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February 9, 2015 1:51 pm

Church of England Bans Anti-Zionist Vicar From Speaking, Writing on Middle East Issues

avatar by Ben Cohen

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Stephen Sizer addresses a meeting of the UK's Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which agitates for Israel's destruction. Photo: roshpinaproject.com

In an encouraging sign that the Anglican Church is starting to recognize the intimate relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, a rabidly anti-Israel Church of England vicar has been ordered to stop speaking and writing about the Middle East or risk losing his job.

Dr. Stephen Sizer, the vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water, located in the affluent southern region of Surrey, has a long track record of offensive, often antisemitic statements about Israel. As recently as last October, Sizer traveled to Iran for a conference that brought together Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists from around the world. While in Tehran, Sizer ominously declared, “Those who criticize this kind of conference must think very carefully of the consequences of their words for Jews and Christians in countries like Iran.”

Because of these and similar statements, Sizer signed a reconciliation agreement in 2012 with the Board of Deputies of British Jews in which he undertook to have his online activism moderated. But last month, Sizer took to Facebook to promote an article entitled “9/11: Israel did it” and reportedly wrote: “Is this antisemitic? It raises so many questions.”

As a direct consequence, Sizer’s immediate superior, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford, announced today that he had given the vicar an ultimatum: stop your activism over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or lose your parish.

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“Having now met Stephen, in my brand new role as Bishop of Guildford, I do not believe that his motives are anti-Semitic,” Watson said in a statement. “But I have concluded that, at the very least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgment in the material he has chosen to disseminate, particularly via social media, some of which is clearly anti-Semitic.”

Watson continued: “Having consulted closely with my colleagues here in the Diocese, though, it is my view that Stephen’s strong but increasingly undisciplined commitment to an anti-Zionist agenda has become a liability to his own ministry and that of the wider church.” He then concluded: “It is therefore my decision that Stephen’s work in this area is no longer compatible with his ministry as a parish priest. In order for Stephen to remain in parish ministry, I have therefore asked for – and received from him – a solemn undertaking, in writing, that he is to refrain entirely from writing or speaking on any theme that relates, either directly or indirectly, to the current situation in the Middle East or to its historical backdrop.”

Watson made special mention of the sensitivities of the Jewish community, noting that Sizer’s latest violation of his undertaking took place just prior to Holocaust Memorial Day. “I am hugely sorry for the hurt which has been caused to members of the Jewish Community, and I hope and pray that the storms of the past two weeks will ultimately serve to deepen and strengthen our relationship, one with another,” he said.

Responding to Watson’s statement, Sizer said that he regretted “the distress I have caused to the Jewish community,” promising that should he break this latest undertaking, “I…will offer you my resignation.”

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  • David

    So, if there is a connection between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism, how does one ever criticize the State of Israel?

    Answer: There is nothing to criticize.

  • Dian (Dina) Grossman Kjaergaard

    I am tempted to believe that the church wants to silence Sizer because he is so transparent. Without him, more circumspect people can continue their hateful work without confrontations.

    I hope that these thoughts are pure paranoia.

  • There is not an anti-Semitic bone in Stephen Sizer’s body! I know him well. He is pro-human rights and works hard to build bridges between ethnic and religious communities everywhere.

    At a time when the world leaders are marching to uphold the right to free speech, is it really appropriate to sack a man for statements such as “Those who criticize this kind of conference must think very carefully of the consequences of their words for Jews and Christians in countries like Iran.” Are statements like that really to be considered criminal and anti-Semitic?

    • Concerned down south

      Sorry Father Dave, but someone who publishes links accusing Israel of being involved in 9/11…even you surely have to admit that this is not the behaviour of someone who committed to building bridges between different ethnic and religious communities. That Facebook link was classic anti Semitism – stop covering for Stephen. He is a very intelligent man and knew exactly what he was doing – creating incitement against Jews.

  • Greystoke III

    How does any nominally Christian priest, pastor or lay person develop a greater rapport with a Shiite nation over the nation of Judaism? Has this gentleman bumped his head?

  • Dale

    This guy won’t stop. He’ll go underground.

  • Julian Clovelley

    Hallo Ben. I’d like you to read your first sentence “In an encouraging sign that the Anglican Church is starting to recognize the intimate relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism….”

    Do you spot it? – You have just – quite correctly in my opinion – acknowledged that there is “an intimate relationship between anti Zionism and Antisemitism” and that Jewish association with the one is causing the other. You even go further and say “…a rabidly anti-Israel Church of England vicar has been ordered to stop speaking and writing about the Middle East or risk losing his job.”

    So you also recognise the connection between Anti-zionism and Anti-Israel feeling. Three hearty cheers. You may not be giving the message you want to give – but I think you are quite correct with the actual message. Rejection of Zionism is a major cause of both anti Israel feeling and of Antisemitism

    I’d like to take you a step further – to save you the effort of doing it yourself. The attempts by Zionists to make the terms Jewish, Israel and Zionist congruent endangers the Jewish communities worldwide and draws avoidable Antisemitic attack. In fact what you are witnessing is largely not Antisemitism but extremist manifestations of feelings incited by anti-Zionism, repugnance that Zionism draws in both “Jewish” and “Gentile” populations.

    A little more to ponder. It is the Jewish people who speak out against Zionism who actually do the most to preserve the safety of Jewish communities by presenting an (accurate) diverse view of Jewish people, instead of the monolithic (inaccurate)view that Zionism seeks to present

    So attacking Jewish people for voting Democrat as well as Republican, as Zionist extremists currently do, is also dangerous in that it presents the monolithic view.

    Ultra Conservative elements in the Republican Party are playing Zionism like a banjo. They might as well black up their faces and form a black and white minstrel squad and sing “We’s all happy here sah” songs of the deep South

    Wise up – Jewish leaders have been trying to get through to the communities the dangers of Zionism for over a century. It’s a script that creates an unreal world so heavily based on treating mythology and theology as history and material reality, that it attracts understandable, reasoned, and rational opposition.

    Zionism has supplanted Zionist imperialism for the historical role of the International Community, working through the United Nations, in creating the State of Israel. It has poured out a barrage of venom against those who in the past have most sought to help Jewish people, spitting on international law, slagging of the UN and the International Criminal Court, international Charities and American Administrations that have spent billions trying to help and support Israel, and help remove the disadvantage that many of Israel’s opponents justfiably feel.

    I’m probably a lot older than you Ben – nearly seventy in fact. I’ve defended Jewish friends for my entire life since my childhood back in post war London – but blimey mate some of your really make it hard!

    • Babs Barron

      “..A little more to ponder. It is the Jewish people who speak out against Zionism who actually do the most to preserve the safety of Jewish communities by presenting an (accurate) diverse view of Jewish people, instead of the monolithic (inaccurate)view that Zionism seeks to present…”

      You couldn’t be more wrong and I suspect you are being disigenuous too. We see the results of Theobald Jews speaking out against Israel in this fashion, and their views,when they are not merely ignored, are seized upon by the more determined haters and conflaters of Israel with Judaism as evidence of their speaking and acting in bad faith towards their own people as well as to the country in which they live.

      In other words, they are damned if they speak out against Zionism (and not only by what turns out to be a minority Zionist Jews)and damned if they don’t by the likes of you.

      It matters little to me how old you are. In this case I’m afraid, great age does not necessarily confer greater wisdom. This is a complex matter and you are oversimplifying it and speaking with a certainty you have no right to possess.

  • Hill

    He won’t be able to hep himself at a time when it’s cool to be antisemetic. Wait and see.

  • Alexi

    A thank you to the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford.

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