A vicar accused of sharing a platform with a Holocaust denier and promoting antisemitic material online is facing removal from the Church of England.
The Rev Dr Stephen Sizer is facing 11 instances of alleged antisemitism, as outlined yesterday at the opening of a Church disciplinary hearing – the first of its kind to be held in public.
He denies the allegations or the claim that he is any way antisemitic.
The Clergy Disciplinary Measure against Dr Sizer, 68, follows a complaint from the Board of Deputies to the head of his current diocese, the Bishop of Winchester, who referred him to the ecclesiastical professional hearing.
The vicar had been banned by his former diocese from using social media for six months in 2015, but still continued to make “deeply offensive” and “unpleasant” antisemitic pronouncements, the hearing in London heard.
President of the Board of Deputies Marie van der Zyl said Dr Zizer’s views were “enough to make me sick forever”.
She said she believed Dr Sizer “promotes antisemitism on every platform he has access to”.
She added: “There is a whole series of behaviours in the complaint that you cannot say are not antisemitic.
“It is all really distressing. And to think this came from somebody in the Church of England.
“It is so hurtful, especially the stuff about the Holocaust. It's really awful.
Sizer’s conduct is alleged to have been “unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.
The case against him is that he “provoked and offended the Jewish community and/or engaged in antisemitic behaviour” through a series of actions in recent years.
These include participating in a conference run by the Iran-backed Islamic Human Rights Commission in 2005.
He is also said to have spoken at a conference in Indonesia in 2008 alongside Fred Tobin, an alleged Holocaust denier.
Dr Sizer is accused too of posting a link to an article which was entitled “9/11/Israel did it”, and of posting on Facebook an item claiming former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was a victim of “the hidden hands of Zionism”.
The allegations were outlined in the opening of the case against Dr Sizer by barrister Nicholas Leviseur, who told the hearing at Holborn’s St Andrew’s Church Courtroom: “Dr Sizer displayed deliberate behaviour which we say is difficult to characterise as anything other than antisemitic.”
Mr Leviseur highlighted the media article headed “9/11: Israel did it”.
When Dr Sizer reposted it on social media, he had added the comment of his own: “Is this antisemitic? If so, no doubt I will be asked to remove it. It raises many questions.”
Mr Leviseur told the hearing Sizer's comments did not amount to “a rhetorical question” because there was “only one answer to this question and that is Yes. It is deeply antisemitic."
The lawyer, standing just feet away from Dr Sizer in the cramped hearing room, continued: “In fact the only question it raises is the question as to the sanity of the person who wrote it.
“He would have to have known how offended the Jewish community must be by this deeply offensive document, but he nonetheless endorsed it not just by reposting it, but by saying himself how many questions it raised.”
Acting for Dr Sizer at the hearing, Stephen Hofmeyr QC refuted the claim that his client was antisemitic.
Mr Hofmeyr said that throughout his 35-year career as a cleric, Dr Sizer had never made any antisemitic pronouncements.
He told the hearing: “The impact of antisemitism on Jewish people is as pronounced as racism is on black people. Of this there can be no doubt.
“Dr Sizer has written a book in which he says that racism is a sin and so is antisemitism, and both must be repudiated unequivocally.
“Dr Sizer also wrote in 2008 that Holocaust denial has no place whatsoever in political, social or religious discourse.
“He has also said that legitimate criticism of Israel’s political stance towards Palestine must not be used as an excuse for attacks on the people of Israel.”
The Bishop of Winchester, in whose diocese Dr Sizer's church is, suspended the Anglican priest from his ministry in 2018 pending the outcome of this hearing.
Dr Sizer denies 11 allegations of antisemitic behaviour.
The hearing panel comprises of chair David Pittaway QC, two members of the clergy, the Rev Geoffrey Eze and the Rev Liz Hughes, and two lay members, Gabrielle Higgins and Canon Andrew Halstead.
The hearing continues.