OPINION: Sizer verdict will ensure stronger bonds between the Church and British Jews

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OPINION: Sizer verdict will ensure stronger bonds between the Church and British Jews

Marie van der Zyl thanks the Church of England for its inquiry and the strength of its judgement on retired minister Stephen Sizer

Reverend Stephen Sizer
Reverend Stephen Sizer

This week, a Church of England tribunal found one of its retired ministers, Stephen Sizer, to have engaged in “conduct unbecoming” to a member of the clergy and in one instance to have engaged in “antisemitic activity”.

This tribunal and the verdict announced on Tuesday has been the result of efforts over a number of years by the Board of Deputies. We first flagged the activities of Sizer back in 2014, when he participated in an antisemitic conference in Tehran, sponsored by the Iranian government. Later, he posted an article on Facebook accusing Israel of responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.

The case was pursued vigorously by my predecessor, Jonathan Arkush, former President of the Board of Deputies and subsequently by myself. We both gave evidence to the tribunal which was fully accepted.

In total, the tribunal concluded that there had been four instances where Sizer’s conduct strayed from what would be expected of a Church of England minister and he has been severely criticised for his conduct.

The successful conclusion of this case is important for several reasons: The Board of Deputies values its good relationships with all faith communities. The fact that the Church of England, as the established Church, and led by the King himself, has upheld these serious allegations, will only enrich and create stronger bonds between our communities.

Indeed, although this has been a long and sometimes painful court procedure, the Church has been supportive of the Jewish community and has acknowledged that an important boundary was crossed by Sizer’s activities.

This judgement also draws an essential line in the sand: Mr Sizer claimed that he was merely a supporter of Palestinian rights and a critic of Israel. We, in the Jewish community know that criticism of the Israeli government is not necessarily antisemitic in the same way that criticising the UK Government does not make you anti-British. However, the demonisation of Israel and the use of antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories, where the word “Jew” is substituted for “Israel” or “Zionist” often betrays different intent.

While we await the sentence resulting from this verdict, the magnitude and impact of this judgement should not be underestimated. Sizer was found to have “provoked and offended” the Jewish community on several occasions; and confirmation that this type of behaviour is unacceptable will send a strong message to others who seek to demonise Jews and Israel, in the Church and beyond.

This has been a vital moment for the relationship between Jews and the Church of England and on behalf of the Jewish community I would like to thank the Church for the conduct of the inquiry and the strength of its judgement.

  • Marie van der Zyl is President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
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