Vicar faces removal from Church after 'posting anti-Semitic material'

Vicar faces removal from Church of England after being accused of posting anti-Semitic material online and sharing platform with Holocaust deniers

  • Vicar faces removal from Church of England after ‘posting anti-Semitic material’
  • Reverend Stephen Sizer, 68, has denied that his actions were antisemitic 
  • He said they were political and aimed at the state of Israel, not Jewish people

A vicar is facing removal from the Church of England because of accusations that he posted antisemitic articles online and promoted and shared platforms with holocaust deniers.

Reverend Stephen Sizer, 68, denies his actions were antisemitic arguing they were political and aimed at the state of Israel, not Jewish people.

At a Clergy Disciplinary Measure, the first of its kind to be held in public, Rev Sizer faces claims of 11 separate instances of antisemitism, beginning in 2005 where he participated in a conference run by the Islamic Human Rights Commission called Towards a New Liberation Theology.

He also spoke at a conference in Indonesia in 2008 alongside holocaust denier Fredrick Töben and in the same year promoted Michael Hoffman, another alleged holocaust denier and antisemitic conspiracy theorist.

Reverend Stephen Sizer, 68, denies his actions were antisemitic arguing they were political and aimed at the state of Israel, not Jewish people 

Nicholas Leviseur, presenting the case, said: ‘Dr Sizer faces three separate allegations, each of which relates to activities between 2005 and 2018.’ Pictured: Rev Sizer in 2014

In 2006 he met with Sheik Nabil Kaouk, a senior Hezbollah commander.

He attended an event in 2016 chaired by Baroness Tonge in breach of an agreement with the Bishop of Guildford forbidding him speaking or writing on any theme related to the situation in the Middle East and its historical backdrop.

The vicar is also accused of posting antisemitic material online, including posting a link to an article in 2010 called ‘The Mother of All Coincidences’ which sought to blame Israel for the 911 attacks in New York.

He later defended this post on Australian radio.

Five years later he posted a link to another article on the same theme entitled ‘911/Israel did it’.

There was also an item posted on his Facebook page in August 2018 which suggested that Jeremy Corbyn was a victim of the hidden hand of Zionists.

Nicholas Leviseur, presenting the case, said: ‘Dr Sizer faces three separate allegations, each of which relates to activities between 2005 and 2018.

‘The first allegation is that Dr Sizer’s actions were unbecoming or inappropriate to the office of a clergyman, that he provoked and offended the Jewish community.

‘The second is engaging in antisemitic activity.’

A third allegation says that Revd Sizer breached the Church of England code and caused ‘a just offence to others’.

The vicar, who was ordained in 1984 and has a PhD in Christian Zionism, does not deny the facts but denies his behaviour was antisemitic.

The complaint has been brought by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and two prominent members, president Marie van der Zyl and former president Jonathan Arkush have been called to give evidence.

Mr Leviseur also said that alongside posting an article accusing Israel of plotting the 911 attacks, Rev Sizer asked: ‘Is this antisemitic? If so, no doubt I will be asked to remove it. It raises so many questions.’

Mr Leviseur added: ‘That is not a rhetorical question because of the content of the article. There was only one answer, yes it is.’

Representing Rev Sizer, Stephen Hofmeyr, asked the tribunal to consider the context of his actions in attending conferences and speaking with members of Hezbollah.

‘You will need to consider the purpose of that meeting and what was discussed. Once you know the facts it puts a very different complexion on that meeting.’

He also said Rev Sizer has long been a vocal critic of the state of Israel and of Christian Zionism, which he said promotes the idea that Jews having a home will help the coming of the messiah.

‘There is a distinction between antisemitism and antizionism. The former is directed against Jewish people, the latter is against the movement to establish a Jewish state in the Middle East.

‘The former is directed against people the latter at a movement or institution.

‘If his words or conduct have been antisemitic, he accepts that will amount to misconduct.

‘His case is that he has not been antisemitic and that his words and conduct have never been.

‘That is the issue of fact you will need to resolve having heard the evidence.’

A leading member of Britain’s Jewish community said the views of a Church of England vicar accused of anti-semitism were ‘enough to make me sick forever’.

President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Marie van der Zyl made the comment at a Clergy Disciplinary Measure in Holborn, central London, the first of its kind to be held in public.

He also spoke at a conference in Indonesia in 2008 alongside holocaust denier Fredrick Töben and in the same year promoted Michael Hoffman, another alleged holocaust denier and antisemitic conspiracy theorist 

Ms van der Zyl told the hearing that her organisation is the ‘democratic representative of British Jewry’ and works to promote a ‘sympathetic understanding of Israel’.

‘We don’t represent all Jews because some are going to have a different opinion but it represents the majority of mainstream opinion.’

Stephen Hofmeyr, representing Sizer, said: ‘There was a letter sent by hundreds of young people which said the Board of Deputies risks becoming irrelevant to younger British Jews.

‘The younger generation is increasingly uneasy about the Zionist project in Israel.’

He also referred to the Board of Deputies as an advocate for Israel.

Ms van der Zyl replied: ‘I think it is offensive to call the state of Israel a Zionist project.

‘We are not frightened of criticising Israel and I do not know what you are trying to imply because we have younger people in the Board of Deputies.

‘It is not a mouthpiece for Israel. Of course I love Israel and I am a Zionist, but we do criticise Israel.

‘We have no influence in respect of Israel. We do not have any part of our organisation that is to do with it.

‘We have criticised them and you can look that up on the Internet.’

In a testy exchange Mr Hofmeyr asked Ms van der Zyl repeatedly to answer yes or no to his questions.

He said: ‘I would really like you to answer the questions.’

‘I am but you are repeating yourself.’

‘I’m having to because you are arguing instead of answering the questions.’

Ms van der Zyl shot back: ‘I believe you are just trying to score points.’

Discussing the allegations against Revd Sizer she said: ‘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.

‘If my grandfather could see this.’

She also said in her witness statement that Revd Sizer promotes antisemitism on every platform he has access to.

The complaint has been brought by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and two prominent members, president Marie van der Zyl (pictured) and former president Jonathan Arkush have been called to give evidence

‘We have suffered antisemitism and you are trying to make out we are some sort of outpost for Israel. That is just delusional.

‘Posting that the holocaust did not happen, you cannot get much lower than that. A priest!

‘I never imagined that a priest could do such things.’

Mr Hofmeyr also asked about the first allegation in which Revd Sizer attended a conference at SOAS University in 2005 where he spoke alongside a representative of Hezbollah.

‘You did not attend the conference, you do not know what was said. You cannot give us first-hand evidence of what happened, can you?’

Ms van der Zyl said: ‘He spoke alongside Hezbollah, a terrorist organisation. I don’t think it matters what was said.

‘These are the people he chose to share a platform with,. Just like Jeremy Corbyn, he shared platforms with terrorists as well. It is the company he keeps.’

Mr Hofmeyr said that Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, a Hezbollah military commander who Revd Sizer met in summer 2006, once spoke in the UK Parliament.

‘That would mean that anyone who speaks in Parliament would be an antisemite by association, wouldn’t it?’

He added: ‘Did you know that he helped to negotiate the release of Israeli soldiers. That puts that meeting in quite a different light, doesn’t it?’

Ms van der Zyl said: ‘I find that absolutely farcical.’

The Bishop of Winchester, in whose diocese Revd Sizer’s church is, suspended the Anglican priest from his ministry in 2018 pending the outcome of this hearing.

Revd Sizer denies 11 allegations of antisemitic behaviour, which include attending conferences and accompanying holocaust deniers.

He is also accused of accompanying and defending an Islamic Movement leader Raed Salah in June 2011.

The hearing continues tomorrow.  

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