Church bans 9/11 Israel conspiracy priest from using social media
The Rev Stephen Sizer banned by Church from using social media or any campaigning on Middle East after sharing 'clearly anti-Semitic' material
1:37PM GMT 09 Feb 2015
A vicar who promoted conspiracy theories that Israel was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks on the internet has been banned from speaking, writing, tweeting or blogging on the Middle East by the Church of England.
The Rev Dr Stephen Sizer has also agreed a complete prohibition on using any social media for at least six months. It is believed to be the first ban of its kind issued by the church.
But Dr Sizer will be able to remain as priest in charge of his Christ Church parish in affluent Virginia Water, Surrey, and there are no current plans to defrock him.
The ruling by the new Bishop of Guildford, the Right Reverend Andrew Watson, imposes one of the most sweeping sets of restrictions ever placed on a serving Church of England cleric.
It follows a complaint by the Board of Deputies of British Jews 10 days ago after Dr Sizer posted a link on his Facebook page to an article entitled “9/11 Israel did it” adding the comment that it “raises so many questions.”
The Board said the posting, just after Holocaust Memorial Day, promoted material which was “unquestionably anti-Semitic” and the Church of England voiced “sorrow and shame” at what he had done.
Dr Sizer, who has a long history of disputes with Jewish community leaders over blog postings and other online activities voicing his strident views on Israel and Zionism.
Last year he infuriated Jewish community leaders by taking part in a conference in Iran which was dubbed an “anti-Semitic hate-fest”.
In 2013 the cleric reached a mediated deal with the Board of Deputies in which agreed to moderate the tone and nature of postings and links on his blog on the subject of Israel and Palestine.
Although Dr Sizer removed the posting after complaints, he initially continued to defend it insisting that he was “encouraging debate” about “serious allegations” – insisting that he could not be sure Israel was not behind the 2001 atrocities in the US.
Speaking from Uganda, where he was travelling at the time, he accused the Board of Deputies of “harassment” and said they had seized on “one little link” in order to “discredit” him.
But just over 24 hours later, by which time he was back in the UK, he issued an apology through the Diocese of Guildford.
Now, under special measures agreed by Bishop Watson, he has signed an agreement to refrain from any public discussion on the Middle East and stay off Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.
Bishop Watson said Dr Sizer's "strong but increasingly undisciplined anti-Zionist agenda" had become a "liability".
He said that even other Christians who support the Palestinian cause found his strident stance counterproductive.
"Having now met Stephen, in my brand new role as Bishop of Guildford, I do not believe that his motives were antisemitic," he said.
"But I have concluded that, at the very least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgment on the material he has chosen to disseminate, particularly via social media, some of which is clearly antisemitic."
The move has been welcomed by the Board of Deputies.
Bishop Watson said it was theoretically still open to someone to trigger formal steps under the Church's disciplinary procedures against Dr Sizer but that the path taken was likely to be much more quick and effective.
"It seemed the right way to go forward," he said.
"We could have gone down a legal, Clergy Discipline Measure route - if we had done that the outcome would have been, actually less certain and it would also have taken a very long time.
"It is my judgment that particularly in the context of the alarming rise of antisemitic crime within our country that it was important for me to be able to hold a press conference quite quickly like this rather than for months and months to have to stand behind [saying] 'I can't comment until the legal process has worked its way through.
"If he is not repentant, if he continues working in this way I've made it very clear that he will go."
Jonathan Arkush, vice president of the Board of Deputies, said: "The Board of Deputies referred these matters regarding Rev Sizer to the Diocese of Guildford who have acted swiftly to resolve them.
"The Board has expressed its full acknowledgment of the undertakings asked of Rev Sizer and their implications and we are grateful that the Church shared our deep concern that Rev Sizer had indeed crossed a line in the offensive materials he was posting and linking to online.
"The Board of Deputies now hopes that Rev Sizer's unbecoming and inappropriate conduct has now been brought to a close. The Board together with the Diocese of Guildford and the Church of England strongly believe that good community relations are based on mutual respect and trust, which we now hope can be restored after this very unhappy episode."