As the civilised world was choking in the memorial lamentations of Auschwitz 70-years-on, suspended in that space of sorrow somewhere between needing to remember yet yearning to forget, the Church of England’s one-vicar crusade against Israel was scouring the internet for more anti-Zionist conspiracy theories to confirm his jaundiced prejudice about Jews – especially Zionist Jews. And he found a masterpiece entitled ‘9-11/Israel did it’, which he gleefully posted on his Facebook page. “Is this antisemitic?” he mused in sinless simplicity. “If so..,” he continued, with an unsettling suspicion that he might just be stoking the furnaces of Facebook’s concentration camps, leading his followers to the gas chambers of Jewish defamation and Israeli demonisation.
It might have gone unnoticed, but the Church of England issued a swift press release:
Our attention has been drawn to comments by the Rev. Steven Sizer made earlier today on social media. In those comments Rev. Sizer linked to an article entitled “9/11 Israel did it”.
These comments would rightly be seen as unacceptable whenever they were posted. It is a matter of deep sorrow and shame that they have been posted in this week of all weeks.
The Diocese of Guilford, where the Rev Sizer is licensed, is taking immediate steps to investigate. The diocese is aware of the seriousness of the matter and are also in touch with the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
And so the “deep sorrow and shame” caused by the vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, has been escalated to the mainstream media: BBC: ‘Vicar’s 9/11 Facebook post investigated by Church‘. ITV: ‘Vicar faces investigation after linking Israel with 9/11 attacks‘. Telegraph: ‘Vicar investigated over “9/11 Israel did it” posting‘. Times: ‘Vicar suggests Jews may be behind 9/11‘.
Jonathan Arkush, Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Jewish News: “Posting, and giving approval to, an article which in effect accuses Jews of responsibility for the 9/11 atrocity is unquestionably anti-semitic, just as it is beyond absurd.” He continued: “The church should be taking action. He is one of their ministers. It should not be left to the Jewish community to have to protest and be forced to take action from outside.”
In truth, the Church should have taken action a long time ago. As the BBC notes, Stephen Sizer has “a history of disputes with Jewish community leaders over blog postings on Israel and Zionism”. There was apparently some accord reached in 2013, following disciplinary proceedings instigated by the Diocese of Guildford after a formal complaint was made by the Board of Deputies. According to Jewish News: “Under the terms of a conciliation agreement, a code of conduct and independent checking were introduced.”
That went well.
If you examine the maniacal content of ‘9-11/Israel did it‘, you might understand why Jews might find it not only deeply offensive, but blatantly racist. It is not, as Sizer contends, a treatise which raises legitimate questions about 9/11 being an “inside job”; nor is it “encouraging research and debate on all aspects” of the atrocity. It talks of CIA/Mossad conspiracies; ‘key Zionist networks’; ‘WTC Security In Zionist Hands’; ‘Airport Security In Israeli Hands’; ‘shoe-bomber’ Richard Reid being a ‘Mossad Patsy’; al-Qaeda being ‘Mossad Playing Dress-Up’; ‘The US Military Knows Israel did it’; ‘9/11 Investigation in Zionist Hands’. But then it segues from anti-Israel frenzy to overt anti-Semitism, with allegations of a ‘Jewish Crime Network’ dominated by ‘Zionist Jews’, and the photos of every Jew are stamped with the Star of David, as if neo-Nazism were facilitating a virtual Shoah.
And the Rev’d Stephen Sizer – an ordained minister in the Church of England – lends credence to this absurd, inflammatory, racist hysteria on the grounds that: “It is essential the public become convinced of what happened before and after 9/11. Inevitably the truth will upset many people if it is shown by further investigation that the official explanations are shown to be deficient.”
We have been here before:
4th October 2011
Dr Sizer posted a link on his Facebook page to the racist website ‘The Ugly Truth: Zionism, Jewish extremism and a few other nasty items making our world uninhabitable today’. No one, including Dr Sizer, denied the posting of the link or the anti-Semitic nature of the website.
16th November 2011
The following complaint was sent by Rev’d Nick Howard to Christopher Hill, Bishop of Guildford:
I am writing to appeal to you to suspend Rev. Stephen Sizer from his duties as vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water.
Although I feel there are many grounds for such a severe action, I want to focus on just one, which is his use of Facebook. As you will know, the Bishop of Willesden was suspended last year after making inappropriate comments about the Royal Family on Facebook. Yet Rev. Sizer has recently used Facebook in a much more disturbing and offensive way.
On October 4th he posted a link on his Facebook page to an anti-Semitic hate website called ‘The Ugly Truth: Zionism, Jewish extremism and a few other nasty items making our world uninhabitable today’. The website greets its visitors with unbelievably racist cartoons (see the attached example).
The specific article recommended by Rev. Sizer is accompanied by a cartoon by the Brazilian cartoonist ‘Latuff’, runner-up in the notorious 2006 Iranian ‘International Holocaust Cartoon Competition’. As you can see from the attachment, it is appallingly insensitive.
Rev. Sizer might claim that the particular article he recommended is not in itself anti-Semitic. Yet it cannot be denied that the website hosting the article is anti-Semitic. Rev. Sizer has directed his 800 Facebook friends, without any word of warning, apology or qualification, to a website whose banner claims that Zionists (that is, patriotic Israelis) make ‘our world uninhabitable’. This extreme hostility towards Israel, which lies far outside the boundaries of respectable debate about the Middle East, would immediately be recognised by Jewish people as anti-Semitic, even without the above-mentioned cartoons which put that beyond doubt.
I am sorry to have to bring such disturbing material to your attention, but I hope you will agree that it gives you the opportunity to take decisive action to uphold the reputation of the Church of England. If the Bishop of Willesden’s inappropriate use of Facebook merited suspension, how much more does Rev. Sizer’s.
Revd Nick Howard
22nd November 2011 – Part I
Bishop Christopher sent this response to Nick Howard:
Thank you for your message in criticism of the Revd Stephen Sizer. Your comparison with the Bishop of Willesden is not in fact exactly correct. The Bishop of Willesden technically suspended himself, it was not a disciplinary process. I am not denying that the Bishop’s remarks were highly inappropriate and embarrassing to say the least.
The Revd Stephen Sizer’s opinions are clearly radically different from your own. I shall speak to the Revd Stephen Sizer about his use of Facebook but at the moment I see nothing which would merit disciplinary matters, not least because differing political opinions are definitely exempted from disciplinary proceedings in the Church of England according to the Clergy Disciplinary Measure. There may be changes to the Measure in the future which would make it possible that membership or support of the British National Party, for example, could become a disciplinary matter. But I am sure that Stephen Sizer himself would be highly critical of neo fascist movements as well as the fascism in the past which created the awfulness of the holocaust.
There is also the question of the uncontrollable linkage on of Facebook. One does not have control of that when one may not always agree with other people on related face books. This is one of the reasons I am somewhat cautious about Facebook myself and am not on it.
22nd November 2011 – Part II
Bishop Christopher sent a copy of the 16th November complaint to Dr Sizer. This was later confirmed by the following email (emphasis added):
From: Bishop of Guildford
Subject: RE: Phone conversation follow-up
Date: 13 June 2012 11:00:34 EDT
To: Nick Howard
Cc: Mary Morris
In Bishop Christopher’s absence I can confirm that it seems that he did copy your email of 16 November to Dr Sizer who acknowledged it the same day, ie 22 November. This email did include the screenshots.
(I can’t of course confirm whether the latter would show on Dr Sizer’s computer if eg he was reading in plain text, in which case they may have appeared as attachments, if at all.)
I trust this answers your questions.
Yours in Christ
The Revd Mark Heather BA LLB
Chaplain to the Bishop of Guildford
22nd November 2011 – Part III
As revealed above by Rev’d Mark Heather, Dr Sizer emailed the Bishop of Guildford acknowledging receipt of his email about the link to ‘The Ugly Truth’. To respond on the same day was highly efficient. But sadly, and tellingly, Dr Sizer did not also take the trouble to remove the link from his Facebook page. (To do so would have been very easy: he simply had to click on a drop-down list next to the link, select ‘Delete Post…’ and then choose between ‘Delete Post’ or ‘Cancel’.)
4th January 2012
Under pressure from the Jewish Chronicle, Sizer finally removed the link to ‘The Ugly Truth’ from his Facebook page.
1st March 2012
Not content with posting a link to ‘The Ugly Truth’ on Facebook, Dr Sizer posted a link to ‘Veterans Today’, an equally sickening anti-Semitic website, on his blog.
13th March 2012
The Council of Christians and Jews issued a press release entitled ‘CCJ Statement about Antisemitic website‘, which includes the following comment:
The Rt. Revd Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester and Chairman of CCJ said: “The content and the delay in removing the link from Mr Sizer’s Facebook page was disgraceful and unbecoming for a clergyman of the Church of England to promote. Members of the CCJ have described the website as ‘obscenely antisemitic.’”
14th March 2012
The Diocese of Guildford released a defensive statement in response to the CCJ (emphasis added):
The allegation, as the Bishop understands it, is that Mr Sizer did not withdraw his reference swiftly enough once the nature of the website had been pointed out to him [i.e. on 22nd November]. The Bishop was informed by Mr Sizer that he had taken earlier steps to withdraw the reference, but that these had not effectively removed it, until January of this year.
1st May 2012
Dr Sizer posted an open letter on his blog entitled ‘Response to the Council of Christians and Jews’, in which he says the following (emphasis added):
On 4 October 2011, I posted a link to an essay “Israel’s Window to Bomb Iran”, by Ray McGovern, an ex-CIA analyst, commenting on circumstances in which Israel might attack Iran. Regrettably the link that I used was not to the original website but to a different website which I now know contained scurrilous and offensive material. I was made aware of this on 3 January 2012 as a result of an enquiry by the Jewish Chronicle. I could not find the link and assumed, wrongly, that I had removed it. I found it on 4 January 2012 and removed it immediately… Some ten weeks later, on 13 March 2012, the Council for Christians and Jews… said that I was “alerted to the anti-Semitic nature of the website in November and again in December, but only removed the link in January when contacted by the Jewish Chronicle.” Whatever the CCJ might think has happened I have explained here how and when the link came to my attention. It did not come to my attention before then… If the CCJ does not feel able to make it clear that its allegations were ill founded it will, I hope, reflect on the reliability of its informants and think very hard before naming people who might in the future be the innocent victims of ill-considered complaints.
It is quite astonishing that Dr Sizer describes himself as an “innocent victim” of “ill-considered complaints”. He knew perfectly well that the CCJ’s charge was in fact wholly accurate, i.e. that he had only removed the link in January despite being warned in November. He was even contradicting his own Diocese’s response to the CCJ, which had been to claim that the six-week delay was the result of ineffective attempts to remove the link (see 14th March above). The CCJ’s Patron has been HM the Queen since 1952 and its Presidents include the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi. It is the UK’s oldest Jewish/Christian interfaith organisation. Dr Sizer brazenly sought to harm its reputation, and the reputation of its ‘informants’, on an entirely false basis.
1st June 2012
Not content with posting links to ‘The Ugly Truth’ and ‘Veterans Today’, Dr Sizer posted a link to yet another racist website: ‘Window into Palestine’. Defending himself in the Jewish Chronicle, he says: “There was no suggestion of any offensive material in the story to which I linked” – and yet the title of that story was ‘The BBC caught out with its Zionist-run propaganda machine’, which the vast majority of Jewish people would immediately recognise as anti-Semitic (and utterly ridiculous). Dr Sizer also told the JC: “‘I only came across (the article) after conducting a Google image search for the photo by Marco Di Lauro, which was central to the apparent BBC error which I wished to highlight.” He was seeking to explain what he was doing viewing a racist website in the first place, let alone posting a link to it. But his explanation was easy to test. Numerous people at the time tried “conducting a Google image search for the photo by Marco Di Lauro” and yet ‘Window into Palestine’ was nowhere to be seen in the results.
4th July 2012
The Committee of the South East Gospel Partnership, despite being aware of the above, said they could see “no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen or with Christ Church Virginia Water”.
Back to today..
The Church of England no longer tolerates membership of the racist BNP. If an ordained minister had linked to BNP websites, musing that they raise legitimate questions of truth and contending that he is “encouraging research and debate on all aspects” of immigration, he would swiftly forfeit his Licence to Preach.
Guildford now has a new Bishop. Without wishing to prejudice the investigation currently underway in that Diocese, no doubt The Rt Revd Andrew Watson will be interested to read your comments.