For more than 20 years, the organization charged with representing world Jewry in dialogue with top tier Christian institutions such as the Vatican refused to speak with the World Council of Churches.
The organization, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), had been on hiatus from dialogue with the WCC because of its statements regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, reported Rabbi David Sandmel, director of Interreligious Engagement for the Anti-Defamation League and one of the ADL’s representatives to IJCIC.
In a statement issued last summer, Sandmel said the breakdown in relations with the WCC “was the result of strong disagreements, particularly on issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Some of the statements from the WCC had from the IJCIC’s perspective, been “problematic and the WCC has been accused of being both anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, charges which the WCC rejects,” Sandmel wrote.
The impasse came to an end in late June 2019 at a meeting in Paris. Announcing that there had been a rapprochement between the two organizations, the WCC and the IJCIC issued a communiqué about the meeting. It declared that, “discussions in Paris were characterized by openness, honesty, and an attempt to fully empathize with how profoundly important these issues are to Jews and Christians alike.”
The WCC had a lot riding on IJCIC’s willingness to start talking again.
Over the years the WCC has demonstrated a profound ignorance of issues related to the Middle East. In particular, the organization’s staffers in Geneva treated Arab Christian testimony about the Jewish state as if it were gospel, ignoring how Christians in the Middle East oftentimes attacked Israel to remain on good terms with Arab dictators and Muslim extremists in the region.
Christian clergy in the Middle East were able to convince organizations like the WCC that suffering in the region was the fault of the Jews.
It has had a real impact on how the organization dealt with the conflict.
For example, in June 2010, WCC General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit issued a public statement lamenting the confrontation that took place between Israeli commandos and passengers on board the Mavi Marmara, part of the Free Gaza Movement’s flotilla.
Tveit condemned the killing of innocent people, failing to acknowledge that Turkish Jihadists who were looking for a fight with Israeli soldiers had hidden among the so-called peace activists on board the vessel. In other words, the jihadists were using Western peace activists as cover. Tveit fell for this strategy.
In the same statement, Tveit went on to accuse Israel of violating international law by boarding the vessel. A UN investigation later declared that Israel was within its rights to board the Mavi Marmara.
By restarting dialogue with IJCIC, the WCC was able to tell the world that despite some difficulties, it was still able to maintain decent relations with Jewish leaders.
But it didn’t last long.
On Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, IJCIC issued a press release condemning the WCC for supporting baseless accusations from Archbishop Attallah Hanna, the head of the Sebastia Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.
In December 2019, Hanna accused the Israeli government of trying to poison him.
Inexplicably, the World Council of Churches weighed in on the controversy declaring its support for Hanna and even suggesting there was some truth to his accusations. In a statement issued on Jan. 2, 2020 the WCC described events as follows:
The Archbishop has been a strong critic of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians according to the International Law; he has also been outspoken about Israel’s activities inside neighboring Lebanon and Syria.
Reports said the Archbishop was rushed to hospital after a gas canister was fired into his church in Jerusalem.
The WCC also lamented the “threats” and “violence” directed at Hanna.
As it turns out, Hanna had fallen ill the day after his residence was, at the request of church staff, treated with chemicals to deal with a pest problem in his home. He was taken to a hospital in Jordan where he gave TV interviews telling the world the Israelis had poisoned him.
By issuing a statement without finding out what the underlying facts were, the WCC helped broadcast accusations that Lior Haiat, spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accurately described as “redolent of blood-libel.”
Clearly, the WCC did not really know who or what it was dealing with. The truth came to light on Jan. 20, 2020, when a CAMERA-produced article published in the Times of Israel revealed just how hostile Hanna has been toward Israel over the years. It read in part as follows:
The man is not just a “critic” of Israel, as the WCC describes him, but a clergy person who calls for its destruction. Speaking in California in 2008, Hanna told an audience of Arab Americans, “They say the solution is a two-state solution. No. That is not the solution. The solution is one Palestinian state from the sea to the river.” This state would be predicated on the condition, Hanna declared, “that every Palestinian in exile is allowed to return, including to the areas occupied in 1948.”
In this same talk, Hanna declared that “Zionist pretexts” for Israel’s creation “are diabolical and they have no relation to God’s word and the holy books.”
He condemned Christian supporters of Israel. “How can one combine what Christianity calls for with what Zionism calls for?” he asked. “Christianity is a religion and Zionism is a racist terrorist movement.”
He also condemned Western leaders who visited Israel earlier that year, declaring, “Whoever stands by a killer is a killer.” It’s an odd turn of phrase from a man who in 2015, stood by a Christmas tree decorated with images of Palestinian terrorists and who at the 2008 talk declared, “We salute all of our prisoners and detainees,” many of whom are in Israeli prisons because of having killed Israeli civilians.
He also accused the Israeli government, which has negotiated with and made numerous peace offers to the Palestinian leaders of seeking to “liquidate the Palestinian cause.”
Speaking at another event in California in 2014, Hanna said through his translator, “There was a question about Israel [having] a vision of occupying the land between the Nile and the Euphrates. They want to be able to control the world, not just occupy part of the Middle East.”
He also condemned Christians who support Israel for not recognizing who the villain of the conflict is in light of the Christian Gospels. “Those money changers at the temple?” he said. “Those people are the Israeli government who are suppressing us.”
He called on Westerners to boycott Israeli products because “these products eventually kill our children.”
It only took a brief search on YouTube to determine just how hateful Hanna has been toward Israel. And yet, the WCC drew attention to his accusation against the Jewish state without even suggesting that it was likely false.
The WCC’s irresponsible support for Hanna prompted IJCIC to issue a press release that said in part, “An individual like Hanna who espouses these views should not be automatically believed when he makes accusations against Israel without evidence.” The IJCIC also stated that “there is no evidence that Israel tried to poison him, or that there was any violence done against him, as WCC seems to assume.”
The upshot is that just a few months after the WCC was able to woo IJCIC back to the dialogue table, the organization kicked Israel and Jews worldwide in the teeth by retailing a blood-libel from a well-known Israel-hater.