Bishop: anti-Zionist vicar 'no antisemite'

Bishop Hill

Bishop Hill

A Church of England vicar has been backed by his diocesan bishop after promoting a website which supports Holocaust denial and warns of a Zionist conspiracy controlling the world.

Reverend Stephen Sizer received the support of the Bishop of Guildford, the Right Reverend Christopher Hill, a former chaplain to the Queen, following calls for him to be suspended for linking to the site.

The bishop said Rev Sizer "repudiates antisemitism and Holocaust denial" and had "only intended" to draw his followers' attention to a specific article about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear weapons programme.

Rev Sizer used his Facebook profile to link to the piece on American website The Ugly Truth, a site which claims to highlight "Zionism, Jewish extremism and a few other nasty items making our world uninhabitable today".

Rev Stephen Sizer

Rev Stephen Sizer

It runs cartoons in celebration of Holocaust deniers, blames Israel for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and supports Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuclear ambition.

Rev Sizer, senior pastor of the Anglican Christ Church in Virginia Water, Surrey, is a passionate anti-Israel activist who regularly uses his Facebook page to promote anti-Zionist articles and websites to his nearly 900 followers.

He has written two books on the "manifestation" of Christian Zionism, blaming Christian Zionists for prolonging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both books were praised by Bishop Hill.

Another Church of England vicar, Reverend Nick Howard, encouraged Bishop Hill to suspend Rev Sizer for promoting The Ugly Truth. The bishop, suggesting that Rev Sizer might have posted the link accidentally, responded by saying he could see nothing in Rev Sizer's actions "which would merit disciplinary matters, not least because differing political opinions are definitely exempted from disciplinary proceedings in the Church of England". (In fact, the Bishop of Willesden was suspended in 2010 after using his Facebook page to make inappropriate remarks about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.)

Rev Howard said: "If Rev Hill withdrew his support it would be extremely difficult for Stephen Sizer to carry on. But as long as his diocesan bishop is sticking by him his position is secure. It is astonishing that he is still in his job. Posting that link shows he is not just an opponent of Israel but an opponent of Jewish people. It's a game-changer."

But a senior diocese official said Rev Howard was "mischief-making" and "building up guilt by implication". He said the diocese viewed the criticism of Rev Sizer as a "form of political campaign" against him.

In a joint statement, Bishop Hill and the Diocese of Guildford said: "Rev Stephen Sizer has made it clear on many occasions that he repudiates racism, antisemitism and denial of the Holocaust. His intention was only to draw the attention of his Facebook followers to a specific article."

Rev Sizer removed the link on Wednesday, after JC inquiries.

Simon McIlwaine of Anglican Friends of Israel said: "Rev Sizer must be properly and independently investigated by an ecclesiastical court. We cannot consider the apparent brush-off by the Bishop of Guildford to be a remotely satisfactory response.

"The allegations against Rev Sizer, if substantiated, are potentially extremely damaging to Jewish-Christian relations and undermine the good work of church leaders to atone for historical institutional antisemitism."

Lambeth Palace confirmed it had received "correspondence" about Rev Sizer's conduct, but said no official complaints had been made against him. A spokeswoman said it was "a matter for the Diocese of Guildford".

Last updated: 12:45pm, January 5 2012