Church tribunal finds pro-Palestine Christian priest guilty of antisemitism

Stephen Sizer. Pic: Facebook

A Church of England tribunal has found a pro-Palestinian Christian priest guilty of engaging in “antisemitic activity” and of “offending the Jewish community.” 

The tribunal ruled that Reverend Dr Stephen Sizer, who regularly speaks out in defence of the Palestinians and criticises Israel, displayed conduct “unbecoming to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders, in that he provoked and offended the Jewish community,” and, in the case of one allegation, his conduct was “unbecoming, in that he engaged in antisemitic activity.”

The tribunal relied on the controversial, pro-Israel IHRA definition of antisemitism in delivering its verdict. It is now considering what penalty to apply against Dr Sizer.

Several other allegations of antisemitism against Sizer were not proven. All the complaints against him were brought by the pro-Israel Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The tribunal ruled that Dr Sizer’s had engaged in antisemitism activity because he had promoted the idea that Israel was behind the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 by posting a link in January 2015 to an article entitled “9-11/Israel did it” that blamed Israel for the attacks.

And it found that his conduct was “unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders” because:

  • He participated in a conference run by the Islamic Human Rights Commission entitled “Towards a New Liberation Theology” in 2005.
  • He accompanied and defended Palestinian Islamic Movement leader Raed Salah in June 2011.
  • He met Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, a senior commander of Hezbollah forces in 2006.
  • He spoke at a conference in Indonesia in May 2008 alongside Fred Tobin, “a holocaust denier.”
  • He cited “Holocaust deniers and far-right figures, in particular Dale Crowley in about January 2009.”
  • In June 2008, he promoted “Michael Hoffman, a Holocaust denier and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist.”
  • He attended an event in October 2016 chaired by Baroness Tonge in breach of an agreement with the Bishop of Guildford which required him to refrain from writing or speaking on any theme that related, directly or indirectly, to the current situation in the Middle East or its historical backdrop.
  • In an interview on 30 March 2018 on Australian radio, he defended the link he posted to the article blaming Israel for the 11 September 2011 terrorist attacks.
  • And he posted an item on his Facebook page in August 2018 in relation to Jeremy Corbyn being a victim of the hidden hands of Zionists.

Dr Sizer admitted the factual basis of the eleven allegations but disputed that his conduct was unbecoming or inappropriate. He denied that he provoked and offended the Jewish community by his actions and/or that he engaged in antisemitic activity.

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He said he had been the target of a ten year campaign of intimidation and harassment, and stated that he has repeatedly and unequivocally repudiated racism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial in his lectures, books and website articles.

Reaction to verdict

Dr Sizer was ordained in 1983 and served in a number of posts before he was appointed Vicar of Virginia Water in 1997 where he served for 20 years until his retirement in April 2017.

He has a number of academic qualifications including a PhD on the historical roots, theological basis and political consequences of Christian Zionism in Britain and the USA since 1820.

He has acted as trustee of various religious organisations, and is the founder and director of Peacemaker Trust, a registered charity dedicated to peace making, especially where minorities are persecuted. He has published widely on Christian Zionism and other topics.

In a statement after the verdict delivered by his barrister, Dr Sizer said he was “most grateful to the tribunal for the careful way in which they approached the evidence and reached their conclusions. I accept those conclusions and the criticisms of my conduct, and apologise unreservedly for the hurt and offence caused.”

He stressed that he was “particularly sorry that I posted a link on Facebook in January 2015 to an article blaming Israel for 9/11, and repeat my apology for the deep hurt that my conduct caused.”


Meanwhile, the Islamic Human Rights Commission welcomed that Dr Sizer had been exonerated over all but one antisemitism charge, but said that the tribunal had established a “low threshold for establishing antisemitism” by adopting the controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism.

The IHRC said: “The IHRA has been widely criticised for weaponising antisemitism in order to silence critics of Israel by conflating criticism of Israel with attacks on Jews for being Jews.

“The prosecution had four years from when the complaint was first lodged to find witnesses (from among the many clergy, congregants or parishioners who have known Rev. Sizer over 45 years of Christian ministry), willing to corroborate the allegations made by the Board of Deputies. They did not present a single person.

“They also had more than enough time to trawl through the texts of hundreds of Stephen’s sermons, talks and videos published online for incriminating evidence of antisemitism. They could not find a single word…

“The central message arising from the tribunal is that the well-documented accusations of repeated antisemitic behaviour made over more than a decade have been dismissed! Only one allegation of antisemitism has been found to have substance – but that was dealt with quickly and effectively at the time by the Bishop of Guildford (as the former president of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, accepts), Stephen apologising for his actions, recognising the deep hurt his actions had caused and stating publicly that his sharing of the material was ill-considered and misguided and that he ‘never believed Israel, or any other country was complicity in the terrorist atrocity of 9/11’.

“Whilst the Tribunal’s decision to dismiss the accusations will come as a relief to Revd Dr Sizer and his family, pro-Palestine activists remain concerned that these baseless accusations have got so far. It is outrageous that the Church, and tribunals in other settings, feel it is acceptable to drag someone through a legal process, interrogating their beliefs because they criticised Israel.

“Dr Sizer’s tribunal shows us how false accusations of antisemitism are used to target and vilify those who criticise Israel. It is incumbent upon organisations to be more vigilant when receiving complaints about criticism of Israel and Zionism. They must not allow their disciplinary processes to become tools to silence legitimate concerns about Israel. Failure to do so will be an abdication of responsibility to their members and to the wider public.”

On the other hand, the president of The Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, commended the tribunal’s “unprecedented judgement.“

She said: “I am grateful to the tribunal for accepting the evidence of the Board of Deputies. The Board will always act to defend and protect the Jewish community.”

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