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Church of England bars pro-Palestine priest for 12 years over alleged anti-Semitism

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The Church of England (CoE) has banned a pro-Palestinian priest over allegations of “anti-Semitic activity” and for criticism of the Israeli state, in a move seen by some as the bowing of the historic religious institution to the pro-Israel Zionist lobby.

Barred from ministry for 12 years following the Church tribunal’s ruling, 69-year-old Reverend Dr Stephen Sizer is effectively unable to conduct any priestly roles, such as marriage services or taking Communion during that time.

That ruling from December by the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Winchester found Dr Sizer guilty of having “provoked and offended the Jewish community”, as well as having “engaged in anti-Semitic activity”, all of which was “unbecoming to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.

The case was brought against him by the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, who cited 11 examples of those allegations between 2005 and 2018, and who said she was “pleased” with the “unambiguous statement in banning Stephen Sizer from being able to act as a Clerk in Holy Orders for 12 years”.

Despite acquitting him of most of the charges, the Tribunal upheld the complaint of four instances, especially his sharing of an article on the claim that Israel was behind the attacks on New York’s twin towers on 11 September 2001. That issue had reportedly already been resolved in an amicable manner, after he previously apologised to the Jewish community.

High-ranking figures in the Church gave their support for the Tribunal’s ruling, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who stated that “It’s clear that the behaviour of Stephen Sizer has undermined Christian-Jewish relations, giving encouragement to conspiracy theories and tropes that have no place in public Christian ministry and the Church.”

Right Reverend Debbie Sellin, the acting Bishop of Winchester, also emphasised that “It is the Church of England’s task to lead in the work of enabling mutual understanding and strong, peaceable inter-faith relationships for the common good of society, and its ministers must take very seriously their role in initiating positive relationships between communities”. She added that “Anti-Semitism has no place in our society and those in positions of power and influence must listen to concerns about it.”

In response to the decision, the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) released a statement condemning it as “a lack of moral courage on the part of the Church of England which has effectively abandoned the Palestinians in their quest for justice.”

Although he was acquitted last year of all, except the 9/11 charge, Dr Sizer “again found himself in the crosshairs of Israeli apologists after continuing his fierce championing of the Palestinians and criticism of the Zionist state.”

Calling it “problematic”, the IHRC stated that the “standard for judging offence and provocation should not be set by people on the basis of their political views. It is self-evident that Zionists and pro-Israelis would be offended by the discussion and support of Palestinian rights. For the CoE to accept this amounts to taking a pro-Zionist stand on the Palestine/Israel dispute.”

Such a stance, it stressed, “can curtail or even silence debate by the clergy on the issue out of fear of being disciplined”, directly threatening freedom of speech and expression within the Church, instead of maintaining an apolitical stance.

The Church of England’s ruling has prompted many to view it as a victory for the pro-Israel and Zionist lobby in capturing yet another British and Western institution, this time religious rather than the political and academic ones it has succeeded in pressuring allegiance from, up till now.

Source: Middle East Monitor 

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