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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Broadcasting a Lethal Narrative:
The World Council of Churches and Israel

Filed under: Anti-Semitism
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

 No. 109,

The author dedicates this essay to the memory of Rev. Dr. Landon Tracy Archer Summers.

  • The World Council of Churches, an umbrella organization for 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches founded in 1948, has expressed concern for the safety and wellbeing of the Jewish people but has largely been hostile to their state, particularly during times of conflict. At these times, WCC institutions demonize Israel, use a double standard to assess its actions, and in some instances delegitimize the Jewish state. They have also persistently denied the intent of Israel’s adversaries to deprive the Jewish people of their right to a sovereign state.
  • While the WCC’s pronouncements are portrayed as the result of studied and prayerful consideration, politics plays a central and decisive role in determining whom the WCC will criticize and whom it refrains from criticizing. While the Middle East Council of Churches has prevailed upon the WCC to condemn Israel, the Russian Orthodox Church was able to prevent the WCC from condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
  • Like mainline churches in the United States, the WCC’s anti-Israeli campaign escalated significantly after the start of the Second Intifada. This escalation was particularly evident in the WCC’s Central Committee, which, in addition to endorsing divestment, established two bodies – the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) and the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) – that both have the singular purpose of ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
  • The WCC has devoted a substantial amount of resources to broadcasting its one-sided narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict, but has failed to create an effective response to an ongoing campaign of terror against Christians in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The WCC regularly dialogues with Muslims, but fails to address the issue of anti-Jewish and anti-Christian rhetoric in Islamic teachings head-on. Consequently, Muslim extremists can engage in a slow, grinding campaign to eliminate Christianity from the Middle East without challenge from the World Council of Churches.



Founded in 1948, the World Council of Churches is one of the more vocal and prominent nongovernmental organizations operating in the international arena. Serving as the umbrella organization for 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches in 110 countries, the WCC works to promote Christian unity with the ultimate goal of creating “one eucharistic fellowship” among all Christians. In addition to promoting unity among churches, the WCC seeks to generate a common Christian witness to the problems facing humanity.[1] Over the course of its history, it has promoted the causes of nuclear disarmament,[2] concern for religious freedom,[3] women’s rights,[4] and more recently, concern for the environment, with a particular emphasis on climate change.[5] The organization also issues pronouncements about various conflicts taking place in the world with an eye toward bringing these to an end.[6]

These pronouncements come from a number of different sources including the organization’s Assembly, which meets every seven years,[7] its Central Committee, which meets every twelve to eighteen months,[8] and its Executive Committee, which meets twice a year.[9] When speaking on issues related to war and peace, the WCC bodies typically rely on reports produced by WCC staffers working in Geneva and on other institutions within the WCC, most notably the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).

Additionally, the WCC and the institutions it supports produce other statements and publications related to Christian theology, interfaith relations, and international relations that seek to give its member churches a framework for understanding the issues facing humanity. Individuals working for the WCC also use their position to affect world opinion. For example, the WCC’s general secretary and the director of the CCIA speak, from time to time, on the issues of the day.

WCC pronouncements are often distributed by the organization’s member churches, which present WCC statements as if they are the result of prayerful and studied deliberation by the staffers who uttered them and the delegates who approved them, and of objective research by the staffers who briefed them.[10] The WCC imprimatur for a particular cause or agenda provides an aura of credibility rooted in knowledge, deliberations, and good intentions.

The WCC and Israel

Haim Genizi, professor emeritus of history at Bar-Ilan University,[11] offered a sympathetic assessment of the WCC in a recent issue of Studies in Contemporary Jewry.[12]  Genizi describes the WCC as having “supported the Jewish people and their right to a state of their own.”[13]

This support, Genizi concedes, is undermined somewhat by a “deep-seated theological ambivalence on the part of some member churches with regard to Judaism and the Jews.” Genizi reports that this ambivalence has caused the organization to exhibit “an equivocal attitude toward Israel.”[14] Moreover, the WCC’s “sympathy for Third World liberation movements, combined with the constant pressure of Middle Eastern churches dominated by Arab church leaders, together influence the WCC to take a sympathetic approach toward the Palestinians.”[15] The result is a fair number of statements that are highly critical of Israel, which Genizi recounts in some detail. Yet, despite the WCC’s critical attitude toward Israel, Genizi concludes that

… one should bear in mind that the WCC has always recognized the legitimacy of the state of Israel and its right to live with secure borders; condemned anti-Semitism and the equation of Zionism with racism; and initiated successful dialogue with Jewish leaders.[16]

Genizi’s benign assessment fails to take into account the WCC’s obsession with Israel’s alleged misdeeds, which plays itself out on the organization’s website. A brief perusal of the site[17] will yield a large volume of statements and articles regarding Israel, the vast majority of which portray it in a harsh light while giving its adversaries a pass. Further examination will reveal that the behavior of the Jewish state is so offensive to the WCC that it has established not one, but two bureaucracies singularly devoted to assailing Israeli policies. The first of these is the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), founded in 2001. Like the Mennonite-founded and supported Christian Peacemaker Teams, the EAPPI sends activists into the West Bank to confront and draw attention to Israeli soldiers and settlers, without drawing attention to or confronting Palestinian terrorism.

The second of these bureaucracies is the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) founded in 2007, which has helped publicize a number of one-sided statements about the Arab-Israeli conflict, such as the Kairos Palestine Document, a statement released by Palestinian Christians in 2009 that was denounced by the Central Conference of American Rabbis as supersessionist and anti-Semitic.[18]

The websites of both of the EAPPI and the PIEF are chock full of anti-Israeli polemics that fail to hold Israel’s adversaries accountable for their misdeeds. They serve as a ready-made archive of all of Israel’s alleged misdeeds.

There is another reality that Genizi missed:the WCC’s prophetic witness is corrupted by the interests of its member churches, which either seek to protect the regimes under which they live from criticism or demonize the enemies of such regimes. This corruption, which was evident during the Cold War, has been particularly notable in the WCC’s depiction of events in the Middle East. Israel is a safe and easy target for the WCC to lambaste. Authoritarian regimes get much lighter treatment because open criticism of these would jeopardize Christians who live under them.

A cursory examination of the WCC’s historical record indicates that the organization has not merely espoused an “equivocal” attitude toward Israel and a sympathetic attitude toward Palestinians. During times of conflict, WCC governing bodies, staffers, and activists have, to varying degrees, promoted a patently hostile attitude toward Israel and a permissive and appeasing attitude toward its enemies.

Indeed, when looked at in total and in context, the WCC’s “witness” of the Arab-Israeli conflict passes the “3D Test” enunciated by Natan Sharanksy in his 2004 essay about the new anti-Semitism.[19] To be precise, the WCC’s governing bodies, staffers, and activists have over the course of its history engaged in anti-Semitic discourse by demonizing Israel, applying a double standard to its actions, and in some instances delegitimizing the very notion of a Jewish state. In light of the WCC’s witness about the Middle East, it is necessary to consider adding yet another “D” to Sharansky’s test of anti-Semitism – downplaying or denying hostility toward the Jews and their state. The WCC has denounced anti-Semitism in the abstract but has offered little if any criticism of Muslim anti-Semitism, which has had such a lethal impact on life in the Middle East.

Historically, not every part of the WCC has assailed Israel to the same extent.[20] WCC voting bodies such as its Assembly and Central Committee have used one standard to assess Israel’s actions and another to assess the actions of its adversaries, but do so in diplomatic and circumspect language. Individual bureaucrats and WCC activists, however, are much more likely to make use of demonizing and delegitimizing rhetoric toward Israel.

In sum, the WCC institutions have broadcast a lethal narrative[21] that justifies continued violence against Israel and its citizens. Through a combination of default and design, the WCC behaves as an ideological adversary of the Jewish state and an ally of its adversaries in both the Middle East and the West. It also provides religious and intellectual cover for others to do the same.

The WCC’s Founding and the Jewish People

The Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches, which did the preparatory work leading up to the WCC’s founding assembly in Amsterdam in 1948, struggled with issues related to the Jewish people.[22] At its meeting in Geneva in 1946, the Provisional Committee passed two resolutions concerning the Holocaust. The first, written in response to the ouster of Christians of Jewish descent from German churches in the 1930s,[23] affirmed that “all Christians who have Jewish antecedents” should be  “assured of a full share of the rights and duties pertaining to the fellowship and service of the Church.” The statement added that “Christians of Hebrew ancestry should be assured that the church will always be a refuge for them and that her ministries of both material and spiritual relief will be exercised on their behalf.”[24]

The second resolution concerned the church’s relationship with Jews in General. It expressed the Provisional Committee’s “deep sense of horror at the unprecedented tragedy which has befallen the Jewish people” as a result “of the Nazi attempt to exterminate European Jewry.” The resolution also expressed its sympathy for the Jews who had survived the Holocaust, thanked those Christians who had given them shelter, and acknowledged that the church had failed “to overcome in the spirit of Christ those factors” that contributed to anti-Semitism. The resolution called on Christians to combat anti-Semitism by testifying that it violates “the spirit and teaching of Jesus Christ,” and by, among other things, supporting “efforts to find acceptable homes to [sic] Jews” who were displaced by the Holocaust.[25]

Sympathy but Not Sovereignty

These expressions of remorse over the Holocaust and sympathy for the Jewish people did not translate into support for Jewish sovereignty when the WCC had its First Assembly in 1948, however. This gathering denounced anti-Semitism and admitted that the church had “helped to foster an image of the Jews as the sole enemies of Christ, which has contributed to anti-Semitism in the secular world.”[26] But when it came to Jewish sovereignty, the First Assembly balked, declaring:

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 judgment.[27]

In response to the first sentence, Paul Merkley aptly noted that if it “means anything at all, it must be that Israel has only itself to blame if more ‘anti-Semitism’ should now appear in the world.”[28] The second sentence indicates that the destruction of European Jewry coupled with the threats by Arab leaders to finish the job in the Middle East was not enough to convince the WCC and its member churches that the Jewish people were entitled to a state of their own. The organization was willing to express sympathy for the Jews after the Holocaust, but was reluctant to acknowledge their right to self-determination.

The text of this resolution clearly undermines Genizi’s assertion that the WCC has historically “supported the Jewish people and their right to a state of their own.” In 1948, when the cause of Jewish sovereignty was in most need of support, the WCC voted “present” and even blamed the state for future expressions of anti-Semitism. This indicates a circumspect but undeniable attempt to delegitimize the notion of Jewish sovereignty.

Similar ambivalence was evident at the WCC’s Second Assembly. Held in 1954 in Evanston, Illinois, its theme was “Jesus Christ, Hope of the World.” Isaac Rottenberg reported that at this assembly

[a] group of prominent theologians concluded that this would be an appropriate occasion to say something about Israel as a sign of God’s faithfulness in history and, therefore, in some sense, a source of hope. Their proposal was voted down after the Assembly had received a telegram from the Christian statesman Charles Malik in Lebanon, urging the delegates to say and do nothing that might give offense to Arab Christians.[29]

To its credit, the WCC’s Central Committee was able to acknowledge Israeli fears in a statement issued a few months after the Six Day War, but even this failed to properly frame the issue. Meeting in Greece, the Central Committee adopted a statement that said in part:

The present crisis has developed in part because the rest of the world has been insensitive to the fears of people in the Middle East; the fears of the people of the Arab nations because of the dynamism and possible expansion of Israel, and the fears of the people of Israel who have escaped from persecution on other continents only to be threatened, at least by word, with expulsion from their new home.[30]

To begin with, Israeli Jews had not merely “escaped from persecution on other continents” but were victims of a ruthless genocide. “Persecution” simply does not do justice to this reality.

Second, the statement falsely suggests that there was an equivalence between Arab and Israeli fears before the Six Day War. The notion that the Six Day War was rooted in Arab fears over Israel’s “possible expansion” ignores Arab leaders’ numerous calls for Israel’s destruction in the years and months leading to the war. Their statements do not reveal concern over Israel’s intentions but, rather, outrage over its existence. The war did not erupt because of Arab fears but because of Arab desires to destroy Israel, which, under any moral rubric, are unjust.

Moreover, in its misplaced affirmation of Arab fears over the “possible expansion of Israel,” the Central Committee ignored an important fact of Israeli politics: in the years before the Six Day War, Israeli leaders regarded the 1949 armistice lines as sacrosanct and had no designs on territory beyond them.

Gershom Gorenberg points out that before the Six Day War, conquest was not “on the Israeli military agenda” and that a five-year development plan produced sometime in 1967 “presumed that Israel could ‘realize fully its national goals’ within the armistice lines.”[31] Gorenberg also notes that in the years before the Six Day War, “irredentism – claims to territory beyond the borders – receded from political debate” in Israel.[32] At the forefront of this trend was the ruling Mapai Party, but “even the militant Herut party of Menachem Begin, with its roots in the radical nationalism of the European right between the world wars, softened its irredentist claims in return for respectability.”[33] Gorenberg observes further that “the shift went beyond political platforms.” He continues:

A growing number of Israelis had grown up or arrived in the country after independence. In the Hebrew literature created by young writers of that time, notes Israeli historian Anita Shapira, there was “no hankering for some ancient historical agenda with Biblical sites and vistas….”[34]

The following year, the WCC Assembly issued a bland statement that said the “menace of the situation in the Middle East shows no sign of abating.” It continued:

The resolutions of the United Nations have not been implemented, the territorial integrity of the nations involved is not respected, occupation continues, no settlement is in sight and a new armament race is being mounted.[35]

In 1946, the WCC Provisional Committee insisted that Jews who had converted to Christianity were entitled to the same rights as any other member of the Christian church. Twenty-two years later, however, the same body could not affirm in any meaningful way that the Jewish state, a member nation of the United Nations, had a right to be free of threats to destroy it.

Correspondence with the PLO

The WCC’s unwillingness to respond to attacks on Israel’s legitimacy is also evident in the organization’s correspondence with the Central Committee of the PLO during the early 1970s. In letters sent in response to terror attacks perpetrated by PLO constituent organizations, WCC officials wrote in a patronizing tone, telling PLO leaders that kidnappings, hijackings, and murders harmed the PLO’s chances of achieving self-determination for the Palestinian people – as if PLO leaders were too stupid to know the consequences of their actions and could not assess for themselves whether or not they achieved the goals they wanted.

This patronizing tone was particularly evident in a letter sent by WCC general secretary Eugene Carson Blake in September 1970 after a spate of hijackings by the PLO.[36] After lamenting how “the world community has not yet been able to satisfy your demands for justice and self-determination” and expressing sympathy for the PLO’s “desire to focus world attention” on the plight of the Palestinians, Blake reported that the WCC must nevertheless “strongly condemn reckless acts of anarchy which disregard the basic human rights for which you are striving.” Blake continued that it was in the PLO’s “best interest to refrain from further indiscriminate bombings, attacks and hijackings which increasingly threaten innocent civilians.” Here Blake attributes benign motives to the PLO, portraying the organization as if it was striving for “human rights” when, in fact, its charter expressed an obvious intent to deprive the Jewish people of their right to self-determination.

A similar obtuseness was also evident in the letter sent to the PLO Central Committee from CCIA director Leopoldo J. Niilus on 2 June 1972. It was in response to the Lod Airport massacre perpetrated by the Japanese Red Army on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Referring to an attack that left twenty-six people dead and scores injured, Niilus said the massacre was in “sharp contrast to the hijacking operation of September 1970” because it “deliberately involved a large and indiscriminate slaughter, many of the victims of which had no connection whatever with the Middle East.” Consequently, the attack “cannot but be strongly condemned by all humane men.”

In less than two years, the hijackings went, in WCC correspondence, from being “reckless acts of anarchy which disregard human rights” to something not so bad because at least nobody got killed as they did in subsequent attacks.

Niilus also stated “actions such as these do the greatest possible disservice to the cause of the Palestinians which your Committee seeks to serve.”

The WCC’s tendency to treat PLO leaders as errant children is also evident in another letter, this one sent on 6 September 1972 in response to the massacre of eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich by the PLO’s Black September faction. In this letter, Blake stated that the “repetition of indiscriminate acts such as those at the Lydda [Lod] Airport and the senseless terrorism most certainly does injustice to the cause of the Palestinians and may nullify all of the more positive steps which have been taken by you and others on their behalf.” If Blake were to have written with a bit more candor, he might have said: “After all we’ve done for you, you do this?”

Blake then remarked:

I understand that your London representative has unofficially disassociated the PLO from these most recent acts. I sincerely hope that you will do so officially and that you will take all measures available to you to restrain the members of the “Black September” group and any others who may be involved in these activities to desist from them immediately.

Instead of calling for the PLO to accept responsibility for the actions of its members, and punish them, Blake calls for the organization to “disassociate” itself from the attacks, as if this is a sufficient moral response from responsible political leaders. A more robust reaction would have been to demand that the PLO condemn the attack and assist in the prosecution of the perpetrators.

The WCC’s inability to hold the PLO to account is rooted in a failure to discern the PLO’s stated intent to destroy Israel. At no point in these letters did WCC officials acknowledge that the PLO’s explicit goal, enunciated in its charter approved in 1964, was the liberation of Palestine, which logically meant Israel’s destruction. This same charter declared Zionism an “illegal movement” and “outlaw[ed] its presence and activities” in the territory the PLO sought to liberate. This is clearly a rejection of Jewish self-determination.[37] Because of the WCC’s inability to acknowledge this reality, the organization failed to understand that acts of terror were not motivated by a desire to achieve “self-determination” but were an attempt to deny Israeli Jews the ability to live a normal national life in a Jewish state.

Blake reached the height of moral obtuseness when he sent a telegram to Israeli president Zalman Shazar after the Munich massacre that indicated a fundamental inability to discern the difference between victim and perpetrator.[38]

In the opening sentence of the telegram, the WCC general secretary expresses his shock and dismay at “the senseless killings of members of the Israeli olympic [sic] team, their abductors and German officials that have taken place in Munich” – as if there was an equivalence between the Israeli victims, the German police who tried to rescue them, and the terrorists guilty of murder. Blake then asserts that “responsible Arab and Palestinian bodies” have “disassociated themselves” from the attack; he did not seem aware that they thereby gave PLO leaders cover to evade blame.

Blake says he prays “that this tragic event will not give rise to reprisals and revenge from any quarter, but that in the midst of sadness and the sense of outrage, reason and repentance will prevail and no more lives will be needlessly sacrificed.” As a Christian organization, the WCC must proffer words of peace, but the admonition to Israel not to respond with reprisals raises some obvious questions: how exactly was Israel supposed to respond to the massacre of its Olympic athletes in Munich? If Israel was supposed to treat the attack as a matter to be adjudicated by an international or domestic court, should not the WCC have, in its correspondence with the PLO Central Committee, called on the PLO leaders to turn the perpetrators over to the relevant authorities?

Blake then states that the “barbaric” attacks are “especially sad” because they obstruct the cause of peace. This, however, raises another obvious question: did Blake honestly believe that the PLO was interested in the cause of peace in the Middle East? Since its founding in 1964, the PLO had been engaged in an ongoing war with Israel. Even in an expression of condolence for a terrible massacre, the WCC could not refrain from advancing its political agenda.

The WCC’s Response to Violence in Lebanon

The WCC’s response to events in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s was equally obtuse.[39] In their declarations, WCC staffers and decision-making bodies failed to hold the PLO accountable for its actions but vociferously condemned Israel. In particular, the WCC offered vague and diffuse condemnations of massacres in Lebanon in those decades, failing to provide details about either the identity of the victims or the identity and motives of the perpetrators. But when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, WCC institutions forcefully condemned Israel while attributing malign intent to it.

The WCC’s Assembly and Central Committee said hardly a word about massacres perpetrated by the PLO and Christian Phalangists in 1976. On 23 January that year, the PLO murdered several hundred Christians at Damour. Writing in Arutz Sheva in 2002, Murray Kahl provides detail:

Before the arrival of the PLO, [Damour] was a town of some 25,000 people, with five churches, three chapels, seven schools, both private and public, and one public hospital, where Muslims from nearby villages were treated along with the Christians, at the expense of the town.

On 9 January 1976, the priest of Damour, Father Mansour Labaky, was carrying out a Maronite (Roman Catholics [sic]) custom of blessing the houses with holy water when a bullet whistled past his ear and hit one of the houses. He soon learned that the town was surrounded by the forces of Sa’iqa, a PLO terrorist group affiliated with Syria. The shooting and shelling continued all day. When Father Labaky telephoned a local Muslim sheikh and asked him, as a fellow religious leader, what he could do to help the people of the town, the sheikh replied, “I can do nothing. They want to harm you. It is the Palestinians. I cannot stop them.” Other Lebanese politicians, of both the Left and the Right, proved equally unhelpful, offering only apologies and commiserations. Kamal Jumblatt, in whose parliamentary constituency Damour lay, told Labaky, “Father, I can do nothing for you, because it depends on Yasser Arafat.” The Maronite priest then called Arafat’s headquarters, but was deferred to a subordinate, who told him “Father, don’t worry. We don’t want to harm you. If we are destroying you it is for strategic reasons.”[40]

Despite the pleas, the violence continued against the Christians of Damour. Labaky described the final attack that took place on 23 January 1976:

It was an apocalypse. They were coming, thousands and thousands, shouting “Allahu Akbar! God is Great! Let us attack them for the Arabs, let us offer a holocaust.” They were slaughtering everyone in their path, men, women, and children. Whole families were killed in their homes. Many women were gang-raped, and few of them left alive afterwards.[41]

The PLO massacre at Damour was a precursor to another massacre at Tel al-Zaatar, this time perpetrated by Christian Phalangists on 12 August 1976. The atrocity took place after a long siege during which there was no water, food, nor medical supplies for the inhabitants of the camp. Children died from dehydration during the siege, which ended in a slaughter of many of the town’s inhabitants. Newsweek provided some details:

As the people of Tal Zaatar surge[d] out toward the “confrontation line” between Christian and Muslim Beirut, the rightists fell on them like wolves, arguing, by some accounts, over how many Palestinians each right-wing group was entitled to execute. Many young Palestinians stooped and shuffled in pitifully transparent attempts to make themselves look old and noncombatant, but it was no use; entire families were killed. Some of the luckier Palestinians were merely lined up and forced to cheer the names of Phalangist leaders and of Syrian President Hafez Assad. “We all did so willingly,” teacher Ahmad Maaruf told NEWSWEEK. “It was a very cheap price for our lives.”[42]

The WCC’s Executive Committee met in March 1976 – two months after the massacre at Damour – and issued a statement that merely appealed to “all parties involved in Lebanon to renounce violence, and to spare human lives through a renewed commitment to finding negotiated solutions.”[43] The Executive Committee also asserted “that the conflict in Lebanon is essentially political, not religious,” and asked WCC member churches to “do their utmost to bring a just peace to Lebanon and the whole Middle East.” The statement made no mention of the slaughter of Christians in Damour.

The WCC’s Central Committee met from 10 to 18 August 1976 and said nothing about the Tel al-Zataar massacre, which took place two days after it began deliberations. In a resolution on events in Lebanon, the Central Committee warned the mass media to “avoid describing the Lebanon crisis as a religious conflict” – despite the obvious sectarian aspects of both massacres. The killers who chanted “Allahu Akbar” at Damour clearly thought their attack had a religious component. And it is difficult to believe that the Phalangists did not have the Damour attack in their minds during the massacre they perpetrated.

In lamenting the crisis, the Central Committee stated that “civilian populations have often been the first to suffer, for example in Damour, Koura and Tel al-Zaatar, and they need immediate humanitarian relief. But such outrages can only be avoided in the future if the spirit of reconciliation in terms of forgiveness, understanding and reconstruction is revived.”[44]

The WCC Assembly, which met in Vancouver in 1983, said nothing specific about these massacres in its statement on the Middle East and even failed to acknowledge the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacre perpetrated by Christian Phalangists allied with Israel. Instead it said in general terms: “The agony of the Lebanese war is not yet over. The integrity and independence of Lebanon are in greater danger than ever.” The statement also reported that the “ecumenical community shares the agony of the peoples in Lebanon who have been tragically suffering over the last nine years and who have been carrying too large a burden of the problems in the region.”

Israel’s Invasion of Lebanon

The WCC’s tendency to assail Israel while giving its adversaries a pass manifested itself in its response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, which began on 6 June 1982.

The PLO and its constituent groups had been attacking Israeli civilians for over a decade.[45] A WCC pamphlet released several weeks after the invasion largely ignored this fact.[46] This compendium of statements, published by the CCIA, opens with an introduction that demonizes Israel while saying virtually nothing about the actions of the PLO in the years and months before Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.[47]

Written by the then CCIA director Ninan Koshy, the introduction declares that Israel’s “pretext” for its invasion “was the attempted assassination of the Israeli Ambassador in London.” In the next sentence, however, Koshy asserts that “the cease-fire was violated by Israel.”[48] The PLO’s attempted assassination of an ambassador elicits no condemnation from him, but Israel’s subsequent response does.

Koshy goes on to offer a blistering critique of Israeli intentions. Before the invasion, he reports, Israel expressed a desire to “make South Lebanon free from the PLO”; but “as the war escalated, Israeli objectives also escalated.” As he puts it:

This was a premeditated, carefully planned, ruthlessly executed aggression. The objective was to exterminate Palestinian nationalism. The invasion was part of the Israeli attempt at solving the Palestinian problem by force both within the occupied territories and outside.[49]

The PLO comes off much better in Koshy’s introduction:

Of all the liberation movements in recent history, the PLO has been one of the most viable in genuineness of motivation, grass roots appeal, organizational structure and international support and standing. Tribulations of Palestinian disinheritance and statelessness have prompted them in the past to take maximalist and unrealistic positions. But if one reads carefully resolutions of Palestinian National Councils, one can notice a movement away from maximalism, from the claims about the whole of Palestine and rejection of a “mini-state,” to an implied though conditional acceptance of such a state. It is likely that an Arab consensus will emerge, making possible this shift to be explicit. There will be a new political profile for the PLO. The PLO might feel that the kind of military build up [sic] it had in Lebanon probably had negative effects in terms of relations with the Lebanese.[50]

Koshy simply misled his readers by claiming that the PLO had modulated its hostility toward Israel, abandoned its maximalist rejectionism of Israel’s existence, and had conditionally embraced the legitimacy of a Jewish state. In February 1982, just a few months before the invasion, Arafat said otherwise.

Speaking at a celebration of the thirteen anniversary of the founding of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (the DFLP), Arafat addressed his “brothers and companions of the gun in the DFLP,” and told them that “we are together and side by side in the march towards the liberation of Palestine, all Palestine [applause].” Arafat went on to brag that it was not the PLO that had asked for the ceasefire in July 1981. In fact, he said, “it was they [the Israelis] who asked for a cease-fire in the July war; it was they who asked for a cease-fire in the July war [applause].” Arafat said that while the PLO agreed to a ceasefire with Israel, it was limited only to the Lebanese border, and ultimately he could never accept a ceasefire

as long as there is occupied Palestinian territory [applause.] That should be obvious. No Palestinian leadership could cease fire as long as there was occupied Palestinian territory. The joint forces have cubs and flowers [male and female youth organizations] fighting and will continue to advance. We know, brothers, that Palestine was sold at the cheapest price….[51]

Arafat’s speech had echoed a political platform issued by Fatah, another constituent body of the PLO, which in 1980 called for the “liberation of Palestine, a full and complete liberation” and the “annihilation of the Zionist entity in all of its economic, political, military and cultural manifestations.” The struggle, Fatah stated, “will be carried on without interruption until the annihilation of the Zionist entity and the liberation of Palestine are achieved.”[52] This is not the rhetoric of a movement intent on achieving self-determination for the Palestinians, but of a movement intent on denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.

Moreover, Koshy failed to acknowledge the suffering of Lebanese living under PLO control. In the years after its arrival in Lebanon in 1975 – after it was expelled from Jordan for, among other things, attempting to assassinate King Hussein – the PLO turned southern Lebanon into an armed camp. It treated the Lebanese in this area with great viciousness and snubbed its nose at the international community by ejecting UN peacekeepers from their positions and replacing them with its own troops.

The details of the PLO’s misdeeds were exposed when the New York Times provided extensive coverage of its conduct in Lebanon. “For about six years,” the Times reported, “until Israel invaded Southern Lebanon on June 6, the Palestinians had something closely approaching an independent state.” David K. Shipler wrote that this entity

had an army, a police force, a crude judicial system, an educational and welfare system, a civil service and a foreign policy. Those who lived within its rough boundaries said they were too terrified then to describe it to outsiders. Now, for the first time, they are describing what it was like, telling of theft, intimidation and violence.[53]

Many of the citizens of this “state within a state” were Palestinian refugees who were denied the right to become citizens of Lebanon, but most of the inhabitants were “Lebanese nationals…both Christians and Moslems, who said they felt powerless in their own homes.” Most were willing to tell their story, Shipler reported, but others feared the PLO’s return. Those who did talk told stories similar to what Hamas and Hizballah subsequently did in Gaza and Lebanon, respectively. Terrorists used people’s homes and gardens to store weapons and launch attacks on Israel, thereby inviting Israeli attacks on their property.

Shipler also reported that

the huge sums of money the P.L.O. received from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries seems to have been spent primarily on weapons and ammunition, which were placed strategically in densely populated civilian areas in the hope that this would either deter Israeli attacks or exact a price from Israel in world opinion for killing civilians.[54]

On the same day the New York Times published Shipler’s account, the Los Angeles Times published a report on Lebanese Christians telling about PLO atrocities in their country. They spoke of the PLO tearing people apart by tying them to cars and having them drive in opposite directions; of the PLO throwing corpses of their opponents into vats of acid.[55]

In a Different Voice

In Koshy’s defense, it can be argued that the revelations about the PLO’s misdeeds came to light after the CCIA backgrounder went to press on 12 July 1982.[56] (The New York Times and Los Angeles Times articles were published the following day.)

Nevertheless, neither the WCC’s Central Committee, which met after the publication of these articles in July 1982, nor the Assembly, which met in the summer of 1983, condemned the PLO by name in the statements they issued.

The Central Committee held a meeting in Geneva on 19-28 July 1982, well after the PLO’s atrocities were revealed to the world, and it said nothing about them. Instead of acknowledging how the PLO had mistreated the Lebanese people, the Central Committee blamed Israel for imposing pressures “aimed at further dividing the Lebanese and turning them more bitterly against the Palestinians.”[57] The PLO had done a fine job of souring the Lebanese people against the Palestinian cause; yet the Central Committee blamed Israel for this process.

The Central Committee then reported that a WCC delegation had spoken “with special urgency of the plight of West Beirut, describing its siege by the Israeli forces as horrible and scandalous. They portrayed the intolerable physical and psychological pressures on a people waiting for a final, devastating attack.”

And while the WCC Assembly held in Vancouver in 1983 said nothing about the massacres in Lebanon, it was very critical of Israeli policies in the West Bank, calling on Israel to withdraw from “all territories occupied in 1967.” 

The Israeli settlement policy on the West Bank has resulted in a de facto annexation giving final touches to a discriminatory policy of development of peoples that flagrantly violates the basic rights of the Palestinian people. There are fears of relocation of the inhabitants on the West Bank and their expulsion. A large number of Palestinians are under detention in the prisons on the West Bank and in camps in Lebanon.[58]

The Assembly was also very critical of Israel’s supporters, calling on Christians in the West to “recognize that their guilt over the fate of the Jews in their countries may have influenced their views of the conflict in the Middle East and has led to uncritical support of the policies of the state of Israel, thereby ignoring the plight of the Palestinian people and their rights.” The statement also lamented the difficulty Palestinians had in gaining access to holy sites in Jerusalem, as if relations between the Israelis and the inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip did not pose serious security threats to Israelis living in that city.

Isaac Rottenberg, author of The Turbulent Triangle: Christians, Jews, Israel, writes that the text of the statement on the Middle East was based on a draft formulated by a “self-appointed group of partisans, financed by the Middle East Council of Churches.” These partisans came to the Assembly, Rottenberg reports, “not for dialogue, but to pull off a political coup. The climate they found was sympathetic (or, at least, indifferent) enough for them to succeed.” Rottenberg adds that after the passage of this statement, WCC general secretary Phillip Potter “was asked about the obvious biases and imbalances in the document on the Middle East.” Rottenberg continues:

According to press reports his response went as follows: “The Jews have other voices speaking on their behalf.” In other words, through our imbalance we balance the scale for the poor Palestinians and the PLO. Having no other voice, they, therefore, deserve the compassionate concern of the WCC.[59]

This episode shows the WCC’s corrupt witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell. WCC personnel issue statements that demonize Israel. Statements from the WCC’s Assembly about the Arab-Israeli conflict are written in more circumspect and diplomatic language, but still single Israel out for condemnation at the behest of Christians living in the Middle East. The WCC downplays the misdeeds of other ruthless regimes throughout the world at the behest of local churches that live in the shadow of these regimes. Concerns over access to holy sites in Jerusalem are given greater weight than Israeli security needs. Support for Israel is portrayed as “unreflective”; biases in favor of its adversaries are portrayed as siding with the powerless.

The difference between voices the WCC uses to address Israel and other actors in the Middle East is self-evident. In the West Bank, there is no confusion over who is responsible for the suffering (Israel) and what it must do (withdraw). But when it comes to Lebanon, where well-known actors had perpetrated unspeakable atrocities that any responsible religious leader would condemn, the WCC retreated into bland mumblings. From its statements there is simply no way to tell who is responsible for the suffering the WCC laments in Lebanon, unless this suffering can be blamed on Israel.

This problem has persisted in the decades since. The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) documented the problem in a 2004 report about mainline human rights activism, which included a section on the WCC. According to the IRD, statements about human rights issued by liberal Protestant churches and the institutions they support make it difficult to determine who, aside from Israel (and the United States), is being criticized. But “when the subject of Israeli abuses comes up, mainline resolution writers frequently discover a zest for hard hitting prose. They name the victims, describe their specific sufferings, and point a finger at the perpetrator. Every detail serves to heighten the sense of outrage.”[60]

In sum, the WCC’s response to events in Lebanon meets two of Sharansky’s criteria for anti-Semitism when dealing with Israel. Koshy’s writings about the 1982 invasion clearly demonize Israel and apply a double standard to the respective actions of the PLO and the Israeli government. And the resolutions passed by the WCC’s Central Committee and Assembly used different standards to assess the actions of Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. Simply put, the WCC’s prophetic voice was badly corrupted with an undeniable obsession with the behavior of the Jewish state.

Covering for the Soviet Union

The corruption of the WCC’s prophetic voice was also readily apparent in how the organization responded to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. As noted, the WCC’s 1983 Assembly lambasted Israel for its policies in the West Bank; it took, however, a much softer line toward the Soviet invasion that killed thousands of people, many of them civilians. In its statement the Assembly made no reference to the USSR’s invasion of another sovereign country, but merely lamented that “continuing fighting” in Afghanistan had “led to tremendous suffering for vast sections of the population, many of whom have become refugees. The UN estimates that there are more than three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran.”[61]

The Assembly’s statement, amazingly enough, called for “an end to the supply of arms to the opposition groups from the outside” – which would have effectively given the Soviet Union a free hand in the country it had invaded. The statement also called for a “withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the context of an overall political settlement, including agreement between Afghanistan and the USSR.” A statement issued by the WCC’s Executive Committee soon after the invasion in 1979 was not much stronger; it merely expressed “serious concern” about “the military action by the USSR in Afghanistan as constituting the latest direct armed intervention in one country by another.”[62]

Clearly this is thin gruel compared to the response of the WCC’s officers to the USSR’s suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968. In that case they called on the USSR to reconsider its invasion and to “remove all its troops from Czechoslovakia at the earliest possible moment, and to renounce the use of force upon its allies.”

J. A. Emerson Vermaat reports that the WCC took a soft approach toward the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan because it was “forced by its member churches from Eastern Europe, particularly the Russian Orthodox Church, to come close to the official Soviet position.” The issue, Vermaat reports, was discussed at two WCC meetings before the 1983 Assembly.

The first was the World Conference on Mission and Evangelism, which took place in Melbourne in May 1980. At this WCC-organized event, delegates from the Russian Orthodox Church formed an alliance with delegates from Latin America to keep the invasion of Afghanistan off the table. The Latin American delegates, Vermaat reports, were working for the passage of a declaration on U.S. policies in Nicaragua and did not want the issue of Afghanistan to divert attention from their cause.[63]

Delegates from the United States also cooperated with this effort, Vermaat recounts, so as to prevent the issue of Afghanistan from dividing the conference:

American church delegates in Melbourne invited the Russians for a meeting…to discuss the role of the churches as “agents of reconciliation.” At this meeting a decision was made to exclude the matter of Afghanistan from the conference’s proceedings and to concentrate on other issues where divisions were less sharp, such as the churches’ role in proclaiming peace. Thus the Russians succeeded in effectively neutralizing most of the opposition to proposals to omit the Afghanistan issue from final documents.[64]

Still, there were some holdouts who insisted that a reference to the invasion be made in the conference’s proceedings, affirming that the Afghan people had a right to self-determination just as the people in Latin America. In response, one Russian archbishop stated that the Russian Orthodox delegation “represents millions of believers in the Soviet Union. We represent millions of believers in the Soviet Union. Our people share the policy of our government which purports to give the Afghan government the assistance it asked for.” Another Russian delegate warned that if Afghanistan was mentioned, “our position in the WCC would be subject to reconsideration.”[65]

Ultimately, the conference issued a statement that spoke of “foreign powers [that] are intervening militarily and governments which oppress, exploit, imprison and kill innocent people.” These countries were left unnamed, the statement said, because to do so

may endanger the position – even the lives – of many of our brothers and sisters, some of whom are participating in this Conference. We therefore confess our inability to be as prophetic as we ought to be, as that may, in some instances, entail imposing martyrdom on our fellow believers in those countries – something we dare not do from a safe distance.[66]

Delegates from the Russian Orthodox Church were able to keep Afghanistan off the table at another WCC meeting in August 1980. At this gathering of the Central Committee in Geneva, delegates affirmed a resolution that called on the United States to “halt all assistance to El Salvador and to guarantee that it will not intervene to determine the fate of the Salvadoran people.” But when it came to the issue of Afghanistan, Vermaat reports, the Central Committee did not mention either Afghanistan or the Soviet Union by name; instead it referred its followers back to a statement issued by the WCC’s Executive Committee in February 1980: “The Central Committee, in light of the statement ‘Threats to Peace’ adopted by the Executive Committee of the WCC…expresses its deep continuing concern regarding prevailing threats to peace, including those mentioned in the statement.…”[67]

The same process played itself out at the 1983 Assembly. A representative of the Russian Orthodox Church said that calls for immediate Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan by the WCC Assembly “would be politically misused” and his church’s loyalty to “the ecumenical movement would be challenged.” As a result of this lobbying, Vermaat notes, the Soviet Union “was allowed to set the terms of its own withdrawal – a clear acquiescence to a form of power politics so often condemned by the WCC when the aggressor or interventionist state is not the Soviet Union.”[68]

Thus, church leaders from the Middle East were able to direct the organization’s ire at Israel, while representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church were able to prevent the WCC from condemning the USSR for its invasion of Afghanistan.

The Second Intifada

One of the most troublesome aspects of the WCC’s witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict is that when violence against Israel escalated after the collapse of the peace process in 2000, the organization’s polemics against Israel escalated at the same time. When Israeli civilians were being blown up by suicide bombers during the Second Intifada, WCC institutions did not play a conciliatory role but broadcast a one-sided story that served to justify Palestinian violence against Israel and undermined Israel’s efforts to defend itself. WCC statements, especially those of the Central Committee, restate the Palestinian narrative lock, stock, and barrel.

The tone that the WCC was going to take in response to the Second Intifada was revealed at a meeting of the Central Committee in Potsdam, Germany, in early 2001, just a few months after the uprising began. In a “minute” or resolution on the Second Intifada, the Central Committee expressed “its deep sadness and grave concern at the new escalation of violence in the Palestinian autonomous and occupied territories as well as Israel over the last four months that has claimed a terrible toll of human life, especially among children and youth.”[69] Elsewhere the minute states:

We share the frustration and disappointments of our Palestinian sisters and brothers. We are deeply disturbed by and deplore a pattern of discrimination, routine humiliation, segregation and exclusion which restricts Palestinian freedom of movement, including access to the holy sites, and disproportionate use of military force by Israel, the denial of access to timely medical assistance, the destruction of property, including tens of thousands of olive trees, and which requires special permission for Palestinians to enter areas under Israeli jurisdiction and establishes “cantonization” of the land, so that Palestinian lands are separated from one another – a pattern so very reminiscent of policies that the WCC has condemned in the past.

The resolution also called on the WCC’s general secretary (Rev. Samuel Kobia) and staffers to support “efforts toward a negotiated peace in the Middle East” and to pay special attention to “the future status of Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the increasing number of settlements and measures to enforce all relevant United Nations resolutions, including those regarding the withdrawal from all occupied territories – the Palestine occupied territories, the Golan Heights and Shaba’a.” The onus for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, then, rests solely on Israel. The Central Committee does not offer one word of condemnation or criticism of the Palestinians, as if they have no responsibility whatsoever for the collapse of the peace process.

The Central Committee’s refusal to grapple with the events that preceded the uprising was evident in a background report[70] commended to WCC member churches by the Central Committee on 29 January 2001. It states:

The significant compromises made by the Palestinian leadership to meet Israel’s demands had not been reciprocated by significant steps on the part of Israel to implement their commitments, but rather by reiterated delays accompanied by ever increasing demands on the Palestine National Authority to provide security, inter alia, for illegal Israeli settlers. In the view of many Palestinians, the moribund peace process was dealt a death stroke in Jerusalem with the massive show of armed force at the time of the visit of Ariel Sharon.

The notion that Palestinian leaders had made “significant compromises” flies in the face of some well-known history: Arafat turned down an offer at Camp David in the summer of 2000, failed to make a counteroffer, and then rejected a more generous offer in the form of the Clinton parameters a few months later. What “significant compromises” is the report talking about?

And the assertion that Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount on 28 September 2000 “dealt a death stroke” to the peace process fails to take into account that two Israeli soldiers were killed in the days before his visit and that Palestinian leaders had been preparing for the Second Intifada soon after negotiations collapsed.

For example, in July 2000, Arafat had a letter published in the Palestinian Authority’s monthly magazine Al-Shahuda “to the brave Palestinian people,” telling them to “be prepared. The battle for Jerusalem has begun.” And on 30 August 2000, the Palestinian Authority stated in another official publication, Al-Sabah (“The Morning”), that it would declare “a general Intifada for Jerusalem. The time for the intifada has arrived, the time for jihad has arrived.” Moreover, Khaled Abu Toameh reported that “as the Camp David summit was underway, Arafat’s Fatah organization, the biggest faction of the PLO, started training Palestinian teenagers for the upcoming violence in 40 training camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” In short, the Palestinian Authority was publicly preparing for the Second Intifada months before it began, demonstrating that at worst, Sharon’s visit was a pretext for the intifada, not the death knell of the peace process.[71]

In the summer of 2001, the WCC sent a delegation to Israel as part of a fact-finding commission. In addition to unofficially attending the funeral of PLO leader Faisal Husseini (grandson of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem) and meeting with various representatives of Orthodox churches in Jerusalem, the delegation met with Bishops Munib Younan, Michel Sabbah, and Riah Abu al-Assal, all of whom have spent their careers assailing Israel; UN officials; and Sabeel activists Jean Zaru and Hillary Rantisi. The delegation did meet with some Israeli groups such as Bat Shalom, BADIL, Rabbis for Human Rights, and the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions.[72] These, however, are all part of the Israeli peace camp, which has embraced a narrative of Jewish self-reform leading to peace that has been disconfirmed by recent history.[73]

Given the delegation’s itinerary, it is no surprise that its report on its trip failed to take into account the role Palestinian leaders played in the collapse of the peace process.[74] Instead, the report mischaracterized the events that preceded the Second Intifada by stating that during the delegation’s meetings “the territorial compromise by the Palestinians was reiterated and Israel’s right to exist within secure and recognized borders was acknowledged. The call was to struggle against occupation, not Israel’s existence.” Again, it is necessary to ask, what territorial compromise is the report talking about?

The delegation framed Palestinian violence with bland euphemisms and excuses, saying it was “told that the offensive and defensive measures taken by Palestinians are due to the international community’s failure to respond to the impunity Israel continues to enjoy, and the present total siege imposed on the Palestinian territories.” The report included a long litany of how the Palestinians were suffering but no description of the violence endured by the Israelis, nor did it mention Hamas’s efforts to derail the peace process with its suicide attacks. The report failed to address Arafat’s misdeeds altogether. With such a one-sided narrative that ignored legitimate and undeniable Israeli concerns, the WCC delegation disqualified itself from providing credible witness about the conflict.

The WCC and the Durban Conference

The WCC’s response to the events at the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance that took place in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 is a tour de force of intellectual and moral bankruptcy. In a press release issued on 7 September that year, the WCC’s delegation to the conference stated that it “celebrates that such a forum was held, because it falls within the WCC’s long-cherished tradition of giving space, and supporting victims [of racism] to speak publicly.” The delegation also reported that it “was greatly helped by the sensitive explanations and support of its Palestinian members.”[75]

The statement failed to address the virulent anti-Semitism that was on display at the conference. Arab and Muslim extremists from the Middle East, along with their allies from the radical left in Europe and the United States, were able to convince the gathering to affirm an amalgam of ritualistic charges of genocide, racism, and ethnic cleansing targeted at Israel.

Jews were singularly denied the right to participate in the proceedings at the conference because they could not be “objective.” The Jewish Center at the conference was closed because of threats of violence. Protesters carried signs stating that if Hitler had finished the job there were would be no state of Israel and no Palestinian suffering.[76] During the conference a Jewish doctor was beaten by people wearing checkered keffiyehs – the symbol of the Palestinian cause – who said Jews were the cause of all the problems in the Middle East. A local Jewish leader attributed the attack to the atmosphere at the conference.[77]

The WCC’s delegation commented on none of this, but merely remarked that

there are some statements in the NGO forum document which are outside the WCC’s policy framework, and which the WCC cannot support, such as: equating Zionism with racism, describing Israel as an apartheid state, and the call for a general boycott of Israeli goods. This does not detract from the WCC’s support for the document as a whole.[78]

The Durban Conference turned into an anti-Jewish hatefest, and the best the WCC’s delegation could do was say it disapproved some statements that were “outside the WCC’s policy framework.”

The delegation also asserted that to

focus on some sections of the NGO Forum document is disrespectful to all other sections, which cover a vast number of issues significant to the victims of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. Those wide concerns are represented within the membership of the WCC delegation and cannot be ignored.[79]

With this affirmation, the WCC’s delegation ignored a central aspect of the Durban conference: it ignored the mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities in Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East. Walid Phares reports that at the conference, there were no representatives from

Southern Sudan, Darfur, Kurds, Berbers, Copts, Assyrio-Chaldeans, Mauritanian blacks, Arabs in Iran, or other persecuted groups in the Arab and Muslim world…. Discrimination against ethnic groups within the Arab and Muslim world wasn’t even on the agenda. Organizers detailed past historical, and of course Western, racism, but didn’t utter a single word on the present-day sufferings of hundreds of millions of disenfranchised peoples from the Atlas Mountains to the Himalayas.[80]

The WC affirmed this distorted agenda before the conference started. In a background paper submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 15 August 2001, the WCC exhibited an exclusive focus on the impact of white colonialism on Third World peoples without acknowledging the impact Arab imperialism and expansionist Islam have had on minorities throughout the world. The backgrounder asserts that the “dominant source of this social ill [racism] is white racism against people of colour around the world.” It also warns that the “role Christianity has played in denigrating and devaluing Indigenous contributions to the understanding of Christianity in the context of non-Western tradition has to be acknowledged.”[81]

The statement did allow that “religious intolerance and the political manipulation of religion and religious affiliation are on the rise in many parts of the world, and are increasingly a factor in national and international conflict,” and that “certain religious teachings and practices contribute to and aggravate religious intolerance, as well as perpetuate cultural and racial discrimination.” It even granted that “certain religious enterprises have been used as catalysts for colonization, slavery and apartheid.”[82]

It just didn’t say where.

An Arafat Eulogy

When Yasser Arafat died in 2004, the WCC further revealed its pro-Palestinian tilt, sending a letter of condolence to Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei. Written by CCIA director Peter Weiderud, it said in part:

President Arafat will be remembered for bringing the Palestinian people together and for his unique and tenacious contribution to the cause of establishing their national home.

We stand with the Churches of the Holy Land to honour his commitment to their place in Palestinian society, its affairs and its future. President Arafat often made sure to mention the church as well as the mosque as core institutions of Palestinian national life. True to the customs of mutual respect among his diverse people, he celebrated Christmas with the churches of Bethlehem as circumstances permitted.

On his long road as a leader, Yasser Arafat came to the recognition that true justice embraces peace, security and hope for both Palestinians and Israelis. His path has now ended, amid the rocks and thorns of occupation, at a distance from the goal he sought. As he is laid to rest the world will see – from the location of his final resting place – how far the Palestinian people must travel together.[83]

Weiderud’s eulogy exonerated Arafat for his failure to protect the rights of Christians living in Palestinian areas during his tenure, his failure to negotiate in good faith at Camp David during the summer of 2000, and his rejection of the parameters a few months later. Forgotten was his indifference to the massacre of Christians at Damour, his support for Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada despite having agreed to put an end to it under the Oslo Accords. Forgotten was Arafat’s theft of billions of dollars of foreign aid intended to improve the lives of Palestinians and promote the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

It is reasonable for an ecumenical organization to note the passing of Arafat and offer condolences to the Palestinian people, but the WCC did not have to laud the man in such a grotesque manner hearkening back to Koshy’s adulatory writings about the PLO in the early 1980s. In so doing, the WCC debased itself and its prophetic voice for peace.


In February 2005, the WCC’s Central Committee expressed support for the divestment campaign in mainline American Protestant churches, which used a distorted historical narrative to justify singling Israel out for economic sanctions. After the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly passed a divestment resolution that stated the occupation was at the root of violence against innocents on both sides of the conflict – as if anti-Semitic incitement in Palestinian society had nothing to do with the conflict[84] – the WCC’s Central Committee issued a “minute” lauding the decision. “This action is commendable in both method and manner, uses criteria rooted in faith, and calls members to do the ‘things that make for peace’ (Luke 19:42).”[85]

A few months later, after receiving harsh criticism from the Anti-Defamation League[86] and the Simon Wiesenthal Center,[87] the WCC issued an explanation[88] that tried to defend the Central Committee from charges of singling Israel out as a legitimate target for divestment. But the Central Committee had, in fact, done so by praising the PC(USA) for “initiating a process of phased selective divestment from multinational companies involved in the occupation,” making no reference to divesting from companies that profit from Palestinian violence.

In July 2005, the WCC issued a press release detailing a talk by WCC general secretary Rev. Samuel Kobia at the 2005 conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews in Chicago.  Kobia quoted the WCC’s 1948 Assembly statement regarding the Christian approach to the Jews and called anti-Semitism a “sin against God and man” and “absolutely irreconcilable with the practice of the Christian faith.” Nevertheless, he warned that divestment should not be compared “with a call for boycott of Jewish goods and persons as in Germany in the 1930s.”[89]

As bothersome as it may be for proponents of BDS, the comparison between divestment and the boycott of Jewish goods is apt. Support for divestment was directed at Israel and no other country in the world, as if its actions were uniquely sinful and represented a singularly severe violation of international law. Kobia himself made this message explicit in a 2009 address to the WCC’s Central Committee, stating that “Occupation along with the concomitant humiliation of a whole people for over six decades constitutes not just economic and political crimes but, like anti-Semitism, it is a sin against God.” He continued: “We have already said since 1948 that anti-Semitism was a sin against God. Are we ready to say that occupation is also a sin against God?”[90]

Kobia’s remark that “We already said since 1948 that anti-Semitism was a sin against God” is illuminating. Notwithstanding the 1948 statement, anti-Semitism remains a problem particularly in the Middle East. Yet Kobia seems to think the WCC has done enough with its previous declarations and can now ignore the issue.

And that is exactly what the WCC has done. While the organization has periodically issued warnings about anti-Semitism in a Christian and Western context, it has failed to address the problem as it pertains to the Middle East, where it is particularly severe as documented in a number of important texts.[91]

Response to the Flotilla

Kobia’s departure from the WCC in 2008 did not diminish its anti-Israeli polemics. On 1 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 that attempted to bring Turkish-trained jihadists into the Gaza Strip using Western peace activists as cover. The vessel was stopped and boarded by Israeli commandos in the Mediterranean before it reached Gaza.

Tveit mischaracterized the events in a particularly egregious manner, writing: “We condemn the assault and killing of innocent people who were attempting to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, who have been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007.” Tveit went on to denounce “the flagrant violation of international law by Israel in attacking and boarding a humanitarian convoy in international waters.”[92]

Tveit’s depiction of events flies in the face of the videos of the incident, which show passengers of the Mavi Marmara attacking Israeli soldiers as they landed on its deck. One video even shows an Israeli soldier being stabbed. [93]

Israeli soldiers, who were equipped with paintball guns, were beaten with iron bars, had their sidearms stolen, and were stabbed with knives. One soldier was thrown from one deck to another and lost consciousness as a result. Soldiers who were knocked unconscious were brought below decks to be kept as hostages. And as a boat of Israeli soldiers approached the Mavi Marmara, so-called activists attacked them with a box of plates and even a stun grenade. As a result of the fighting seven Israeli soldiers were injured, two seriously. Their adversaries were not innocent peace activists but trained jidadists using the Free Gaza movement as a cover to attack and create an international incident by achieving martyrdom. One of the so-called activists told a reporter before the confrontation: “Right now we face one of two happy endings: either martyrdom or reaching Gaza.”[94] A search of the WCC’s websites indicates that the organization did not update or correct its statements about the confrontation in the subsequent days or weeks. The PIEF did post, in its entirety, an article[95] originally published by the news outlet Ekklesia, which described the events as follows:

Nine Turkish activists were shot dead by Israeli commandos. The IDF claimed that they were threatened and released doctored film to back this claim.

Subsequent investigations have revealed that the soldiers shot first, and those on board claimed they were acting in self defence when invaded without warning.

This is demonizing propaganda that passes off utter falsehoods as facts. What is it doing on a WCC website?

The WCC’s Anti-Israeli Bureaucracy

During and after the Second Intifada, the Central Committee made anti-Israeli activism part of the WCC’s bureaucracy by creating two organizations, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine Israel (EAPPI) and the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF). Created by a vote of the WCC’s Executive Committee in 2001, the EAPPI  provides an infrastructure for anti-Israeli activists in WCC member churches to visit Israel and the West Bank, document the impact of Israeli security measures on the Palestinians, and broadcast a one-sided narrative to Christians outside the Middle East. The PIEF, established in 2007, serves as a platform for high-profile church leaders from throughout the world to assail Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. The EAPPI is largely devoted to helping laypeople from WCC member churches engage in anti-Israeli activism. The PIEF, on the other hand, provides the clergy from WCC member churches with the materials they can use to assail Israel and its supporters on both a theological and liturgical level.


The EAPPI was created at the behest of church leaders in Jerusalem. This program, which was a central plank of the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence campaign,[96] has been a constant source of anti-Zionist propaganda. Operating in a manner similar to, and cooperating with, the Mennonite-founded and supported Christian Peacemaker Teams, EAPPI activists stand with Palestinians during confrontations with Israeli settlers and soldiers in the West Bank. They draw attention to Israeli misdeeds but offer little, if any, criticism of the acts of Palestinian terror groups.[97] A perusal of the EAPPI’s website provides all that is needed to discern the group’s anti-Israeli agenda, which is made explicit on its homepage:

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.[98]

For the EAPPI, the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict is rooted solely in the occupation. For its activists, accompanying the Palestinians provides an opportunity to gather images and testimony that portray Israel as solely at fault for the ongoing existence of the conflict.[99]

The EAPPI has turned the tragic geography of the Arab-Israeli conflict into a theme park where wealthy Westerners can act out heroic fantasies and post the videos on the internet when they return home.[100] The group’s website pictures EAPPI activists standing heroically with rustic and beleaguered Palestinians who are waiting in line at checkpoints, watching forlornly as their homes are being demolished, or recovering from the effects of tear gas launched by Israeli soldiers at peaceful protests. EAPPI materials are not used to provide an accurate map, so to speak, of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but to excite the imaginations of its supporters and activists with a mythology that portrays innocent Palestinians suffering under the lash of the uniquely evil Jewish state.

In a series of photos displayed on the EAPPI’s website,[101] an Israeli soldier is depicted as a Roman soldier menacing Mary and Joseph as they attempt to enter Bethlehem. Accompanying the photos is an article by EAPPI publicist Larry Fata, who reports that the confrontation was staged by the Civil Committee from the West Bank town of Sawahreh two days before Christmas in 2003. “The demonstration emanated from a simple question: Would Mary and Joseph have been able to get to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus had they been traveling today?” Fata continued:

As the two approached the checkpoint, the idyllic Christmas-card scene was broken by the soldiers asking “Mary and Joseph” for IDs, by another soldier training a machine gun on us, and a third filming the whole proceeding, possibly for security purposes. The two soldiers manning the checkpoint took the whole event in their stride, asking the two actors in Arabic “You’re re-creating the Mary and Joseph scene?” One asked the two where they were from. As one observer in the crowed quipped “Nazareth!,” the two gave their true residences. This gave the answer to the basic question: Our Mary and Joseph could not cross….

Why couldn’t Mary and Joseph cross in the 21st century? Our Mary has an Israeli passport and therefore cannot legally enter Bethlehem, which is part of the West Bank. Citizens of the State of Israel are not allowed to enter the West Bank for “security” reasons. Our Joseph has a West Bank ID and, as such, could legally go from one West Bank town to another in this area, but he didn’t have it with him at the time. Therefore he couldn’t cross either.[102]

The remainder of the article describes the impact of checkpoints on the West Bank Palestinians, and how the presence of EAPPI activists “serves to lower the level of tension” at these checkpoints. To inoculate the EAPPI against anti-Israeli bias, Fata describes how the group’s activists work with Machsom Watch, an Israeli group that monitors the behavior of Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints. The mocking scare quotes Fata places around the word security in the above-quoted passage serve to make the Israelis look mean-spirited, foolish, and indifferent to the suffering that the checkpoints cause. In keeping with the sardonic tone of the article, published at the height of the Second Intifada, Fata does not mention the murderous campaign of suicide attacks that prompted Israel to impose security measures in the first place. For some reason, Fata, like other EAPPI activists, found this violence unremarkable.


Between 2005 and 2007, EAPPI published on a quarterly basis ChainReaction, a decidedly anti-Zionist publication that portrayed Palestinian hostility toward Israel as justified and understandable and Israeli feelings of fear and hostility toward Palestinians as an irrational aftereffect of the Holocaust from which they refuse to recover. Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada is glossed over if mentioned at all, and usually it is not. The security barrier is depicted as a singular cause of Palestinian suffering, Palestinian children as victims of Israeli security measures, Palestinian women as mournful witnesses to their charges’ suffering, and Palestinian men as helpless but loving fathers unable to protect their innocent sons from being shot or imprisoned for unexplained reasons. Allegedly principled Jewish critics of Israel are constantly cited to lend an aura of credibility to this anti-Zionist fantasy, which at times traffics in naked indifference to the safety of Israeli Jews.

For example, Rifat Odeh Kassis, the EAPPI’s international program coordinator and project manager, exhibited shocking callousness toward the Israelis who were forcibly removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005. In this regard, Kassis plays a role similar to that played by Ninan Koshy in the 1970s – a WCC bureaucrat who used the resources entrusted to him to demonize Israel and assail its legitimacy.[103] In an August 2005 editorial, Kassis wrote that he “like many people”

was obliged to sit in front of the TV, from the 15th of August till the 12th of September, watching the drama series of the withdrawal of the settlers unfold – people who in simple terms were not supposed to be there in the first place; their presence in Gaza being contradictory to international law and considered a crime against humanity by many legal experts.[104]

Calling the presence of Israeli Jews in Gaza a “crime against humanity” justifies violence against them pure and simple.

In another editorial in 2007, Kassis assails Israel’s legitimacy. Writing that the 1947 UN partition plan was “a major injustice of the Palestinian people,” he asserts that the UN should instead have called for the creation of “one state where Jews and Arabs would each enjoy self-determination.”[105] Kassis, a Palestinian Christian, knows well how non-Muslim minorities are treated in Muslim-majority countries and that Jewish self-determination in a Muslim-majority state is simply an oxymoron. In this same paragraph, he states that the partition plan “intended the creation of two states for both nations, but…was never completely enacted.”[106] In his narrative, Kassis omits a crucial fact: the plan was not enacted because while Israel accepted it, the Arabs did not. This is basic history that any honest commentator would include.

Kassis is not the only source of such commentary. One particularly egregious case, titled “40 Ways to End the Occupation,” appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of ChainReaction. In this article, inspired by Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover,” EAPPI activists list forty ways people can assail Israel. They call on people to “name the true adversary – supporters of the occupation,”  “expose the occupation”, “expose the evil of the wall by painting on its mural,” “boycott settlement products,” and to support an “artistic and cultural boycott of Israel.” The article even calls on activists to break the law: “Hack (government) websites.”[107]

In addition to ChainReaction, the EAPPI published other pamphlets that focused on Israeli policies (such as the building of the security barrier) without providing any context of Palestinian violence. In 2003, the EAPPI issued “Security or Segregation? The Humanitarian Consequences of Israel’s Wall of Separation,”[108] which described in detail the security barrier’s impact on Palestinians without offering any information about the terror attacks that preceded the barrier’s construction. The barrier, readers are told, confiscates Palestinian land, denies farmers access to their land, prevents Palestinians from getting to their jobs in Israel, and puts villages into a “no-man’s land between the wall and the Green Line.” The report also laments that the West Bank town of Qalqiliya is surrounded by a concrete wall and watchtowers; and gives detailed accounts of confrontations between Israeli contractors and soldiers and West Bank Palestinians.

These are realities that would-be peacemakers must take into account when addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict. The barrier does have humanitarian consequences. So did the terror attacks that prompted its construction. The barrier was not built in a vacuum but after a series of brutal suicide bombings, emanating from West Bank towns such as Qalqiliya, that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000. In the narrative offered by “Security or Segregation?,” the only actions that have any moral consequences are Israeli actions. Palestinians are innocent victims who are always being acted upon, oppressed, and dictated to, and are never responsible for their own deeds.

A similar narrative is presented by another booklet the EAPPI published in 2005. This one, titled “Sawahreh against the Wall: The Struggle of a Palestinian Village, Dealing with the Infringements on Freedom Brought About by Israel’s Ever-Tightening Occupation,” details the security barrier’s impact on a town of approximately twenty-four thousand people. The previously mentioned Larry Fata wrote the introduction, which states:

The village of Sawahreh is literally and figuratively up against the Wall. Situated partly in East Jerusalem and partly in the West Bank, Sawahreh is indicative of all the daily obstacles that Palestinians must endure due to Israel’s continuing Occupation. The coming “Separation Wall” is only the latest and most obvious symbol of the stranglehold the Occupation exerts on the Palestinian population.

The route of the coming Wall, cutting right through Sawahreh, threatens to slice the village into three parts. The people of Sawahreh are protesting against the Wall while at the same time having their backs up against it. They are fighting for their very survival as a people and a culture as the government of Israel seeks to wall them in, suffocating their prospects for self-determination.[109]

No real discussion of the security barrier can take place without an honest depiction of the collapse of the peace process, the violence of the Second Intifada, and the impact this violence had on Israeli society, particularly its impact on the credibility of the Israeli peace movement. A genuine attempt at understanding the security barrier would also require an effort to assess the motivation behind the terror attacks, particularly those perpetrated by Hamas, a group dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

Yet nowhere in either of these booklets, or in ChainReaction, does the EAPPI provide any information about any of these issues. While the EAPPI activists found numerous opportunities to speak with Palestinians whose lives were disrupted by the barrier, they did not even acknowledge the suffering endured by Israeli victims of suicide bombings. Their suffering is unremarkable, their stories simply not worth the time or effort to gather. Instead one is left with the impression that the Israeli people and their leaders are monsters who decided to build a barrier out of a desire to make Palestinians suffer.

This is demonization pure and simple.


The PIEF was established to promote “inter-religious action for peace and justice that serves all peoples” of the Middle East. Like the EAPPI, however,  it is motivated by a singular focus on Israeli policies. In the resolution establishing the PIEF, the Central Committee instructed the forum to “catalyse and co-ordinate new and existing church advocacy for peace, [and] aim at ending the illegal occupation in accordance with UN resolutions.…”[110]

In line with this agenda, the PIEF has focused on Israel’s alleged sins to the exclusion of virtually all other aspects of the conflict. In particular, the PIEF serves as the platform for ecumenical statements that place the onus for ending the conflict on Israel. In 2009, the PIEF helped publicize the well-known Kairos Palestine Document, and two years earlier it helped broadcast the Amman Call, issued by church leaders who had gathered in Jordan for the PIEF’s founding. This document is notable in its support for the Palestinian “right of return,” which, if exercised, will mean the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.[111]

In 2008, the PIEF organized an ecumenical conference titled “Promised Land.” The final document was quite specific in describing the motives for this conference:

After decades of dispossession, discrimination, illegal occupation, violence and bloodshed in Palestine-Israel, Christians are challenged to continue to study, critique and re-vision theologies of land in order to promote life-affirming Christian visions and responses to the conflict. This process explores both the contexts in which our theologies were created and their consequences for millions of human lives.[112]

In other words, Israel’s misdeeds against the Palestinians require an interrogation of Christian theology and particularly Christian Zionism, which affirms the promise made to the Jewish people in the Book of Genesis. The anti-Israeli cast of the conference is evident in its program. Not every speaker was identifiably hostile to Israel, but a sufficient number of them have assailed Israel to indicate that the goal of the conference was not to promote peace but to place the Jewish state before the seat of judgment. Greetings were offered by WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia, who, as noted, supported divestment and declared the occupation a sin against God. Greetings were also offered by Michel Sabbah, former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who in February 2002 gave a rousing defense of Palestinian suicide attacks during the Second Intifada:

The situation is simply military occupation, from 1967 until today. Ours is an occupied country, which explains why people are tired and blow themselves up. The Israelis tell Palestinians: Stop the violence and you will have what you want without violence. But one has seen in the history of the last ten years that the Israelis have moved only forced by violence. Unfortunately, nothing but violence makes people march. And not only here. Every country has been born in blood.[113]

Under normal circumstances, a willingness to excuse suicide bombing would disqualify a speaker from appearing at an ecumenical conference devoted to peacemaking. But not Sabbah, and not when the conference is organized by the WCC.

Another presenter at the conference was Dr. Geries Khoury of the Al Liqa Center for Religious and Heritage Studies in the Holy Land. The PIEF does not provide a written précis of his statement as it does for some of the other presenters. In his 1989 book The Intifada of Heaven and Earth,[114] however, Khoury is an anti-Israeli polemicist par excellence. In the English summary of this book, published in Arabic, Khoury promotes a “theology of the ‘Intifada’” in which he asserts: “Herod is nowadays represented by the rulers of Israel who are behaving as he did and the newly-born babies will never stop calling for justice, truth and peace in the manner of the babe of the grotto.”[115]

The cover of Khoury’s book depicts a Catholic church with the Palestinian flag attached to the cross atop the steeple, which is covered with graffiti that reads in Arabic “Islamic Jihad” and “Allah is greatest.” Biblical scholar Malcolm Lowe notes that Khoury perhaps unwittingly

chose to symbolize his Palestinian liberation theology with the desecration of a Catholic church by Muslims, a desecration perpetrated in the name of the intifada that his book glorifies. This egregious slip-up is as revealing as it is absurd. It accurately typifies how the book desecrates the Christian vocabulary in the service of the Islamic jihad against Israel, regardless of the damage done to the church.[116]

The WCC and Islam

The WCC has created two organizations dedicated to assailing Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza and is willing to interrogate Christian and Jewish beliefs regarding God’s promise of land to the Jews. Yet it has no bureaucracy charged with promoting the rights of Christians living in Muslim-majority countries, and the organization has made little effort to assess the connection between Islamist ideology and hostility toward Christians in the Middle East.[117]

This failure has harmed the WCC’s ability to advocate for Christianity in the Middle East except when it can be portrayed as being under assault by the Jewish state. In short, the WCC cannot address the problem of Islamist violence against Christians without pointing the finger of blame at Israel. This was clear in a statement by the Central Committee on 22 February 2011. Issued in response to two brutal attacks against Christians – one in Baghdad on 31 October 2010 and the other in Alexandria on 31 December 2010 – the statement does not name the suspected  attackers, nor address in any way Muslim teachings about non-Muslims and the role these have played in fomenting violence against Christians in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East.[118]

Instead, the document does everything it can to place the onus for the attacks on Israel. It invokes the Kairos Palestine Document (which assails Israel) as a challenge to the “ecumenical family and the international community to put an end to the Israeli occupation.” The Central Committee also states that “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and of other Arab lands remains a source of unrest and tensions in the region and beyond, and a major obstacle to achieving a just peace that can bring security, stability, and prosperity to all peoples in the region” – as if there was a logical connection between what happens in the West Bank and the murder of Christians in Iraq and Egypt.

As for what WCC member churches should do in response to the attacks on Christians in Iraq and Egypt, the Central Committee recommends that these churches “study and disseminate the Kairos Palestine document and…listen and concretely respond to the Palestinian Christian aspirations and calls expressed in this document” – as if listening to distorted Palestinian Christian complaints about Israel will help understand the ideology of Islamists elsewhere in the Middle East.

And finally, the Central Committee warns that “an equally major concern is that these incidents are being exploited by some political parties in several countries as well as by some religious groups to fuel islamophobic tendencies and negative images about Islam.” In other words, when Muslim extremists killed Christians in Iraq and Egypt,  the WCC’s Central Committee did not respond by condemning the attackers and their ideology but, instead, by assailing Israel and raising the specter of Islamophobia so as to silence critics of Islam.

The conclusion is inescapable: the WCC’s obsession with Israel and belief that it is the source of all the troubles in the Middle East has made it impossible for the organization to address an ongoing campaign of religious cleansing perpetrated by Muslim extremists against Christians in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. Consequently, Muslim extremists can engage in a slow, grinding campaign to eliminate Christianity from the Middle East without effective challenge from the World Council of Churches.

[1] “What is the World Council of Churches?” World Council of Churches,, accessed 6 July 2011.

[2] The WCC has issued numerous statements in support of nuclear disarmament, which can be seen at “Documents on nuclear weapons,”, accessed 6 July 2011.

[3] Peter Weiderud, “Religious Freedom and Liberty in the Emerging Context,” presentation by Peter Weiderud, director, CCIA, at the EKD Working Group on Religious Freedom, Hanover, 18 December 2003,, accessed 6 July 2011.

[4] Anonymous, “Women in Church and Society,” World Council of Churches,, accessed 11 July 2011.

[5] Anonymous, “WCC and Climate Change,” World Council of Churches,, accessed 11 July 2011.

[6] Anonymous, “Public witness: addressing power, affirming peace,” World Council of Churches,, accessed 11 July 2011.

[7] Anonymous, “Assembly,” World Council of Churches,, accessed 8 July 2011.

[8] Anonymous, “Central Committee,” World Council of Churches,, accessed 8 July 2011.

[9] Anonymous, “Executive Committee,”, 8 July 2011.

[10] A cursory search of the websites of mainline U.S. Protestant churches will reveal numerous links to WCC documents.

[11] Professor Haim Genizi (curriculum vitae),, accessed 16 May 2011.

[12] Haim Genizi, “The Attitude of the World Council of Churches (WCC) toward the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” in The Protestant-Jewish Conundrum, Studies in Contemporary Jewry, Jonathan Frank and Ezra Mendelsohn, eds., Vol. 24, published for the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem by Oxford University Press, 2010, 91-105.

[13] Ibid., 91.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 102.

[16] Ibid.


[18] CCAR resolution on the 2009 Kairos Document, Board of Trustees, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 15 April 2010,, accessed 17 July 2011.

[19] Natan Sharansky, “3D Test of Anti-Semitism: Demonization, Double Standards, Delegitimization,” Jewish Political Studies Review 16:3-4 (Fall 2004), accessed 4 May 2011.

[20] It is important not to view the WCC as a monolithic body. As can be expected from any large organization with a number of moving parts, there is some “slippage” between the decisions made by the WCC’s various decision-making bodies such as the Executive Committee, the Central Committee, the Assembly, the CCIA and the institutions they supervise such as the EAPPI and the PIEF. EAPPI materials, for example, are sometimes accompanied by a disclaimer that says they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the WCC as a whole. Nevertheless, the WCC holds the copyright for these materials, which are produced and broadcast by WCC staffers and activists using WCC funds. Consequently, while it cannot be said that the WCC is speaking “ex cathedra” through the EAPPI or the PIEF, the organization’s leaders do allow its staffers and activists to use WCC resources to assail Israel on a regular basis. The overall signal coming out of the WCC’s decision-making bodies, its staffers, and the programs it supports is decidedly hostile to Israel. This hostility became much more pronounced after the start of the Second Intifada.

[21] The phrase “lethal narrative” was coined by Nidra Poller to describe the story told by Muslim extremists and their allies to justify violence against the West in general and Israel in particular. See Nidra Poller, “Lethal Narratives: Weapon of Mass Destruction in the War against the West,” New English Review, June 2009,, accessed 8 July 2011.

[22] The process that led to the creation of the World Council of Churches in 1948 began at a meeting of thirty-five church representatives held at Westfield College in Hampstead, England, in July 1937, just two years before the outbreak of World War II. At this meeting, the delegates approved a resolution that called for the merger of two preexisting ecumenical movements, one known as “Life and Work” and the other as “Faith and Order,” into one body. In May the following year, a group of delegates met in Utrecht to prepare a draft constitution for the organization. A meeting of the Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches in January 1939 called for the First Assembly of the World Council of Churches to take place in August 1941, but this assembly did not occur because of the fighting that broke out in September 1939. Members of the Provisional Committee continued to meet during World War II, and more churches joined the organization as the war progressed. In 1946, the Provisional Committee met to set the date for the First Assembly of the organization, which took place in 1948. (See The World Council of Churches, Its Process of Formation: Minutes and reports of the meeting of the Provisional Committee Held at Geneva from February 21st to 23rd, 1946; the constitutional documents of the World Council of Churches and an introduction by W. A. Visser ‘t Hooft [Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1946], 5-14.)

[23] For details about this process, see Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel, eds., Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999), 50-52.

[24] The World Council of Churches, Its Process of Formation: Minutes and reports of the meeting of the Provisional Committee Held at Geneva from February 21st to 23rd, 1946; the constitutional documents of the World Council of Churches and an introduction by W. A. Visser ‘t Hooft (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1946), 33-34.

[25] Ibid., 35-36.

[26] After a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, the WCC reiterated its opposition to anti-Semitism at its Third Assembly, which took place in New Delhi in 1961. After recalling a portion of the 1948 resolution condemning anti-Semitism, the Assembly stated that it “renews this plea in view of the fact that situations continue to exist in which Jews are subject to discrimination and even persecution.” After calling on WCC member churches “to do all in their power to resist every form of anti-semitism,” the Assembly stated that “the Crucifixion should not be so presented as to fasten upon the Jewish people of today responsibilities which belong to corporate humanity and not to one race or community. Jews were the first to accept Jesus and Jews are not the only ones who do not yet recognize him.”

These statements have not stopped the WCC from producing theological texts that include, in the words of Amy-Jill Levine, “anti-Jewish obscenities.” Levine reports that “the WCC, along with Orbis Books, Fortress Press, numerous university presses, and others, also distributes the ‘teaching of contempt’ for Judaism and Jews. The organization’s formal pronouncements stand in contradiction to what its press publishes and what its officers and clergy write.” In her research, Levine discovered


new manifestations of old problems: a view of Judaism not only as misogynistic but also as filled with “taboos,” particularly uninformed understandings of rabbinic literature, a version of multiculturalism that praises all distinct practices except for those associated with Judaism, and a theology that intimates the ancient heresy known as Marcionism by distinguishing the God of Judaism from the God of Jesus.


See Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanfranscico, 2006), 169-171.

Levine also reports that, to its credit, the WCC has admitted the problem and taken steps to rectify it. She notes, however, that there is still a problem. “But, what is on the library shelves in Lagos and Lima, Nairobi and Nashville, remains fodder for anti-Judaism. In the summer of 2004, when I was living in a Maryknoll convent in the Philippines, I found such material easily available, waiting to infect another generation.” See Anonymous, “Preaching and Teaching the New Testament: Promoting Anti-Judaism,” Anti-Defamation League, 1 November 2007,, accessed 13 July 2011.

[27] The First Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Amsterdam), Committee IV, “Concerns of the Churches: The Christian Approach to the Jews,” The Message and Reports of the First Assembly of the World Council of Churches: With Aids to Study and Discussion (London: World Council of Churches, 1948), 79. The relevant text can also be seen at, accessed 6 July 2011. Note that as of 6 July 2011, the WCC’s “extract” of this resolution posted on the internet ( omits the crucial passage about Israel being a cause of anti-Semitism in the future.

[28] Paul Charles Merkley, Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001), 45.

[29] Isaac Rottenberg, The Turbulent Triangle: Christians, Jews, Israel (Hawley, PN: Red Mountain Associates, 1989), 49.

[30] World Council of Churches Central Committee, “Statement on the Middle East,” Report from Reference Committee II, Minutes and Reports of the Twentieth Meeting, Heraklion, Crete, Greece (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1967), 47.

[31] Gershom Gorenberg, The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (New York: Henry Holt, 2006), 10.

[32] Ibid., 12.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] “Statement on the Middle East,” The Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Uppsala, July 1968),, accessed 18 July 2011.

[36] This letter is quoted at length in another letter to the Central Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Front from CCIA director Leopoldo J. Niilus, dated 2 June 1972.

[37] “Palestinian National Charter of 1964,” Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations,, accessed 8 July 2011.

[38] The text of this telegram was included in Eugene Carson Blake’s letter to the Central Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Front, dated 6 September 1972.

[39] Lebanon was the scene of severe acts of violence and oppression as a result of a civil war that began with the attempted assassination of the country’s president, Pierre Gemayel, a Christian Phalangist, on 13 April 1975. In response to the attack, which left four dead, Phalangists, threatened by the PLO’s growing influence in Lebanon, attacked a busload of mostly-civilian Palestinians and killed twenty-seven passengers. This was the first of many massacres that tore Lebanon apart in the ensuing decades. “The war was on, and there was no force capable of stopping it,” writes Sandra Mackey in A Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), Kindle location 1050. Some, but not all of these massacres were perpetrated by the PLO.

[40] Murray Kahl, “Yasir Arafat and the Christians of Lebanon,” Arutz Sheva, 13 January 2002,, accessed 8 July 2011.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Fay Willey et al., “The Fall of Tal Zataar,” Newsweek, 23 August 1976, 49.

[43] “The WCC’s Executive Appeal on Lebanon,” Ecumenical Review 28-3 (July 1976): 350.

[44] World Council of Churches Central Committee, “Lebanon,” Minutes, Twenty-Ninth Meeting of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, 10-18 August 1976, 43.

[45] For example, on 22 May 1970 the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command) – a constituent body of the PLO – killed twelve civilians, including eight children, on an Israeli school bus traveling on the road between Avivim and Dovev. In May 1974, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) took 120 people, most of them children, hostage at Maalot for two days. At the end of the standoff, twenty-five people including twenty-two children were murdered by the PFLP. And in 1978, PLO terrorists infiltrated Israel, hijacked a bus, and murdered nearly everyone on it. The PLO also had launched numerous artillery strikes that drove Israeli civilians into bomb shelters. At the time of Israel’s invasion, the PLO was using the cease-fire to rearm and prepare for another round of violence.

[46] Commission of the Churches on International Affairs et al., “Invasion of Lebanon: Christian Response in Face of the Threat to Lebanese and Palestinian Existence,” World Council of Churches, 1982.

[47] All of the responses included in the compendium condemned Israel for its actions and gave the PLO a pass. For example, the WCC reprinted a telegram sent by leaders of the United Presbyterian Church to the Reagan administration on 9 June 1982. It stated that


Present military actions by Israel forces have violated the sovereignty of Lebanon and broken the cease-fire arranged by Ambassador Habib between Israel and the PLO, which has been observed by the PLO for nine months. Israel seized upon the attempted assassination of Ambassador Argov as cause to mount a massive bombing of Lebanon despite PLO denials of involvement and before any evidence of PLO culpability.


The United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ issued a similar statement that condemned Israel for transgressing “the bounds of legitimate self-defense.” A press release from the Middle East Council of Churches – which has long represented many of the dhimmi churches operating in Muslim-majority countries in the region – also condemned Israel and said nothing about the PLO’s misdeeds.

[48] Ibid., 5.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid., 8-9.

[51] “Arafat’s Speech to DFLP 13th Anniversary Rally,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 23 February 1982. Source: Voice of Palestine (i) in English 1500 gmt, (ii) in Arabic 1630 gmt, 21 February 1982. (The quoted section is from the Arabic translation.)

[52] Fatah political platform adopted by the Fourth Fatah Conference in May 1980, in Raphael Israeli, ed., PLO in Lebanon: Selected Documents (New York: St. Martin’s, 1983), 13.

[53] David K. Shipler, “Lebanese Tell of Anguish of Living Under the P.L.O.,” New York Times, 25 July 1982.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Frank Gervasi, “A story of PLO terror in Lebanon: Prominent Christians claim murders, rapes, mutilations are commonplace,” Los Angeles Times Examiner, 13 July 1982.

[56] Commission of the Churches on International Affairs et al., “Invasion of Lebanon: Christian Response in Face of the Threat to Lebanese and Palestinian Existence,” World Council of Churches, 1982, 5.

[57] Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, “Statement on the Middle East,” Minutes of the Thirty-Fourth Meeting, Geneva (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982), 83.

[58] “Sixth Assembly Statement on the Middle East,” World Council of Churches General Assembly, Vancouver, July-August 1983,, accessed 19 July 2011.

[59] Ibid., 53.

[60] Erick R. Nelson and Alan F. H. Wisdom, “Human Rights Advocacy in the Mainline Protestant Churches (2000-2003),” Institute on Religion and Democracy, 2004, 17. In its assessment of the WCC’s witness on human rights, the IRD reported that out of the eighty-three human rights criticisms leveled at various countries throughout the world, Israel was the target of 36 or 43 percent of these statements while other nations with much worse human rights records such as Haiti, Cuba, Burma, Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Zimbabwe – all nations designated by Freedom House – only received a total of sixteen criticisms from the WCC (12-13).

[61] The full text of the resolution can be seen at J. A. Emerson Vermaat, “The Would Council of Churches and the Afghanistan Crisis 1980-1984,” Conflict Quarterly 5:3 (summer 1985): 18,, accessed 12 July 2011.

[62] Ibid., 6.

[63] Ibid., 8.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid., 9.

[66] Ibid., 9-10.

[67] When confronted with the difference between the Central Committee’s silence on Afghanistan and its robust condemnation of North Korea’s attack on South Korea in 1950, the WCC’s general secretary informed his listeners that Korea had “a strong Christian community” while Afghanistan had none. In fact, “the country involved is strongly pagan. One cannot refer to it in the same way” (ibid., 11).

[68] Ibid., 14.

[69] World Council of Churches Central Committee, “Minute on the situation in the Holy Land after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising,” adopted by the Central Committee, Potsdam, Germany, 29 January-6 February 2001,, accessed 20 July 2011.

[70] World Council of Churches, “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Background Document on the Situation in the Middle East,” Commended to the churches by the Central Committee, 29 January-February 2001,, accessed 29 August 2011.

[71] Khaled Abu Toameh, “How the war began,” Jerusalem Post, 20 September 2002. Toameh also reports:


Imad Faluji, the PA communications minister, admitted on October 11, 2001, that the violence had been planned in July, far in advance of Sharon’s “provocation.” He said: “Whoever thinks that the intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to Al-Aksa Mosque, is wrong, even if this visit was the straw that broke the back of the Palestinian people. This intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton. [Arafat] remained steadfast and challenged [Clinton]. He rejected the American terms and he did it in the heart of the US.”


[72] “Programme of Visit,” World Council of Churches Delegation to Occupied Palestinian Territories/Israel 27 June-July 2001,, accessed 15 July 2011.

[73] For a discussion of this phenomenon, see Kenneth Levin, The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege (Hanover, NH: Smith & Kraus, 2005).

[74] World Council of Churches, “Report of the WCC delegation to the Occupied Palestinean [sic] Territories & Israel June 27-July 1, 2001,” 6 August 2001,, accessed 15 July 2011.

[75] World Council of Churches, “Background paper on the draft declaration and programme of action, submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” 15 August 2001,, accessed 21 July 2011.

[76] Michael J. Jordan, “Jewish Activists Stunned by Hostility, Anti-Semitism at Durban Conference,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 5 September 2001; Aleza Goldsmith, “Lantos: ‘I saw the raw face of anti-Semitism’ in Durban,” Jewish Bulletin, 14 September 2001; Caroline B. Glick, “Human Rights and Wrongs,” Moment, August 2002.

[77] “Doctor Beaten in S.A. by attackers chanting anti-Jewish slogans,”, 4 September 2001,, accessed 22 July 2011.

[78] World Council of Churches, “Background paper on the draft declaration and programme of action, submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” 15 August 2001,, accessed 21 July 2011.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Walid Phares, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (New York: Threshold Editions, 2010), 69.

[81] World Council of Churches, “Background paper on the draft declaration and programme of action, submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” 15 August 2001,, accessed 21 July 2011.

[82] Ibid.

[83] World Council of Churches, “WCC expresses condolences for Arafat, hopes for justice with peace,” 11 November 2004,, accessed 21 July 2011.

[84] Dexter Van Zile, “The U.S. Presbyterian Church’s Renewed Attack on Israel,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism 98, June 2010, accessed 22 July 2011.

[85] World Council of Churches, “Minute on Certain Economic Measures for Peace in Israel/Palestine,” World Council of Churches Central Committee, Geneva, 15-22 February 2005,, accessed 21 July 2011.

[86] “ADL Dismayed by World Council of Churches Decision to Pursue Divestment as Means to Punish Israel,” Anti-Defamation League, 22 February 2005,, accessed 22 July 2011.

[87] “World Council of Churches Refuses SWC Request to Rescind Israel Divestment Campaign,” Simon Wiesenthal Center, 24 March 2005,, accessed 22 July 2011.

[88] “Understanding the WCC Central Committee Minute on Economic Measures for Peace in Israel/Palestine,” World Council of Churches, 22 July 2005,, accessed 22 July 2011.

[89] “At Jewish-Christian gathering Kobia talks about divestment, calls for new alliances for life,” World Council of Churches, 25 July 2005,, accessed 29 August 2011.

[90] Samuel Kobia, “The Courage to Hope and the Future of the Ecumenical Movement,” Report of the General Secretary, World Council of Churches Central Committee, 26 August-2 September 2009,, accessed 22 July 2011.

[91] See Robert S. Wistrich, “Muslim Anti-Semitism: A Clear and Present Danger,” American Jewish Committee, 2002; Robert S. Wistrich, A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad (New York: Random House, 2009); Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (Ann Arbor, MI: Sheridan Books, 2009); Tarek Fatah, The Jew Is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths That Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2010).

[92] Olav Fykse Tveit, “Public Statement condemning the assault on a Gaza-bound vessel,” World Council of Churches, 1 June 2010,, accessed 11 July 2011.

[93] Alex Safian, “Latest Video Clips: Gaza Flotilla Incident,” Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, 20 June 2010,, accessed 25 July 2011.

[94] Palestinian Media Watch, “Gaza flotilla participants invoked the killing of Jews,” 31 May 2010,, accessed 29 August 2011.

[95] Ekklesia staff writers, “Women-only aid ship due to sail to blockaded Gaza,” 8 August 2010,, 25 July 2011.

[96] Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine Israel, “Overview,”, accessed 11 July 2011.

[97] Dexter Van Zile, “Key Mennonite Institutions against Israel,” Post Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 83, 2 August 2009, accessed 12 July 2011.

[98] EAPPI’s homepage,, accessed 11 July 2011.

[99] This message is offered explicitly in an EAPPI promotional video, “Ending Occupation: Voices for a Just Peace,” produced by the WCC in 2002. An anonymous church leader in Jerusalem speaking off-camera states: “It’s the role of the church to remind the world that the root cause of the problem in the Middle East is occupation and once the occupation ends then there will be no violence, no counter-violence.”

[100] Such theme-park activism may not remain the exclusive domain of well-heeled Westerners. In November 2010, EAPPI held a training seminar for eighteen activists in Quezon City in an apparent effort to recruit accompaniers from the Philippines. The seminar was part of a larger conference organized by a Philippine activist group, Peace For Life, that inculcated attendees in the tenets of a “counter-imperial” faith.” Rev. Dr. Everett Mendoza reportedly called on participants to “denounce ‘the royal and imperial theology that underpins the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the triumphalist religious rhetoric that grounds US foreign policy in the region.’” According to conference materials, “The forum also agreed to support the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign.” See Anonymous, “Just and Lasting Peace in Palestine: A Philippine Solidarity Conference,” Peace For Life,, accessed 16 May 2011.

[101] “Mary and Joseph Feature,”, accessed 12 July 2011.

[102] Larry Fata, “How would Mary and Joseph have fared at a checkpoint?”, World Council of Churches,, accessed 12 July 2011. This piece was also reprinted by the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). See, accessed 12 July 2011.

[103] It should also be noted that Kassis played a central role in the authorship and publicity surrounding the Kairos Document.

[104] Rifat Odeh Kassis, “Editorial,” ChainReaction, 5, 2007, World Council of Churches, 2.  

[105] Ibid.

[106] Ibid.

[107] Ronan Quin et al., “40 Ways to End the Occupation,” ChainReaction, 6, Summer 2007, World Council of Churches, 23-25.

[108] Eva Balslev and Sune Segal, “Security or Segregation?: The Humanitarian Consequences of Israel’s Wall of Separation,”  World Council of Churches, Geneva, 2003.

[109] Larry Fata et al., “Sawahreh against the Wall: The Struggle of a Palestinian Village, Dealing with the Infringements on Freedom Brought About by Israel’s Ever-Tightening Occupation,” World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, Geneva, 4.

[110] World Council of Churches Central Committee, “Statement on the war in Lebanon and Northern Israel, and ecumenical action for Middle East Peace,” 30 August-6 September 2006,, accessed 15 July 2011. The PIEF was officially founded at a conference in Jordan in 2007.

[111] World Council of Churches, “The Amman Call,” issued at WCC International Peace Conference, “Churches together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East,” Amman, 18-20 June 2007,, accessed 25 July 2011.

[112] World Council of Churches, Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, Reform Churches Bern-Jura-Solothurn, “Final Document,” Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF), International Theological Conference on “Promised Land,”, accessed 25 July 2011.

[113] Sandro Magister, “The Patriarch’s Peace March, with an al-Fatah Escort,” 18 February 2002,, accessed 25 July 2011.

[114] Geries Khoury The Intifada of Heaven and Earth (Nazareth: Al-Hakim, 1989).

[115] Ibid., page D.

[116] Malcolm Lowe, “Israel and Palestinian Liberation Theology,” in James Parkes, Eugene B. Korn, and Roberta Kalechofsky, End of an Exile: Israel, Jews and the Gentile World (Marblehead, MA: Micah, 2005), 276.

[117] This author contacted the WCC and asked if the organization had any plans to establish an accompaniment program for Christians in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East. Mark Beach, the WCC’s director of communications, responded, in part, as follows:


The EAPPI programme exists because the WCC member churches, including the churches in the Middle East called for this. Currently the WCC member churches and partners in Latin America are considering a similar programme in Colombia where there has been a long term conflict. Concerning Christians suffering persecution in Muslim-Majority countries the WCC does work closely with the churches in Pakistan and has called for the ending of the blasphemy laws which are subject to abuse not just against Christians but others as well. There has not been a call from our member churches in other locations of Muslim majority countries to develop a similar type of accompaniment programme.


Beach also stated that when addressing the persecution of Christians, “Great care is taken so that WCC activities do not increase their suffering” (email to author, 6 May 2011).


[118] World Council of Churches, Minute on the Presence and Witness of Christians in the Middle East, 22 February 2011,, accessed 29 August 2011.