The Church of England has ordered a vicar accused of repeated anti-Israel and anti-Semitic online postings to go offline or risk losing his parish.
The Reverend Stephen Sizer is also forbidden from writing, posting or speaking about the Middle East ever again, according to a report published Monday by the Church Times, an Anglican news publication.
The incident appears to mark the first time the Anglican Church has ever taken such measures.
Last month, Sizer posted an article to his Facebook page titled “9/11: Israel did it,” which alleged that the Jewish state was behind the 2001 attacks that killed approximately 3,000 people on the east coast of the United States. In a comment on the article, Sizer said “it raises so many questions,” according to the Telegraph, a British daily.
Bishop Andrew Watson, Sizer’s superior, said he did not believe the priest’s actions were motivated by anti-Semitism.
“I do not believe that [Sizer’s] motives are anti-Semitic; but I have concluded that, at the very least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgement. 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,” the bishop said in a statement on Monday. “I regard these actions as indefensible.
“It is my view that Stephen’s strong but increasingly undisciplined commitment to an anti-Zionist agenda has become a liability to his own ministry and that of the wider Church,” Watson contended.
Sizer’s actions, the bishop added, were particularly worrisome given the rise of anti-Semitic attacks throughout the United Kingdom.
Sizer is the leader of Christ Church, Virginia Water in Surrey, England, a county southeast of London. He has accepted Watson’s ultimatum and agreed to resign if he returned to his anti-Israel activism.
In a letter to Watson, Sizer said he apologized for the “distress” he caused the Jewish community and the Anglican Church. “As a minister of the gospel it is not my role to create controversy but to seek to maintain unity between the faith communities,” he wrote.
The 9/11 Facebook post was not the first time Sizer found himself embroiled in controversy. In 2014, he participated in a conference in Iran that espoused similar conspiracy theories about “Zionists” and 9/11.
In 2012, Sizer was criticized by a number of UK Jewish groups who charged that he had posted anti-Semitic material to his blog.
Sizer is “an avid reader and publicizer of websites that are openly and virulently anti-Semitic, and Rev. Sizer has himself descended into making anti-Semitic statements,” read a 2012 complaint lodged by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish community’s main representative organization.
“[The vicar’s behavior] threatens the important relationship between Christians and Jews in the United Kingdom… [and] can no longer go unchallenged,” it added.
Sizer later agreed to tone down his anti-Israel postings in a 2013 meeting with the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
In the wake of the latest incident, Watson said he was “hugely sorry” for the vicar’s actions and encouraged all Christians to stand in solidarity with their “Jewish brothers and sisters” to counter the rise of anti-Semitism.
“I think he was very pleased with the suggestion it was either his parish ministry or his pro-Palestine [activism],” the bishop said. “He could have stepped down from being a parish priest, but he was very clear he wanted to continue his ministry.
“He is certainly hugely remorseful, and embarrassed and ashamed by it. He has been shocked by his own stupidity.”
Miriam Shaviv contributed to this report.