The World Council of Churches’ Jewish fig-leaf strategy

The WCC's embrace of a few Jews under the facade of dialogue, solidarity, or peace will not stop the criticism and demands for change.

Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Fra Kirkemøtet 2014.
Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Fra Kirkemøtet 2014.
Gerald M. Steinberg
Gerald M. Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor and a professor of politics at Bar-Ilan University.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a powerful Protestant church umbrella framework, with a broad agenda of political action and what they refer to as social justice. However, when it comes to Israel and Jews, they are increasingly criticized for pushing an anti-peace and anti-Semitic agenda.

Instead of dealing with the substance of the criticism, the WCC leadership prefers public relations spin in numerous statements and articles, and through “dialogues” with a few Jewish allies.

The most recent example was a March 30 puff-piece written by Albin Hillert for the WCC, and revised for a platform called Ecumenical News, under the heading of “Jews at Shabbat dinner engage with Christian accompaniers who work with them and Palestinians.” The “Christian accompaniers” were participants in the WCC’s flagship Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which indoctrinates hundreds with the Palestinian narrative while demonizing Israel through allegations of “apartheid,” “collective punishment” and “war crimes.” The participants return to their home countries in Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere, where they promote boycotts via anti-Israel and, in some cases, blatantly anti-Semitic propaganda.

The Jewish participants from Jerusalem in this dinner may or may not be aware of the criticism leveled at the WCC. (The number of participants is unclear.) But regardless, they are providing legitimacy to the WCC and EAPPI, and allowing them to whitewash a deeply troubling and unjust program.

As WCC’s PR team has done many times in the past, (see “Rabbis walk through Hebron in solidarity,” February 2019; “May all our lives be beacons of justice, peace, love and hope,” December 2018), Hillert also mentions the Israel-based NGO known as Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) in an attempt to divert accusations of anti-Semitism. The Jerusalem Shabbat meal was hardly the first time individual RHR activists have hosted EAPPI members. But these “dialogues” and “solidarity marches” involve a few individual members of RHR, and may reflect the fact that the organization’s main donors have been church groups, over half of which are affiliated with WCC.

For WCC members and others who do not know any of the details, the facade of Jewish and Israeli partners may be effective in countering criticism for a short time, but the reality is entirely different.

The reality of antisemitism, demonization and propaganda warfare against the Jewish state that characterizes the Geneva-based WCC’s agenda has deep roots. They were among the first and most influential church groups to use anti-Zionism and support for Palestinians as a thin cover for anti-Semitism, in part reflecting the influence of radical Palestinian Christian figures in the organization. More recently, this has taken the form of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) and other forms of anti-Israeli demonization, alongside the EAPPI platform. Then there is the worldwide promotion of the infamous Kairos Palestine document of 2014, a text that blatantly rejects Jewish self-determination, referring to “Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” as “a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.”

Unsurprisingly, most mainstream and representative Jewish groups have given up on any form of meaningful dialogue with the WCC.

WCC officials have compounded the growing divide by pointedly rejecting the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, which has been adopted by 32 countries, endorsed by the European Parliament and applied in many other frameworks. This document, which includes examples of contemporary anti-Semitism, specifies the application of double standards to Israel and the denial of the right of self-determination to the Jewish people as violations. For example, the Working Definition states that contemporary examples of antisemitism include “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis,” “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” and “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.” All of which are directly applicable to the WCC and EAPPI.

As has been made clear to the WCC, the ongoing involvement in the demonization of Israel and the Jewish people, including through EAPPI, have made any legitimacy or cooperation impossible. The embrace of a few Jews under the facade of dialogue, solidarity, or peace will not stop the criticism and demands for change.

Gerald M. Steinberg is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president of the Institute for NGO Research.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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