Updated – Press Advisory: CAMERA Calls on World Council of Churches to Confront History of Bigotry

CAMERA issued the following press advisory on Wednesday, February 17, 2021:

For Immediate Release: CAMERA Calls on World Council of Churches to Confront History of Bigotry

Rev. Professor Ioan Sauca, Interim Secretary General of the World Council of Churches (WCC Photo)

Boston, Massachusetts – The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) calls on Rev. Professor Ioan Sauca, interim general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), to distance the WCC from the dishonest and incendiary remarks about Israel made by WCC’s Frank Chikane during a Feb. 6, 2021 webinar.

During the webinar, Chikane, who serves as moderator of the Churches Commission on International Affairs of the WCC, falsely stated that people are killed every day as a result of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and declared that “the blood of the people of Palestine will be sought from” Israel’s supporters.

These remarks were exposed by CAMERA’s Shillman Research Fellow Dexter Van Zile in a Feb. 10, 2021 article published in The Algemeiner. Instead of condemning these and other remarks, the WCC issued a press release stating that Chikane made these remarks in his personal capacity and not as a representative of the WCC.

“That simply doesn’t wash,” says Van Zile. “He was invited to participate in the webinar because of his position with the WCC. It’s not like he was speaking about a sporting event. He was speaking about issues regularly addressed by the commission that he moderates. Rev. Chikane’s comments are completely unacceptable and yet the WCC can’t bring itself to condemn them.”

Sauca also took issue with Van Zile’s article which correctly alleged that the WCC has been a promoter of anti-Israel boycotts that single Israel out for condemnation. Despite the WCC’s history of supporting boycotts, Sauca falsely declared that the WCC “has never called for an economic boycott of the State of Israel.”

The WCC has been an ardent supporter of the BDS movement over the years. WCC meeting minutes indicate that in 2001, the WCC’s Executive Committee recommended “an international boycott” of Israeli goods produced in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In 2005, the WCC’s Central Committee commended the General Assembly of Presbyterian Church USA for approving a 2004 overture that initiated “a process of phased, selective divestment of multinational companies operating in Israel.”

The committee also encouraged WCC member churches to “give serious consideration” to adopting similar strategies targeting Israel. The WCC further promoted the 2009 “Kairos Palestine Document” which calls for “the beginning of a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel.” In 2012, the WCC’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine Israel issued a document titled “Faith Under Occupation” which included multiple calls for boycotts against Israel.

More recently, WCC officials nominated Jerry Pillay from South Africa to serve as General Secretary of the organization. Prior to his nomination, Pillay told anti-Israel activists from the Presbyterian Church USA that, “For the sake of just peace we may have to support boycott, divestment and sanctions.” (The election was postponed due the COVID-19 pandemic.)

“The assertion that the WCC doesn’t support boycotts is belied by easily verified facts,” Van Zile said. “It would be one thing if the WCC admitted the truth about its previous support for BDS in an effort to distance itself from the now discredited campaign, but that’s not what it’s doing. It’s bearing false witness.”

“It’s time for the WCC to admit the truth,” said Rev. Dr. Tricia Miller, Christian Media Analyst at CAMERA. “The organization has a problem with anti-Israel bigotry that mars its ability to promote peace in the Holy Land. While the WCC has repeatedly and unfairly singled Israel out for condemnation, it has remained virtually silent about crimes against humanity perpetrated by regimes in China and Syria. The WCC has revealed itself to be an adversary to the truth and to Jewish self-determination.”

“Sauca’s current effort to pretend it never supported BDS is likely rooted in a controversy that took place in 2016 when Israeli officials refused entry to a WCC official into Ben Gurion airport because of the organization’s support for the movement,” Van Zile explained. “Instead of saying, ‘We’re done with BDS,’ the WCC is trying to gaslight everyone by telling us it never supported the movement. It’s not going to work.”

(Note: The Simon Wiesenthal Center has weighed in with a statement here.)

Update Feb. 22, 20121

CAMERA is asking the WCC to explain an apparent contradiction between a press release it released in 2019 and the historical record of the organization.

The July 29, 2019 press release declared: “The WCC has supported the State of Israel since its inception in 1948.”

This does not jibe with the report from the report of the founding meeting of the WCC’s Central Committee which took place in Amsterdam from August 22 to September 4, 1948, just a few weeks after Israel declared its independence. The report declares:

The establishment of the state “Israel” adds a political dimension to the Christian approach to the Jews and threatens to complicate anti-semitism with political fears and enmities.

On the political aspects of the Palestine problem and the complex conflict of “rights” involved we do not undertake to express a judgement. (Emphasis added.)

After calling leaders to deal with the issue “not as one of expediency-political, strategic or economic-but as a moral and spiritual question that touches a nerve center of the world’s religious life,” the WCC declares:

Whatever position may be taken towards the establishment of a Jewish state and towards the “rights” and “wrongs” of Jews and Arabs, of Hebrew Christians and Arab Christians involved, the churches are in duty bound to pray and work for an order in Palestine as just as may be in the midst of our human disorder; to provide within their power for the relief of the victims of this warfare without discrimination; and to seek to influence the nations to provide a refuge for “Displaced Persons” far more generously than has yet been done.”

(The above quotes can be found on pages 162 of the 1948 report.)

This does not sound much like support for the State of Israel; it’s an expression of indifference over its fate. Nevertheless, when the WCC responds to the query, CAMERA will provide a further update.

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For more information about the WCC’s animus toward Israel, please read “Five Things You Need to Know About the World Council of Churches.”