A vicar has “engaged in antisemitic activity” after sharing an article suggesting Israel was responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks, according to the findings of a church disciplinary hearing.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews made 11 allegations against the Rev Dr Stephen Sizer which claimed his conduct in incidents between 2005-2018 was “unbecoming or inappropriate” in that he “provoked and offended” the Jewish community and/or engaged in antisemitic activity.
Dr Sizer, former vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water, Surrey, admitted the “factual basis” of all allegations against him but disputed that his conduct was unbecoming or inappropriate and denied provoking and offending the Jewish Community and/or engaging in antisemitic activity.
The tribunal found that he engaged in antisemitic conduct with respect to suggesting Israel’s responsibility for 9/11.
He was given a “penalty judgment”, finding that he committed misconduct under the Clergy Disciplinary Measure 2003, which will mean he is prohibited from licensed ministry in the Church of England.
In 2006, Dr Sizer met Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, a “senior commander of Hezbollah forces”, in a secret location in or near Tyre in Lebanon, but insisted he did not instigate the meeting.
The tribunal decided it was “unacceptable” for an ordained minister to make an “unauthorised visit” to a senior commander of the military wing of Hezbollah other than in an official capacity and found Dr Sizer’s conduct unbecoming and inappropriate in that he provoked and offended the Jewish community. It also concluded, however, that he was not engaging in antisemitic activity.
In September 2010, Dr Sizer posted a link to an article entitled The Mother of All Coincidences, which pushed the conspiracy theory that 9/11 was an Israeli plot.
The tribunal said an ordained minister should not have given “the oxygen of publicity” to such an article and found his conduct was unbecoming and inappropriate in that he provoked and offended the Jewish community, although not engaged in antisemitic activity.
In January 2015, Dr Sizer promoted the idea that Israel was behind 9/11 by posting a link on Facebook to an article entitled 9/11/Israel did it.
The tribunal rejected the vicar’s assertion that the article raised “serious issues” that needed to be talked about and labelled it “virulently antisemitic”, fulfilling “all the tropes of antisemitism”.
It concluded that Dr Sizer’s conduct was unbecoming on the grounds that he provoked and offended the Jewish community and that by posting the link he was engaging in antisemitic activity.
The tribunal found that Dr Sizer’s conduct in that interview was unbecoming in that he provoked and offended the Jewish community but did not consider he was engaged in antisemitic activity.
The remaining allegations were that Dr Sizer participated in a conference run by the Islamic Human Rights Commission called Towards a New Liberation Theology in 2005; that he spoke at a conference in Indonesia in May 2008 alongside Holocaust denier Fred Tobin; that he promoted another Holocaust denier and antisemitic conspiracy theorist Michael Hoffman in June 2008; that he cited Holocaust deniers and far-right figures, in particular Dale Crowley, in January 2009; that he accompanied and defended an Islamic Movement leader Raed Salah in June 2011; that he attended an event in October 2016 chaired by Baroness Tonge in breach of an agreement with the Bishop of Guildford; and that he posted an item on Facebook in August 2018 in relation to former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn being a victim of “the hidden hands of Zionists”.
In respect of these seven allegations, the tribunal found it was not proved that Dr Sizer’s conduct was unbecoming or inappropriate for an ordained minister nor that he was engaging in antisemitic activity.
The vicar told the tribunal that he has been the target of a “ten year campaign of intimidation and harassment” and that his views have been “routinely misrepresented and distorted”.
He said that he has “repeatedly and unequivocally repudiated racism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial in his lectures, books and website articles”.
Following the penalty judgment for Dr Sizer, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “I note the findings of the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Winchester regarding the Revd Dr Stephen Sizer and his subsequent prohibition from licensed ministry in the Church of England. It is 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.”
The Acting Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Debbie Sellin said: “It is the Church of England’s task to lead in the work of enabling mutual understanding and strong, peaceable inter-faith relationships for the common good of society, and its ministers must take very seriously their role in initiating positive relationships between communities, locally, at diocesan and regional level, as well as nationally and internationally.”