A former Church of England vicar who is implacably opposed to Zionism has been acquitted of accusations of antisemitism after a four year-long witchhunt by pro-Israel lobbyists.
An ecclesiastical tribunal today found that the lifelong campaigner for Palestinian rights had not made antisemitic comments as alleged by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
This is despite the low threshold for establishing antisemitism used by the Church of England since it adopted the controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism in 2018. The IHRA has been widely criticised for weaponising antisemitism in order to silnece critics of Israel by conflating criticism of Israel with attacks on Jews for being Jews.
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.”
The central message arising from the tribunal is that the well-documented accusations of repeated antisemitic behaviour made over more than a decade have been dismissed! Only one allegation of antisemitism has been found to have substance – but that was dealt with quickly and effectively at the time by the Bishop of Guildford (as Jonathan Arkush accepts), Stephen apologising for his actions, recognising the deep hurt his actions had caused and stating publicly that his sharing of the material was ill-considered and misguided and that he “never believed Israel, or any other country was complicity in the terrorist atrocity of 9/11”.
Whilst the Tribunal’s decision to dismiss the accusations will come as a relief to Revd Dr Sizer and his family, pro-Palestine activists remain concerned that these baseless accusations have got so far. It is outrageous that the Church, and tribunals in other settings, feel it is acceptable to drag someone through a legal process, interrogating their beliefs because they criticised Israel.
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.
IHRC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Islamic Human Rights Commission
PO Box 598
Telephone: (+44) 20 8904 4222