian cause found his strident stance counterproductive.
“Having now met Stephen, in my brand new role as Bishop of Guildford, I do not believe that his motives were antisemitic,” he said.
“But I have concluded that, at the very least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgment on the material he has chosen to disseminate, particularly via social media, some of which is clearly antisemitic.”
The move has been welcomed by the Board of Deputies.