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February 10, 2021 12:21 pm

Church Official Declares War on Israel and Its Supporters

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

Opinion

The Israeli flag at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo: Hynek Moravec via Wikimedia Commons.

Rev. Frank Chikane, moderator of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC), declared war on Israel and its supporters during a Zoom call on Saturday, February 6, 2021. He leveled a hostile and incendiary assault on the legitimacy of the Jewish state, and an implicit threat against those who support it.

Speaking to an Internet audience of more than 300 Christian activists, Chikane portrayed Israelis as demons and said that the world will seek blood from people who support Israel in its fight against the Palestinians.

“We need to begin to say to those who support Israel to brutalize Palestinians that the blood of the people of Palestine will be sought from them because they collaborate by allowing this system to continue,” he said.

Chikane, a Christian pastor from South Africa, also declared that he is convinced that the Palestinians are “dealing with the same demons we dealt with in South Africa, except that in their case, the demons have invited many other demons to make their struggle much more difficult.”

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The pastor and WCC official also declared that “it’s almost as if the whole world is against the Palestinians, nobody cares. Every day people get killed.”

Chikane said that in his role with the CCIA, he gets reports “on a daily basis about what’s happening in Palestine and I’ve said in my mind, ‘That’s why I would never want to be God, because God sees this thing every day, every minute, every hour, and the question is, how can the world watch this and do nothing?’”

Chikane, who offered not one word of criticism toward the Palestinians, made it perfectly clear that he is devoted to using his position of influence within the WCC to portray the Jewish state as a singular source of violence and sin in the Holy Land.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure that the world understands the brutality of what’s happening in Palestine and stop it,” he said.

The call during which Chikane made these remarks was organized by Christian organizations that share the stated goal of “peacemaking” in the Holy Land, but have a well-documented history of singling Israel out for condemnation while downplaying Palestinian hate, incitement, and violence towards Israel. These organizations included Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Christ at the Checkpoint, Kairos Palestine, and the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. Kumi Now, a Sabeel-supported activist organization,  also co-sponsored the event.

The list of participants on the Zoom call included the names of highly influential anti-Israel activists such as Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel, and anti-Zionist authors Gary Burge and Don Wagner. The name of Brian Grieves, who regularly inveighed against Israel during his time as a staffer in the Episcopal Church, also appeared on the list of participants. So did Tom Getman, a former staffer with the evangelical non-profit World Vision, who once asked an audience of American Christians to help the Palestinians “by rooting out Zionism in American churches.”

The Zoom call opened with a showing of a 27-minute film, The People’s Patriarch, a profile of Michel Sabbah who served as Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1987 to 2008, and as President of Pax Christi — a Catholic peace organization — from 1999 to 2007. The opening narration of the film, during which Sabbah inveighs mercilessly against Israel and praises Yasser Arafat, declares that “Gaza has been strangled by fire and siege,” that “the West Bank is torn apart by settlements and walls,” and that Palestine “is being liquidated in front of our eyes in an unprecedented manner.”

“We must get to Europe,” Chikane said after the film. “Especially to our Christian brothers and sisters, to say to them, ‘You know the sins of the past which were committed against the Jews must not be used as a way to and reason to allow more sins to be committed against the Palestinians.”

Gerald McDermott, a theologian, scholar, and author who recently retired from Beeson Divinity School, expressed strong disagreement with Chikane’s statements, declaring the WCC official “out of touch with the situation on the ground.”

“Why does he not denounce the violations of Palestinian human rights in Gaza [by Palestinian leaders]?” McDermott asked. “If he really cares about Palestinians,” McDermott added, “he would tell the world about Palestinians in Syria and most Arab countries where Palestinians are denied citizenship. Why does he not urge the UN to do something about the Palestinians being held in prisons controlled by Assad? Or about the 91% of Palestinians in Syria who live in absolute poverty?”

“When Chikane and others ignore human rights crimes against Palestinians by Arab countries and make absurd charges about so-called apartheid in Israel, they suggest that they are less concerned about Palestinians and more concerned about making political hay,” McDermott said.

Chikane’s remarks are part of a long line of anti-Zionist rhetoric coming from WCC officials over the years. One activist who visited the Holy Land as a volunteer with a WCC peacemaking organization returned to South Africa to tell his fellow Christians that “the time has come to say that the victims of the Holocaust have now become the perpetrators.”

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 its member churches to “give serious consideration” to adopting similar strategies. In 2001, the WCC’s Executive Committee recommended “an international boycott” of Israeli goods produced in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The WCC has also 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.

This article has been updated with a more precise description on the WCC’s approach to Israel boycotts.

Dexter Van Zile is Shillman Research Fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).

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