(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
LONDON – Long-time Israel critic Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer appears to have landed himself in hot water by participating in a conference in Iran alongside Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists.
Sizer’s presence in Tehran last week at the “Second New Horizon Conference,” where he was listed as a speaker in a session on the Israel lobby in England, “brings into question whether he is honoring the spirit of the conciliation agreement [between Sizer and Jewish representatives] in good faith,” said the Community Security Trust (CST), the organization that tackles anti-Semitism in the UK.
Hosted by the Iranian regime, those attending the conference reportedly included French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, whose controversial “quenelle” gesture was deemed anti-Semitic, and Medea Benjamin from the US CodePink organization that supports the boycott of Israel.
Church of England cleric Sizer has long voiced rhetoric that at times some feel has anti-Semitic undertones.
While he has no significant status in the Church of England’s hierarchy, his trenchant views on Middle East issues – promulgated from his church at Virginia Water in Surrey, south of London - have given him a prominence among Anglicans who have sympathies with the Palestinian narrative.
For several years, it was the view of many in the Jewish community that publicly attacking him would just give added publicity to his campaigning, but after several complaints that his stance was taking a tone that was more than unpleasant toward Jews and Israelis, not least of all through suggested links from his website to those of anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, the Jewish community decided to take action.
In 2012, the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained to the Church of England about his Internet links, and as a result a conciliation agreement was accepted by both parties, which included Sizer accepting that “on occasions his use of language has caused offense to some and agrees that he should have reflected on his choice of words more carefully.”
Sizer also said that he cared passionately about the safety of the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist within internationally agreed borders.
“I have always opposed racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, as well as Islamophobia and the denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination and will continue to do so,” he said.
Iranian-run Press TV has described the conference as intending to “unveil the secrets behind the dominance of the Zionist lobby over the US and EU politics,” with one session devoted to examining “Mossad’s role in the 9/11 Coup d’Etat,” and another discussing “9/11 and the Holocaust as pro-Zionist ‘Public myths.’”
CST’s deputy communications director Dave Rich described Sizer’s participation in the event as “utterly shameful,” a view echoed by a Board of Deputies spokesman who said that the cleric’s attendance and participation at “such a hate-filled event is irreconcilable with his position as a minister in the Church of England.”
In the circumstances, he added, they were considering future action against Sizer.