Opinion

The World Council of Churches vs. the Jewish state, once again

Israeli lawmakers attend a vote on a bill at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem on Feb. 6, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Ammar Awad

JERUSALEM (RNS) The World Council of Churches, a collective of “347 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories,” and the state of Israel are at loggerheads again.

The WCC attacked Israel for its March 6 vote in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) that would deny entry visas to activists who call for the boycott of the Jewish state. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary-general of the WCC, told numerous media outlets that the new law would “make it impossible for him or senior people in his organization to visit member churches or sacred sites in what Christianity regards as the Holy Land.”

The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary-general of the World Council of Churches. Photo courtesy of WCC

Building on the WCC denunciation, The Economist claimed that the new visa law is the “catalyst” in undermining relations between the Jewish state and Christianity. According to Tveit, “this legislation represents a form of isolationism that cannot be in Israel’s best interests as a member of the international community.”

Ironically, the church body deserves much of the credit for inspiring the entry ban through its campaigns to isolate and demonize Israel internationally.

For years, the WCC has played a leading role in this harsh political warfare. The organization’s top officials participated in the virulently anti-Semitic NGO Forum of the 2001 U.N. Durban Conference, at which Israel was labeled as an apartheid state.


RELATED: Peace in the Holy Land can be realized only if we work together


WCC leaders were instrumental in removing a paragraph in the NGO final declaration that condemned the “prevalence of antizionism and attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel through wildly inaccurate charges of genocide, war crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and apartheid, as a virulent contemporary form of anti-Semitism.”

More recently, the Geneva-based WCC is a central promoter of the notorious Kairos Palestine document, which characterizes terrorist acts of “armed resistance” as “Palestinian legal resistance,” denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, calls to mobilize churches worldwide in the call for BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) of Israel and compares Israel with the South African apartheid regime.

Likewise, a WCC document from May 2013 implies that Israel’s very existence is illegitimate, accusing it of 65 years “of continuing dispossession of Palestinian people  — Christian and Muslim alike — from their land by Israeli occupation.” In other words, it is Jewish sovereignty embodied in the Israeli state, which became independent in 1948, that bothers these officials, and not specific policies or borders.

The WCC is also responsible for establishing several highly biased and politicized frameworks, including the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.

PIEF was founded “to catalyze and coordinate new and existing church advocacy for peace, aimed at ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories in accordance with UN resolutions.” A 2014 report referred to murderers and other terrorists simply as “political prisoners,” as if their crime was to protest and picket a government office, for example.

EAPPI, considered to be WCC’s “flagship” project, organizes “tours” to the West Bank in order for participants to “witness life under occupation, engage with local Palestinians and Israelis pursuing a just peace, to change the international community’s involvement in the conflict, urging them to act against injustice in the region.” Upon returning to their home countries, many EAPPI activists, who entered Israel as tourists, actively promote anti-Israel campaigns, including BDS and other forms of demonization that single out Israel.

It is precisely this type of exploitation of Israel’s open visa policy for tourists to which a majority of the Knesset (from different parties, including centrists) is responding, and also perhaps overreacting.

The new law restricting visas for BDS promoters should be understood and analyzed in this context. It is a political decision — a significant portion of the Israeli public demands a response to the demonization and political warfare campaigns. And the WCC’s hands are far from clean.

WCC officials claim that the organization “is not a member of any alliance that is generally promoting a boycott or a member of the so-called ‘BDS-movement’” and that “the WCC has never called for an economic boycott on the state of Israel.” However, as noted above, through a variety of campaigns, programs and partnerships, it is a key player mobilizing demonization of Israel in churches worldwide.

Instead of launching more attacks, the leaders of the WCC and its member churches would do well to re-examine their history and seek reconciliation with the Jewish nation-state. Until then, WCC officials should not be surprised that years of attacks targeting Israel have borne bitter fruit.

(Gerald Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor and professor of political studies at Bar Ilan University)

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  • I seriously doubt that the new visa law will be “the ‘catalyst’ in undermining relations between the Jewish state and Christianity.” The WCC, its members, and other like minded Christians may adopt that argument, but there are at least as many Christian bodies that will not have their opinions of Israel altered by such a step.

  • The information given in this text about the World Council of Churches’ criticism of the new legislation is incomplete and misleading. So is much of what it says about the WCC in general.
    The WCC has e expressed grave concern about a new law passed by the Knesset which reportedly forbids granting entry visas to foreign nationals who call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The ‘Entry to Israel Act (Denial of Visa to Non-Residents Who Knowingly Call for a Boycott on Israel)’ apparently makes no distinction between boycotting Israel proper and boycotting products of the settlements, which are widely considered illegal under international law.
    In the same text (to which Gerald Steinberg is reacting, though he chooses to link only to the Economist article, which some readers may not be able to access due to a pay wall) the WCC general secretary clearly states: “The WCC affirms and supports Israel’s right to exist, categorically rejects violence as a means of resolving the conflict, and has described anti-Semitism as a sin against God” (see https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/wcc-gravely-concerned-over-israels-travel-ban ).
    The WCC has been deeply involved in efforts for peace in the Holy Land since 1948 when the state of Israel was created and the WCC formally established. Already at its first Assembly, in 1948, churches of the WCC acknowledged both the state of Israel and the right of Palestinians to a state of their own. The WCC’s support for a two-state solution and the rejection of violence has been restated again and again (for example: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/central-committee/2016/statement-on-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict-and-peace-process, http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/executive-committee/2015-nov/statement-on-situation-in-israel-and-palestine ), yet Steinberg claims that a criticism of continued occupation equals questioning Israel’s right to exist.
    Throughout the text he uses words such as “demonization”, “attacks” and “political warfare” to discredit criticism of Israel. Quote marks don’t always correspond to actual quotes, and instead of quoting the original source, for example for the WCC’s self-description and number of member churches (http://www.oikoumene.org/en/member-churches ) he prefers to quote an outdated number and formulation, and link to the portrayal of the WCC in his own organization’s website, which presents the same shortcomings as the text published in RNS.

  • Sounds like those who wish to boycott (which by the way is just the whitewashing term for the BDS movement) Israel are throwing a hissy fit because Israel is giving it right back to them. They believe that their so called “righteous” cause is above reproach and like all the other uber-liberal movements anyone who opposes is wrong and part of the problem. Why should Israel allow people into their country who have openly stated they are against Israel and make that known by their own actions. They try to cover their ideology by qualifying it as only against business and products related to settlements. These are the same people who call Israel an apartheid state to justify themselves. These groups are nothing more than a leftist hate group trying to impose their own financial warfare.

    Israel is its own sovereign nation, can do what it wants with its boarders and who can and cannot come into their country. The infantiles who want to dish out their own negative policies cannot take it themselves. The tide will soon be turning against them as more and more people come to realize that the current anti-Israel attitudes from groups like this and the UN itself will fail because it lacks truth and reason. If you notice they will not do the same to Palestinian terrorists groups, or even condemn their terrorist actions. This is all just another deluded cause from ill informed people with an agenda.

  • This is what happened. WCC activists from EAPPI abused tourist visas to demonize Israel. WCC roars like a lion at Israel, squeaks like a mouse at Israel. And now the Israelis are waking up to the demonization perpetrated by so-called peacemakers at the WCC, for whom you work. The dishonesty and cowardice of the WCC has made things worse.

  • Christians who butchered Jews for centuries now dare to preach to us about how to defend ourselves. Ironically, the safest place for Christians in the Middle East is among the Jews. Keep that WCC trash out

  • Leaving aside all the emotionally charged words and animal imagery what exactly is your claim? As per the website of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “A B/2 visa is granted to someone who wishes to stay in Israel for only a short time (for a visit, tourism, a business meeting or study in a Hebrew ulpan). A person who enters Israel on a B/2 visa is not allowed to work in the State of Israel.” To my best knowledge there haven’t been any charges that volunteers in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme were illegally employed in Israel.

  • My claim is that the WCC has given cover to anti-Israel activists who have demonized and de-legitimized the Jewish state for years while saying very little about the misdeeds of regimes such as Syria (btw, the WCC has previously said nice things about Bashar Al Assad). And because of its irresponsible behavior, the WCC has helped create the environment that prompted Israeli officials to crack down on the abuse of visas given to people who visit the Jewish state. The visas do not give Israel the right to engage in political activism that hinders the ability of Israel to defend itself and defames the Jewish state on the world stage. People who read the articles I’ve written will be shocked at how unfairly the WCC has treated the Jewish state. This is simply a matter of action, meet consequence. During this time of Lent, Annegret, you would do well to consider the manner in which the WCC has unfairly demonized the Jewish state. Here is the document you can use as part of your education: http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=84&x_article=2127

  • Here is a relevant section of the text (which is a letter to Olav Fyske Tveit) above:

    “The WCC offers up an anti-Semitic view of the Arab-Israeli conflict by downplaying or denying Arab and Muslim hostility toward Jews and their state. Non-state actors such as Hamas and Hezbollah that have openly expressed genocidal hostility toward Jews and a desire to destroy Israel merit little attention or condemnation from the WCC. You can search the WCC’s website for yourself to see what I mean.

    “Instead of acknowledging the religious and theological component of Arab hostility toward Israel and Jews in the Middle East, the WCC portrays the Arab-Israel conflict as an easily resolved fight over territory that can be brought to an end with a treaty – if only those obdurate Israelis were to come to their senses and make peace with the Palestinians, as if Palestinian leaders were wholly innocent of wrongdoing and as if Israeli withdrawals have not already been met with increased violence, and as if Israel hasn’t made peace offers only to be rebuffed by Palestinian refusals or silence.

    “In proffering this distorted narrative, the WCC encourages Christians to be bystanders to the anti-Semitic hostility directed at Israel by its enemies in the Middle East and to view Israeli Jews with contempt. In the WCC’s narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict, all of humanity’s worst traits are projected onto Israel while its adversaries are portrayed as forced into wrongdoing by Israeli policies, as if they have no moral agency, will or agenda of their own. This is dishonest.”

    In sum, Annegret, the WCC is as an institution, a bystander to hostility toward Jews (and Christians in the Middle East). And with its public statements, the organization points the finger of blame at Israel, the one Jewish state. It’s simply shameful. Years from now, people will admit the problem. Repent, Annegret, and believe in the Gospel. The kingdom of God is at hand. Come to grips with the WCC’s hostility toward Israel and you’re on your way to freedom!

  • So, he got the number of churches that belong to the WCC wrong. The problem is that it has nothing to do with the material substance of his allegations, which are that the WCC has engaged in political warfare against the Jewish state.

  • It’s quite possible that people who read your writings are shocked. I’d recommend they rather regularly follow read for themselves what the World Council of Churches is publishing. Here’s the link for subscribing to our news releases: http://www.oikoumene.org/e-news
    As for Gospel teachings, I prefer to get them from my pastor (who recently visited the Holy Land, by the way) rather than NGO Monitor, Camera or other political “think tanks”.

  • The WCC has never officially responded to any of what I’ve written. The only response we get is from you on Twitter and on Disqus. And your only response is to say, “Look at what our website says.” Did, or did not, EAPPI call on activists to hack government websites, yes or no? Yes, they did. You can’t deny it.

  • Annegret: You write that the law in question, “apparently makes no distinction between boycotting Israel proper and boycotting products of the settlement.” When it comes to the WCC, the distinction is somewhat irrelevant. The World Council of Churches was one of the primary forces behind the Kairos Palestine Document, which calls for boycotts of Israel. In one part the document it calls for the boycott of anything produced by the occupation, but later it calls for “the beginning of a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel.” That’s a call for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state.

    Olav Fyske Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches told The Guardian that his organization was not affiliated with the BDS movement, when in fact, it has been. For information see this: https://ukmediawatch.org/2016/12/08/guardian-fails-to-challenge-church-spokespersons-claim-they-dont-support-bds/

    In another statement, Annegret said she won’t listen to groups like CAMERA, NGO monitor or other think tanks. The WCC willl however, allow itself to be used in a shameless manner by anti-Israel activists such as Rifat Odeh Kassis and Yusef Daher.

  • If anyone takes the time to read all your endless comments, I hope they at least learn from this one how inaccurate you are with your quotations, bending them to fit the point you are trying to make.

  • “In another statement, Annegret said she won’t listen to groups like…”. Not exactly. “As for Gospel teachings, I prefer to get them from my pastor” is the correct quote. Enough for me to tell me not to invest too much time in reading the rest of your endless comments.

  • All WCC statements of the last years are available at http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents and I can confidently say they contain no call to hack websites (unless maybe you think that the call “to express concern, and to take democratic, non-violent actions for justice and peace”, http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/general-secretary/joint-declarations/statement-by-general-secretaries-rev-dr-olav-fykse-tveit-wcc-and-jim-winkler-ncccusa , could be interpreted as such). I don’t know what you are referring to, possibly an opinion expressed by a former volunteer of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The EAPPI is a programme coordinated by the WCC, founded in response to a call from the local Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, that brings internationals to the West Bank. Since 2002, over 1,700 volunteers have come for three months to be Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs). EAs from all age groups aim to offer a protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitoring and reporting human rights abuses. They join Palestinians and Israelis who work in nonviolent ways for peace, and they interact with a myriad of international, Israeli and Palestinian partners. More information: http://eappi.org/en/our-model
    EAs often return to their home countries with strong impressions and a deep commitment to share what they have seen, and to work for peace with justice wherever they are. (Read for example: https://blog.eappi.org/2017/02/22/leaving-the-holy-land-with-unforgettable-experiences ) The WCC encourages the sharing of eyewitness testimonies with faith leaders, decision makers, media, and civil society, but doesn’t control what personal opinions are expressed by former EAs.

  • The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of 348 member churches who together represent more than half a billion Christians around the world, including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches.
    For its member churches, the WCC is a unique space: one in which they can reflect, speak, act, worship and work together, challenge and support each other, share and debate with each other. WCC member churches don’t always agree on everything, but churches generally share a commitment to engage in peace and justice.
    In the WCC governing bodies, decisions are taken through a consensus method that ensures every voice to be heard. The breadth of churches involved in the WCC makes it virtually impossible for an extreme position to be taken in any WCC statement, however the churches are also committed to listen carefully to God’s Word and Holy Spirit and not be conformed to the world. Recent WCC governing body statements on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict include: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/central-committee/2016/statement-on-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict-and-peace-process , http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/executive-committee/2015-nov/statement-on-situation-in-israel-and-palestine

  • I made it perfectly clear, Annegrat, that I accused EAPPI, (which is supported lock, stock, and barrel by the WCC by the way) of calling on people to hack government websites. Here is what I wrote a few years ago:

    “One particularly egregious case, titled “40 Ways to End the Occupation,” appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of ChainReaction. In this article, inspired by Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover,” EAPPI activists list forty ways people can assail Israel. They call on people to “name the true adversary – supporters of the occupation,” “expose the occupation”, “expose the evil of the wall by painting on its mural,” “boycott settlement products,” and to support an “artistic and cultural boycott of Israel.” The article even calls on activists to break the law: “Hack (government) websites.”

    Here is a link to the article:

    http://jcpa.org/article/broadcasting-a-lethal-narrative-the-world-council-of-churches-and-israel-6/

  • Isn’t that interesting, Annegret? EAPPI, which is supported by WCC, created by the WCC in fact, calls for an artistic and cultural boycott of Israel, and yet WCC keeps emphasizing that it has only supported a boycott of products made in the West Bank! That’s not entirely true, now is it? The EAPPI is part of the WCC, is it not?

  • But you keep responding to my endless comments with efforts to obscure the facts that I post. You honestly can’t tell me that people in the WCC’s leadership aren’t the least bit bothered by the one-sided analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict. can you? If you can, it’s probably because no one in the innner sanctum of the organization tells you their concerns! They know they have a problem. They can’t admit it publicly, but they know.

    This is what’s going on: There are a huge number of churches in the WCC who cannot agree on theology, so they look for other sources of unity, and one of them is public statements. The churches in the Middle East are able to provide an issue that the churches can agree on — Israel. They can’t speak forcefully about violence against Christians, but they can beat up on Israel with impunity. That’s why we have two WCC bureaucracies — PIEFF and EAPPI dealing (dishonestly) with the issues on the ground in the Holy Land, Now, tell me what permanent institutional resources has the WCC invested in calling attention to the misdeeds of jihadists in the region? Are there equivalent institutions to the EAPPI and PIEFF? Who from the WCC “accompanies” Christians in Iraq and Syria and Egypt? Who “accompanies” folks subjected to Islamist violence in Pakistan or Nigeria? Who conducts a theological analyis (a la PIEF) of jihadist violence against Christians.

    Annegret, that focus is reserved for Israel and only Israel, the Jewish state.

    Please Annegret, get real.

  • If anyone takes the time to read all your evasive responses, Annegret, I hope they see that you got nothing to respond to the main charges I’ve made, again and again and again over the past several years: The WCC has devoted a huge amount of resources in the campaign to de-legitimize the Jewish state and downplay the horror of Islamist violence against Israel. And it can’t or won’t speak forcefully about the mistreatment of Christians in Muslim-majority environments.

    This is a repeat of what happened during the Cold War when Christians living in the Eastern Bloc prevented the WCC from condemning the misdeeds of the Soviet Union (Russia). Why did they do this? They did it because they would suffer oppression from the Kremlin if they didn’t! Christians living in Muslim majority countries are in a similar circumstance.

    Condemning Israel is safe, Annegret, but condemning jihadists might get Christians killed. We get it. But please don’t try to tell us that the WCC’s stance on Israel and other issues in the Middle East is based on principle and truth. Fear of jihad, and loathing toward Israel are the mainstays of WCC’s witness regarding the Middle East. Anyone with half a brain in their head can see this. Your evasive posts can’t hide this reality. We see it.

    The reason why I keep posting these responses is not for your benefit, Annegret, but for the people who read these articles — it’s for future generations of folks who will ask, “Why did they get these important issues so catastrophically wrong? Didn’t they see what was going on right in front of their noses?”

    And your posts, as evasive as they are, Annegret, are going to be instructive. Maybe even more than mine. But not in the way you want.

  • Readers may also be interested to know that an official from the ADL has raised some serious questions about the WCC’s relationship with the Jewish people. In a restrained but compelling video, Rabbi David Sandmel raises some very tough questions about the WCC’s support for the Kairos Palestine Document.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG1esb54FCk

    Watch this video Annegret.

  • Frau Kapp:

    Like most European Jew-haters, the folks at the WCC simply cannot stand it when Jews actually stand up to defend themselves.

    Sure, like most of the European elites, you shed phony tears over the six million murdered by the Nazis, but you then kick and scream bloody murder when Jews retaliate against the new Nazis – the ones in Gaza and the West Bank – make no secret of their desire to finish Hitler’s work. Which is just a way of backing into the notion that what you really want are more dead Jews. Millions more.

    You have decided that your obsessive Jew-hatred counts above all else. It counts more than your morals, more than your credibility, more even than your New Testament. So be it. Then you and your Jew-hating ilk will never, ever set foot in the Holy Land again.

    Three cheers to Israel for telling you haters to go to (your) hell.

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