Pro Palestine priest barred from ministry for 12 years over ‘antisemitism’

Stephen Sizer. Pic: Facebook

A pro-Palestine priest has been barred from ministry for 12 years after a Church of England tribunal found him guilty of engaging in “antisemitic activity” and of “offending the Jewish community.”

This means that Reverend Dr Stephen Sizer, 69, cannot fulfil any priestly roles – such as taking communion or marriage services – until he has served his sentence.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “It’s clear that the behaviour of Stephen Sizer has undermined Christian-Jewish relations, giving encouragement to conspiracy theories and tropes that have no place in public Christian ministry and the church.

“I renew my call for the highest possible standards among ordained ministers of the Church of England in combatting antisemitism of all kinds.”

On the other hand, the Islamic Human Rights Commission condemned the decision, saying it demonstrates “a lack of moral courage on the part of the Church of England which has effectively abandoned the Palestinians in their quest for justice.”

The IHRC said: “The move against Dr Stephen Sizer comes despite the fact that he was acquitted last year by an ecclesiastical tribunal of all but one anti-semitism charge made by the pro-Israel Board of Deputies of British Jews.

“The single charge related to a link he posted on Facebook in January 2015 that blamed Israel for the September 2001 attacks on the U.S., Dr. Sizer had already apologised to the Jewish community for this indiscretion and the matter was amicably resolved.

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“However, Dr. Sizer once again found himself in the crosshairs of Israeli apologists after continuing his fierce championing of the Palestinians and criticism of the Zionist state. They revived the historic allegation and added others.

“The tribunal acquitted Dr. Sizer of all the new charges but found that he had engaged in activities ‘unbecoming to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders, in that he provoked and offended the Jewish community.’

“We find this problematic. The standard for judging offence and provocation should not be set by people on the basis of their political views. It is self-evident that Zionists and pro-Israelis would be offended by the discussion and support of Palestinian rights. For the CofE to accept this amounts to taking a pro-Zionist stand on the Palestine/Israel dispute. It is not difficult to see how such a stand can curtail or even silence debate by the clergy on the issue out of fear of being disciplined.

“It is a matter of grave concern that the alleged offence taken by two avowed Zionists and supporters of Israel is allowed to weigh more heavily on the scales of justice than the offence caused to millions of supporters of Palestine, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish or atheists, by the denial of their right to voice their support for Palestinian rights.

“While the ban against Dr. Sizer is purely academic in a personal capacity as he retired in 2017, it still sets a dangerous precedent for other clergy which could have chilling repercussions on the cherished principle of freedom of expression in the Church.”

Tribunal ruling

In December 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.

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.

Justin Welby

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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