The UnChristian Behavior of the World Council of Churches
The World Council of Churches (WCC), the inter-Christian organization of mainstream Protestant churches, is at it again in its continuing campaign against Israel. In 2013, one of its units, the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF), invited WCC member churches, faith-based communities, and civil society organizations working for justice, to join together for a week in a proclaimed World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel (WWPPI). The purpose was advocacy and action in support of an "end to the illegal occupation of Palestine and a just peace for all in Palestine and in Israel."
Everyone with stakes in the Middle East, Christian, and non-Christian, must welcome a just peace, but does the WWPPI really do so? Churches and other groups in at least 22 countries joined this initiative of the PIEF in September 2013. The theme of the Week held in September 2013 was "Jerusalem, the city of justice and peace." The aim of the event was clearly stated. It was to promote a just peace in Palestine, but also an end to the "illegal Israeli occupation."
For the WWPPI, justice appeared to be limited geographically and confined to one group. Declaring there was an urgent need for justice on behalf of the Palestinians, the WWPPI focused the proceedings on the concept of Jerusalem as an open and inclusive city, on Israeli settlements in Jerusalem as illegal, and on the right of Palestinians to reside in Jerusalem, and on the rights of Palestinians to have access to worship sites, health care, and employment in Jerusalem, which the WWPPI conference described as denied them. Through this biased agenda, the WWPPI joined in the opposition to Israeli rights in the area and directly challenged the Israeli presence.
During a similar week-long event held in 2012, churches in more than 25 countries participated in praying, educating, and advocating, all intended to stress the urgent need for a peace settlement that will end "the illegal occupation and secures the legitimate rights and future of both peoples." The WCC holds that it has been more than 45 years since the partition of Palestine hardened into a permanent nightmare for Palestinians.
It has always been puzzling why the WCC, and similar mainstream organizations purporting to pursue peace continue to use extravagant, biased rhetoric and misleading historical statements in their approach to the controversial issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That rhetoric degrades rather than attempts to repair relations between the competing parties. It also refuses to acknowledge the historical consequences, in territory and refugees, of the Arab invasion of the State of Israel after its establishment on May 14, 1948.
The PIEF claims to be a forum intended to rally churches and groups to "end the illegal occupation of Palestine in accordance with UN resolutions" and to press for a "just peace in Palestine-Israel." However, the real nature of its objective is clear from its approval of the Kairos Palestine Document.
This Document was titled "A Moment of Truth" and was issued by members of Palestinian churches in December 2009. It called on the international community to support the Palestinian people who were described as facing oppression, displacement, suffering, and functional apartheid for more than six decades. This document was based on an earlier Kairos Document launched by South African theologians in 1985 that called for the end of apartheid in South Africa. The association of the infamous South African regime with Israel, if implicit, is clear in the resemblance of the wordings in the two documents to each other.
It was even clearer and totally explicit when Nora Carmi, a staff member of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Christian organization based in Jerusalem, in a speech to the WCC in Geneva on September 28, 2010 urged all Churches and Christians in the world to "stand against injustice and modern-day apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories." In a puzzling and somewhat ominous argument she called on churches to revisit theological distortions that serve to justify crimes perpetuated against people and the dispossession of their land. She used this curious combination of historical, religious, and political references to directly challenge the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Although not explicitly calling for the end of the State, she went on to say "liberation from occupation is in the inherent interest of all peoples in the region because the problem is not just a political one, but one in which human beings are destroyed."
Carmi was repeating language that was used earlier by Palestinian church leaders in 2009 who spoke of the "military occupation of our land (as) a sin against God and humanity." They argued that any theology that legitimizes the occupation is far from Christian teachings. It is clear however, from these public statements that their own theology and version of the TRUTH demands that all peoples, political leaders, and decision makers put pressure on Israel.
This biased attitude continued with a meeting of 60 Christians, theologians and activists, from 15 countries held in Bethlehem in 2011, a meeting which issued the Bethlehem Call, a "global movement for justice." Another meeting at the Hebrides Island of Iona in 2012 produced the Iona Call with the same objective of identifying the "reality on the ground" in the Holy Land. For these peace lovers that reality does not include the unceasing attacks by rockets from Hamas in Gaza against Israeli civilians or threats of extermination. It does include condemnation of Israel for the "ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, the plight of thousands of refugees, and the brutality of administrative detention." That reality limits itself to the "present suffering" of the Palestinians which for this group has its origins in political Zionism.
The essential problem with the WCC, the Palestinian Church leaders, and the Kairos Document in these pronouncements and their activity is that it makes a peaceful solution to the conflict more difficult. Can their self-righteous statements be taken seriously when the gathering in Iona in 2012 observed that the "peace process has become a means of perpetuating the colonization of Palestinian land, and the intensification of the structures of dispossession and oppression?"
The WCC and its unit PIEF flatter themselves on their "audacious courage" in upholding the Kairos Palestine Document. If courage is defined by historical inaccuracy and travesty and wholly slanted politics, they may be justified. It is one thing to challenge what they call misuse of the Bible by those who disagree with them, and it is proper they should pray for justice. It is quite another for them to call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions and other forms of non-violent action against Israel while not calling for unconditional peace negotiations without preconditions. The real truth is that the WCC lack of balance -- of which its members should be ashamed, not proud -- is profoundly un-Christian.
Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.