The Bishop of Winchester announced a 12-year ban on Rev Dr Stephen Sizer participating in ministry following a charge of antisemitism
Within the Church of England, the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Winchester held a tribunal concerning The Revd Dr Stephen Sizer between Monday 23 - Friday 27 May 2022, due to a complaint made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) against the Revd Dr Sizer in 2018. The result of the Tribunal was given on 6th December which concluded that Stephen Sizer had engaged in “conduct unbecoming the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders,” and his penalty was announced on 30th January. The twelve-year ban means that he is not allowed to conduct worship services, officiate at weddings, or perform other duties associated with a pastor’s role.
Rev Dr Stephen Sizer was ordained as a priest in the Church of England nearly 40 years ago. He is one of the world’s experts on Christian Zionism, his books presenting a comprehensive overview of its roots, its theological basis, and its political consequences. Sizer is just one of scores of people who have falsely been accused of being antisemitic and what is unique about him is that he is a member of the clergy who has sought to stand with Palestinian Christians while the leadership within the Anglican church has remained silent.
The Tribunal considered 11 charges brought by the BoD and found Sizer guilty of antisemitism in only one case which related to a 2015 Facebook post where he shared a link to an article on the possible Israeli role in the 9/11 attacks, and for which he immediately apologized. Following his apology, the president of the BoD at the time acknowledged that the matter had been dealt with appropriately. However, the current President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, would not let it go and so brought a new case against Stephen Sizer focusing on his conduct between 2005 and 2018.
The 36-page judgement by the Tribunal that was read out in December and finished by saying that “The Tribunal does not conclude that the Respondent is antisemitic by nature… to reach the conclusion that he was antisemitic, it would be contrary to all that [he] has said or written and what others have said on his behalf.”
Before the Tribunal Jeff Halper wrote, “As an Israeli Jew and the head of an Israeli human rights organization – ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – I am appalled by the very thought of bringing anyone, let alone such a principled person as Stephen Sizer before a religious Tribunal. What, are we back to the Medieval days of the Inquisition?”
He continued, “Dr Sizer has made a rational, well-researched case for his views and analysis presented in articles, books and lectures based firmly on academic research and religious history. But that is exactly the type of person for which Tribunals are necessary, since analyses like Dr Sizer presents, unpopular in some partisan circles as they may be, cannot be dismissed in academic circles or barred in courts of law. They must be denounced in Tribunals with no moral, legal or intellectual authority, and as in all religious Tribunals, the person maligned and destroyed in order to somehow delegitimize his or her views.”
Following the news of the 12-year ban, Antony Lerman, British writer who specializes in the study of antisemitism, responded stating that “this disgraceful miscarriage of justice against someone who has never uttered a word of hate against Jews will be a permanent stain on the Church of England and the Board of Deputies.”
Miranda Pinch, daughter of a refugee from the Holocaust, long-time campaigner for Palestinian justice and producer of the film From Balfour to Banksy, wrote to the Bishops of Southampton and Basingstoke and describes what many other have concluded.
“I am writing to you in utter dismay at the enormity of the sentence imposed on Stephen Sizer and the subsequent statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Stephen has committed no criminal offence, has not abused children or behaved violently or in any way that can possibly account for the vilification directed at him by the Board of Deputies and embraced by the Church. He has been found innocent of most of the accusations made against him and for which he has already paid his penalty and apologised.
The offence for which he has been found guilty seems to be mainly that of upsetting members of the Board of Deputies, a Jewish lobby group who claim to speak for British Jews, although factually they represent less than a quarter. They are a powerful lobby group that supports Israel and have hounded and persecuted a priest who has dared to criticise the actions of the Israeli government. However seriously the Archbishop may take that, Stephen’s actions are hardly serious enough for any additional penalty over what has already been served. This 12-year sentence, in effect given Stephen’s age, prevents him from ever serving as an ordained priest in the Church of England again.
This pandering to the Board of Deputies over such a trivial perceived offence is a travesty of any sort of justice and makes a laughingstock of a tribunal at which no one was called by the Board of Deputes as a witness against Stephen. If the Archbishop is really concerned about antisemitism, then the conflation of the policies of the State of Israel with Judaism is the ultimate example of antisemitism. Judaism is so much better than that. It is such a conflation of a brutal occupying and ethnic cleansing force who openly believe that only they should have autonomy throughout Israel and what is left of Palestine, that has led to the increase in antisemitic hate crime. Such a sentence reinforces the view in the minds of many that Jews are to blame, rather than it being the actions of the Israeli State.
I stand with many British Jews as the daughter of a refugee from the Holocaust. Many Jews, both practicing, and secular are utterly appalled by the behaviour of Israel. Many are utterly dismayed at the brutal treatment of a priest who has dared to voice in the Church, what the Archbishop largely remains silent about. I also stand with many fellow Christians (as a secular Jew who is a Christian by religion and belongs to an Anglican Church). Clergy friends have also expressed shame and bemusement by such a travesty of justice.
The sentence given to Stephen surrenders to Zionist (Christian, Jewish and political) pressure and by extension forsakes the Church's mission to help oppressed and suffering people. It also abandons Palestinian Christians in Israel and the occupied territories including East Jerusalem who are daily abused and whose property is confiscated or damaged. It shows contempt for both Christian and Jew alike who are trying to live by the values at the heart of their beliefs.”
Dozens of messages of support for Sizer have been sent, including from UK and international clergy, who have also expressed their outrage over the Tribunal’s ruling. Nearly 2,500 people have signed a petition about his case prepared by the Convivencia Alliance
Read the statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury
Jeff Halper’s full statement in support of Rev Dr Stephen Sizer is available here