Vicar found guilty of 'antisemitic activity' by Church of England

Disciplinary panel still to decide Rev Dr Stephen Sizer’s punishment


A vicar has been found guilty of “antisemitic activity” by a first-of-its-kind Church of England public tribunal.

Rev Dr Stephen Sizer was also found to have carried out “conduct unbecoming” of an ordained minister after sharing a platform with a Holocaust denier and promoting antisemitic material online.

The tribunal heard evidence of 11 instances of alleged antisemitism. He denied the allegations that he was antisemitic but, in an unprecedented judgment,  it concluded that in four of the 11 claims, Dr Sizer’s conduct was “unbecoming to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders,” in that he “provoked and offended” the Jewish community over a sustained period.

The tribunal also ruled Dr Sizer had engaged in “antisemitic activity” in one of the 11 allegations; a post in January 2015 which contained a link to an article entitled “9/11/Israel did it”.

The Anglican priest, who has been suspended from his ministry since 2018, was also criticised for being “disingenuous in his answers”.  His punishment will be decided at a later date.

The Tribunal concluded Dr Sizer “pushed the boundaries beyond what was acceptable conduct, and [engaged in] antisemitic activity when he knew, [what] he was posting was virulently antisemitic“.

The Tribunal chair David Pittaway KC said the question was “not whether the Respondent thought that the behaviour should be described as such but whether the Tribunal finds the behaviour to be antisemitic.“

The Clergy Disciplinary Measure process against Dr Sizer, 68, began following a complaint from the Board of Deputies to the head of his Diocese, the Bishop of Winchester, who referred him to the ecclesiastical hearing.

The President of  The Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl commend 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. ”

The vicar was previously 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.

The case against him is was 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 admitted to having spoken at a conference in Indonesia in 2008 alongside Fred Tobin, an alleged Holocaust denier.

Mr Sizer expressed “his disapproval to the organisers and other speakers” when he discovered that Mr Tobin was present, but did not withdraw from the event. He also said he was “not aware that two persons from Hezbollah were present” at this event. The panel said: "Once again it is an example of where he did not take into account his role as a public representative of the Church, and showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community" but did not conclude it was "conduct unbecoming for an ordained minister," or that he was engaging in antisemitic activity in this instance.

The vicar also admitted to having met senior Hezbollah commander Sheikh Kaouk in 2006, claiming that he “advised” him that Hezbollah should release captured Israeli soldiers. The tribunal said this meeting was unbecoming and inappropriate for an ordained minister, but that Dr Sizer was not engaging in an antisemitic activity.

He also posted to Facebook an item claiming former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was a victim of “the hidden hands of Zionism”. However the panel concluded that Dr Sizer was not engaging in an antisemitic activity in this instance.

Dr Sizer posted a link to an article which was entitled “9/11/Israel did it” in 2015. On this accusation, the tribunal said it was “satisfied that the respondent reposted the article in the knowledge that it would provoke and offend the Jewish community” and that he had engaged in antisemitic activity.

Dr Sizer had added a comment of his own alongside the 9/11 article link. He wrote: “Is this antisemitic? If so, no doubt I will be asked to remove it. It raises many questions.”

The Bishop of Winchester, in whose diocese Dr Sizer’s former parish of Christ Church Virginia Water is situated, suspended the Anglican priest in 2018 pending the outcome of this hearing.

The hearing panel comprised of chair David Pittaway KC, two members of the clergy, the Rev Geoffrey Eze and the Rev Liz Hughes, and two lay members, Gabrielle Higgins and Canon Andrew Halstead.

A penalty hearing will need to take place in future, the panel said.

In a statement delivered by his barrister, Mr 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.

“I do not propose to say any more at this juncture as I pray and reflect further,” he went on.

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