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July 26, 2011

A Modest Proposal for the World Council of Churches

WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit

Since its founding in 1948, the World Council of Churches has promoted interfaith dialogue, particularly between Christians and Muslims. This work has been documented in a number of books such as Meeting in Faith: Twenty Years of Christian-Muslim Conversations Sponsored by the World Council of Churches. This book, published by the WCC in 1989, is a compendium of statements issued by more than a dozen world and regional conferences between Christians and Muslims.

At these dialogues, Christians and Muslims (and sometimes people of other faiths) look for common ground and speak frankly about the differences between them. At a conference in Broumana, Lebanon in 1972, conference participants enunciated three principles for guiding interfaith dialogue: Frank witness, mutual respect, and a commitment to religious freedom.

The attendees also stated their commitment to making “a vital contribution to the extension of inter-religious harmony and international justice,? and that “Muslims and Christians are called upon to achieve a wider vision of community, inter-racial, inter-cultural and international.?

In light of these and other commitments affirmed at WCC sponsored dialogues, it is time for the World Council of Churches to promote a frank and honest discussion between Christians and Muslims about a problem common to both faiths: Antisemitism.

Christianity and Islam have encouraged hostility toward Jews and Judaism throughout their history. The early histories of both Christianity and Islam were marked by conflict with Jews who denied the truth of their message. Consequently, anti-Jewish polemics are present in both the Koran and the New Testament and these polemics have had terrible consequences.

The World Council of Churches acknowledged Christianity’s problem with the Jews at its First Assembly in 1948, which 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.?

And on the Muslim side of the equation, Tarek Fatah, author of The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim anti-Semitism (McClelland, 2010) reports that Muslims worldwide “are constantly being told by clerics about the essential deviousness of the Jew and the global conspiracies he weaves.?

This conference would not be one where Christians can brag of transcending the issue of anti-Semitism while Muslims have not.

In fact, if the conference were to have any integrity, one panel would have to be devoted to materials produced by the WCC itself. Amy-Jill Levine, author of The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanfranscico, 2006), reported that some WCC materials include “anti-Jewish obscenities.? Levine reported “the WCC, along with Orbis Books, Fortress Press, numerous university presses, and others, also distributes the “teaching of contempt? for Judaism and Jews.

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 pages 169-171.)

The year after the publication of The Misunderstood Jew, Levine reported that, to its credit, the WCC, had admitted the problem and taken steps to rectify it. There is still a problem, however. “But, what is on the library shelves in Lagos and Lima, Nairobi and Nashville, remains fodder for anti-Judaism,? she said. “In the summer of 2004, when I was living in a Maryknoll convent in the Phillipines, I found such material easily available, waiting to infect another generation.?

The WCC’s Jewish problem is not restricted to its theological texts, which apparently have improved since Levine confronted WCC leaders. Not only has the WCC broadcast anti-Jewish calumnies in its theological materials, the organization clearly has a problem with Jewish sovereignty, which by the way, is also evident in the statements issued by Muslim extremists in the Middle East. To be sure, the WCC’s problem with Jewish sovereignty is not expressed with the same violence as it is by Muslim extremists, but it dovetails quite nicely.

The WCC’s problem with Jewish sovereignty manifests itself in a number of ways, including the double standard so evident in WCC pronouncements regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. In various WCC pronouncements and publications, Israel – which maintains one of the most democratic, representative, accountable and law-abiding governments in the Middle East – is portrayed as the worst human rights abuser in the region. Israel, a nation subjected to genocidal threats from leaders throughout the region and intermittent rocket attacks from terrorists operating in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, is portrayed as an aggressor-oppressor nation that routinely attacks its neighbors without cause or reason.

By way of comparison, WCC materials depict Palestinians as the most innocent, tortured and beleaguered people on earth, suffering under the lash of Israeli mistreatment. WCC materials portray Palestinian Christian leaders as authentic practitioners of the Christian faith and reliable sources of information about the Arab-Israeli conflict, despite the fact that they have used anti-Semitic tropes to assail the Jewish state while remaining virtually silent about the misdeeds of Muslim and Arab leaders in the Middle East.

Non-state actors such as Hamas and Hezbollah that have expressed genocidal hostility toward Jews and a desire to destroy Israel merit little, if any attention or condemnation from the WCC, which largely ignores grave human rights abuses perpetrated by Arab and Muslim regimes in the region.

For example, a search of the WCC’s news archive conducted on July 26, 2011 indicates that the WCC has offered no statements regarding recent events in Syria, where the government is shooting people in the streets for several weeks. A Nexis search provides the same results. By way of comparison, WCC General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit was quick to criticize Israel in the aftermath of the confrontation between Israeli commanders and Turkish-sponsored fighters on board the Mavi Marmara in 2010.

In his statement, Tveit condemned Israel “for 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 simply got it wrong. Yes, the deaths were tragic, but the people who were killed on board the Mavi Marmara were trained fighters who were preparing for a violent confrontation with Israeli soldiers long before they ever set foot on the vessel.

The videos speak for themselves. Apparently, the videos were not enough to convince the WCC, however. The website of the WCC’s Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum currently displays, in its entirety, an article originally published by Ekklesia that describes the events on board the Mavi Marmara 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.?

This is down and dirty anti-Israel propaganda.

What is it doing on a WCC website?

The WCC’s anti-Israelism even manifests itself in its organizational structure. Israel’s behavior is so offensive to the World Council of Churches that it has established not one, but two bureaucracies dedicated to assailing the policies of Jewish state.

The first is the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine Israel (EAPPI) that stands with Palestinians living in the West Bank during their time of conflict with the Jewish state. The website of this program is comprised almost entirely of stories detailing the bad acts of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. Palestinian violence against Israel is barely mentioned in EAPPI materials.

The second bureaucracy is the aforementioned Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) which among other things has endorsed the Amman Call, which affirms the Palestinian right of return, which if exercised, means the disappearance of the Jewish state. The PIEF has also publicized the Kairos Palestine Document, which the Central Conference of American Rabbbis has characterized as superssessionist and anti-Semitic.


While the WCC has two organizations dedicated to assailing Israel and challenging the “occupation,? Christians throughout the globe suffering persecution in Muslim majority countries enjoy no such dedicated support from the WCC. No one from the WCC accompanies them as they go about their lives in Iraq and Egypt, for example.

CAMERA has asked the WCC why no such institutions exist, and the answer is that Palestinian Christians have asked for WCC accompaniment while Christians in Iraq and Egypt have not. These WCC also stated that when dealing with the issue of persecution, it has to be careful in what it says so as not to make persecution worse.

As a result the WCC, like a woman married to an abusive husband, walks on egg shells when dealing with issues related the mistreatment of Christians in Muslim-majority countries but roars like a lion when condemning Israel, and for that matter, the United States.

A similar dynamic played itself out during the Cold War. When delegates at WCC meetings attempted to condemn the Soviet Union for its invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, representatives from the Russian Orthodox Church successfully lobbied WCC institutions to mute its criticism of the invasion.

This isn’t to say the WCC does not point out or respond to attacks on Christians in Muslim majority countries in the Middle East or North Africa.

It has.

Look at the WCC’s website, however, and you’ll see the organization simply does not condemn Muslim extremists who attack Christians – and the government officials who fail to protect them – with the same fervid prose with which it assails Israel, nor do WCC institutions challenge the theology used to justify these attacks, which is odd, given the regular dialogues WCC officials have with Muslim leaders and the manner with which it interrogates Zionism.

WCC officials will deny – to high heaven – that their organization has a problem with Jewish sovereignty, but the organization’s website demonstrates that Israel is the perennial scapegoat for the organization. The WCC’s obsessive and focus on Israel, and its inability to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict in an honest and comprehensive manner is simply obscene.

Maybe the WCC needs to convene two conferences.

The first conference would be the connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. This conference could deal primarily with WCC materials, particularly those produced by the EAPPI, the PIEF and another WCC institution – the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).

If this conference were to issue a summary, it could include an acknowledgement that in its witness regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, the WCC has, to its regret, failed to confront and condemn the genocidal hostility toward Israel exhibited by Muslim extremists in the Middle East.

If it’s bad for Christians to demonize Jews, then it’s bad for Muslims as well and the WCC has an obligation to say so – despite Christianity’s troubled history.

Then after it has gotten its own house in order, the WCC could organize another conference, this one dedicated to documenting Christianity and Islam’s shared legacy of anti-Semitism.

Neither of these conferences will be pleasant junkets for those in attendance, but they are desperately needed.

Posted by dvz at July 26, 2011 11:27 PM


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