“Rev Stephen Sizer, the vicar at the centre of a Church of England investigation for alleged anti-Semitism, has been banned from writing or speaking about the current situation in the Middle East but will hold onto his position at Christ Church in Virginia Water.
Rev Sizer was forced into an apology after posting a link on Facebook to a Wikispooks article entitled “9/11 Israel did it”.
Speaking on Monday during his first week with the Diocese of Guildford and ahead of his inauguration, the Right Rev Andrew Watson said he had met with Rev Sizer and did not believe his motives were anti-Semitic, but that he had “demonstrated appallingly poor judgement in the material he has chosen to disseminate, particularly via social media, some of which is clearly anti-Semitic”.
“By associating with or promoting subject matter, which is either ambiguous in its motivation, or worse still, openly racist, he has crossed a serious line,” Rev Watson said.
“I regard these actions as indefensible.”
Rev Watson said he had received a “solemn undertaking” from Rev Sizer that he would refrain entirely from writing or speaking on any theme that relates directly or indirectly to the Middle East or its historical backdrop.
He said Rev Sizer had also promised to refrain from attending or participating in any related conferences and from all writing, emailing, teaching, preaching and use of social media on themes related to the Middle East.
Should he break this agreement he has pledged his immediate resignation, Rev Watson said, adding that a six-month social media ban was also now in place.
“He realises that social media has been part of his downfall. With Lent coming up, that [the ban] seems to be a really good idea,” he said.
“If he is not repentant, I have made it very clear that he will go.”
Rev Watson said the Council of Christians and Jews had highlighted to him that it was possible to criticise Israeli policies without being anti-Semitic and that Christians and others should feel free to do so.
“However, such legitimate criticism must not be used as a cloak for anti-Semitism,” they said.
Rev Watson added that the vicar’s “increasingly undisciplined commitment to an anti-Zionist agenda” had become a liability to his ministry and the church, and his work in that area was no longer compatible with his ministry as a parish priest.
“Many who more moderately support the Palestinian cause, and share his critique of a particular brand of Christian fundamentalism, themselves find Stephen’s actions to be increasingly unhelpful and counter-productive, a fact he himself now recognises,” he added.
On his Facebook post linking to Wikispooks, Rev Sizer wrote: “Is this anti-semitic? If so no doubt I’ll be asked to remove it. It raises so many questions.”
In response at the time, 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.”
Rev Sizer later apologised for the post, which he also removed after receiving adverse feedback.
“I have never believed Israel or any other country was complicit in the terrorist atrocity of 9/11, and my sharing of this material was ill-considered and misguided,” he said.
Speaking after the announcement on Monday, Mr Arkush welcomed the actions of the Diocese of Guildford.
He said: “The Board [of Deputies of British Jews] has expressed its full acknowledgment of the undertakings asked of Rev Sizer and their implications and we are grateful that the church shared our deep concern that Rev Sizer had indeed crossed a line in the offensive materials he was posting and linking to online.
“The Board of Deputies now hopes that Rev Sizer’s unbecoming and inappropriate conduct has now been brought to a close.
“The Board together with the Diocese of Guildford and the Church of England strongly believe that good community relations are based on mutual respect and trust, which we now hope can be restored after this very unhappy episode.”