A British Christian minister with a long record of online anti-Semitism has been handed an ultimatum to stop speaking or writing about the Middle East conflict or lose his job.
In a highly unusual move, the Church of England has also banned Reverend Dr Stephen Sizer from using social media for six months, after he posted a link on his Facebook page to an article entitled "9/11: Israel did it", which claimed that wealthy Jews including philanthropist Ronald Lauder were in fact responsible for the terrorist atrocity.
That post broke a previous commitment to have his online activities moderated before posting about the Arab-Israeli conflict – an agreement he reached with the Board of Deputies of British Jews in 2013, following an official complaint made by the Board over a slew of links to anti-Semitic websites he had promoted on his website and social media pages.
In a statement, the Church of England branded Sizer's latest posts "indefensible" and "clearly anti-Semitic", but stopped short of dismissing him from his post as Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, in southeast England.
In a statement on Monday, the Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, announced the punishment, but insisted Sizer's actions were not 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," Watson said according to the Church Times. "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. 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," he continued, adding that Sizer had since "retracted" his position that Israel was responsible for 9/11, according to the paper.
In a letter to Watson, Sizer apologized for the "distress" his activities had caused. "As a minister of the gospel it is not my role to create controversy but to seek to maintain unity between the faith communities," the letter read.
According to the Church Times, Watson said the Church had acted quickly to discipline Sizer in reaction to the "natural outcry from the Jewish community," noting that "particularly with anti-Semitic attacks on the rise in the UK," it was important to do so.
"He is certainly hugely remorseful, and embarrassed and ashamed by it. He has been shocked by his own stupidity."
Apart from a long history of promoting anti-Semitic content and conspiracy theories online, Sizer has also been linked to the extremist Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and in 2014 attended a conference in Iran which aggressively promoted a range of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
The Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) welcomed the decision to discipline Sizer, who it said had been a "source of grave concern".
"We are grateful for the seriousness and clarity with which the diocese of Guildford has addressed this case, since this sends a clear message that Christians have a duty to identify and challenge anti-Semitism in all its forms," read a statement from CCJ director Jane Clements.