Although unable to find evidence of antisemitism, a Church of England tribunal banned Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer, a noted critic of Christian Zionism, from clergy activities for 12 years.
BY JEFF WRIGHT 4
REV DR STEPHEN SIZER (PHOTO: STEPHENSIZER.COM)
On Monday, January 30, a Disciplinary Tribunal of the Church of England imposed upon the Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer a 12-year ban on clergy activities following its December ruling that Sizer engaged in “conduct unbecoming the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders.”
Sizer—who before his retirement served for twenty years as vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water, Surrey—is barred from licensed ministry in the Church of England. He cannot conduct worship, officiate at weddings, or perform other duties associated with the work of a pastor.
The charges of antisemitism were brought to the Church of England by Marie van der Zyl on behalf the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), for which she serves as the current president. The BoD describes itself as “the voice of the UK Jewish community.”
Sizer is known around the globe for his critique of Christian Zionism and his opposition to what many human rights organizations and others are now describing as Israeli apartheid. His book, Christian Zionism: a roadmap to Armageddon, along with many other writings, speeches and posts on social media made him a target of Zionists.
In his 60-page witness statement prepared for the Tribunal, he wrote, “I have repeatedly and unequivocally repudiated racism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial in my lectures, books and website articles.”
Hearing of the impending trial, last June 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?”
Halper 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.”
In a statement released shortly after Sizer’s trial in December last year, the Islamic Human Rights Commission wrote,
The prosecution had four years from when the complaint was first lodged to find witnesses (from among the many clergy, congregants or parishioners who have known Rev. Sizer over 45 years of Christian ministry), willing to corroborate the allegations made by the Board of Deputies. They did not present a single person. They also had more than enough time to trawl through the texts of hundreds of Stephen’s sermons, talks and videos published online for incriminating evidence of antisemitism. They could not find a single word. At Stephen’s tribunal, his barrister Stephen Hofmeyr KC, was quoted in the Daily Mail, as saying, “It is significant that not one word or statement from Dr Sizer has been shown to be antisemitic. There are none.”
In a response to last week’s 36-page judgment by the Tribunal, the U.K.’s Jewish Voice for Labor (JVL) described what it called the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ “vendetta” against Sizer. His work, JVL explained, “brought him into conflict with the Board of Deputies which has, over the last decade, lodged a series of complaints against him alleging antisemitism.” JVL described Sizer as a “victim of a campaign to brand him as an antisemite,” writing, “most of the charges relied on biased sources citing little or no evidence….”
“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,” tweeted well-known writer Antony Lerman.
Some mainline media reports have implied that Sizer was found guilty of multiple antisemitic offenses. But the Tribunal—which considered 11 charges brought by the BoD—made a finding of antisemitism in only one case which related to a 2015 Facebook post where Sizer 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.
Even the Church of England’s Tribunal said of Sizer, “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.”
Still, following last week’s imposition of discipline, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said, “It is clear that the behaviour of Stephen Sizer has undermined Christian-Jewish relations.”
One is left to wonder why the Archbishop would release such a statement: charges were brought only by the BoD; not a single witness was present in the Tribunal to back up claims of antisemitism; and Sizer had the overwhelming support of those who know him best. An attempt by Mondoweiss to reach the Archbishop or any member of the Tribunal was rejected by the Church of England’s press office.
Some have suggested that leaders in western churches have once again deferred to the criticism of Zionists, seeking to maintain the church’s relationships with Jews by refraining from criticism of the State of Israel and the political program of Zionism.
In their review of the Tribunal’s decision, the JVL writes, “…the Church cannot avoid the consequences of ceding to the BoD the role of unchallengeable representative of ‘The Jewish Community’. It has granted the Board the right to dictate what shall be deemed offensive to Jews. It has bowed to pressure….”
Writing to the Tribunal earlier in January, before it imposed its judgment, the Rt. Rev. Riah H. Abu El-Assal, retired Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem and the Middle East, expressed his support for Sizer and said, “Sadly as a consequence of what I can only call western appeasement, Palestinian Christians became an endangered species in the birth place of our faith, and the Church at large in the Holy Land is close to extinction.”
In a letter to the Church of England last week, posted on its Facebook page, Jewish Network for Palestine lamented, that Sizer’s “punishment may intimidate and deter other pro-Palestine clergy from statements that offend pro-Israel Jews.”
The Islamic Human Rights Commission wrote, “Dr Sizer’s tribunal shows us how false accusations of antisemitism are used to target and vilify those who criticise Israel. It is incumbent upon organisations to be more vigilant when receiving complaints about criticism of Israel and Zionism. They must not allow their disciplinary processes to become tools to silence legitimate concerns about Israel. Failure to do so will be an abdication of responsibility to their members and to the wider public.”
In his letter to the Tribunal, Bishop Riah spoke for many Palestinian Christians when he wrote, “I wish that more servants of Christ, bishops and clergy, were as courageous as Stephen in challenging the destructive effects of Israeli apartheid and Christian Zionism on both Jews and Palestinians.”
Categories: Arab World, Asia, Europe, Europe and Australia, Israel, Palestine, UK
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