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April 25, 2017

WCC Leader Deceives His Readers in RNS Op-Ed

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WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit recently penned an evasive and deceptive op-ed for the Religion News Service (RNS).

Rev. Olav Fyske Tveit, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, has recently penned an op-ed defending the organization from criticism leveled by NGO Monitor, an Israel-based organization that highlights how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) cooperate with the effort to de-legitimize the Jewish state.

Close observers of Christian organizations such as the World Council of Churches, World Vision and more recently, World Relief will not be surprised to find that Tveit failed to deal honestly and directly with the charges leveled at the organization he leads.

Instead of dealing with the allegations as they are laid out against the WCC, Tveit distorts what was written, and then defends against charges that were never leveled. This is the type of behavior expected from politicians, not religious leaders.

Tveit’s highly deceptive piece, which was published by the Religion News Service (RNS) on April 19, 2017, denies the allegation of “political warfare” leveled by NGO Monitor’s Executive Director Gerald Steinberg in a piece published by RNS in late March.

Tveit reports that Steinberg’s allegation of political warfare is based on the WCC’s opposition to “attempts to redefine anti-Semitism to encompass any criticism directed toward the government of Israel.” He then invokes a statement from Jewish Voice for Peace, which declares “definitions of anti-Semitism that treat criticism of Israel or of Zionism as inherently anti-Semitic are inaccurate and harmful.”

Tveit’s argument needs some unpacking. In order to do that we must look at what Steinberg actually wrote:

Ironically, the church body deserves much of the credit for inspiring the entry ban through its campaign to isolate and demonize Israel internationally.

For years, the WCC has played a leading role in this harsh political warfare. The organization’s top officials participated in the virulently anti-Semitic NGO Forum of the 2001 U.N. Durban Conference, at which Israel was labeled as an apartheid state.

WCC leaders were instrumental in removing a paragraph in the NGO final declaration that condemned the “prevalence of antizionism and attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel through wildly inaccurate charges of genocide, war crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and apartheid, as a virulent contemporary form of anti-Semitism.”

Here, Steinberg is on solid footing. At the 2001 UN Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, a WCC delegation did exactly what Steinberg said it did – it moved for the elimination of a paragraph that condemned anti-Zionism and attempts to de-legitimize Israel with wildly inaccurate charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing an apartheid.

The deleted paragraph described these wildly inaccurate charges against Israel as a “contemporary form of antisemitism leading to firebombing of synagogues, armed assaults against Jews, incitements to killing, and the murder of innocent Jews, for their support for the existence of the State of Israel…”

How do we know this? Because the WCC said so in a report it published soon after the Durban conference. The report, which is no longer displayed on the WCC’s website (but can be seen here), stated that “the Ecumenical Caucus (i.e., delegates from the World Council of Churches), called for its deletion. Here is a screenshot of the text in question.

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When we see what Steinberg actually wrote and compare it with what the WCC published in 2001, we can discern Tveit’s deceptiveness when he writes the following:

Steinberg accuses the World Council of Churches, where I serve as general secretary, of “political warfare” because it has in the past opposed attempts to redefine anti-Semitism to encompass any criticism directed towards the government of Israel. (Emphasis added.)

What Tveit wrote is simply not true. Steinberg did not complain about the WCC’s opposition to attempts redefine antisemitism to include “any criticism” of the Israeli government.

The paragraph that WCC delegates called to be removed from the Durban resolution was quite specific in its condemnation of “wildly inaccurate charges of genocide, war crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and apartheid.”

Such charges cannot be characterized as what the JVP calls “criticism of Israel or of Zionism” as Tveit would have his readers believe. The paragraph was talking about inaccurate and defamatory charges against the Jewish state that lead to violence against Jews throughout the world.

The upshot is that Tveit mischaracterized Steinberg’s allegation and then defended himself and the WCC from this straw man accusation.

Tveit engages in a similar deception in another paragraph:

Steinberg also criticizes the WCC for encouraging its members to read and respond to the Kairos Palestine document, written by a group of Christian Palestinians, which advocates nonviolent resistance to occupation. Since it contains language that also looks at root causes of violence and analyzes the conditions under which violence has been seen as legitimate in other contexts, Steinberg treats promotion of the document as an aggressive act — even though the document actually rejects violence. (Emphasis added.)

Again, it is necessary to read exactly what Steinberg wrote:

More recently, the Geneva-based WCC is a central promoter of the notorious Kairos Palestine Document, which characterizes terrorist acts of “armed resistance” as “Palestinian legal resistance,” denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, calls to mobilize churches worldwide in the call for BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) of Israel and compares Israel with the South African apartheid regime.

Steinberg was quite explicit, precise and accurate in his complaints about the Kairos Palestine Document.

For example, in paragraph 1.5 the text portrays Palestinian armed resistance against Israel as “legal resistance,” just as Steinberg reported.

Palestinian suicide bombers have, among other things, targeted Israeli civilians in hotels and restaurants. For the authors of the Kairos Document to suggest such attacks are “legal” is outrageous, and Steinberg is right to express his outrage over this aspect of the Kairos Document.

Steinberg also complains that the Kairos Document denies the Jewish connection to the land in theological terms. Again, he is on pretty solid footing.

In paragraph 2.2 the text declares that the Old Testament by itself, without the New Testament is a “dead letter” used to deprive the Palestinians of their rights. And in paragraph 2.3, the text declares that the land has a universal mission and that “the promise of the land has never been a political program, but rather the prelude to complete universal salvation.”

These and other passages in the Kairos Document prompted the Central Conference of American Rabbis to conclude that while the text, opposes and negates “the applicability of scriptural texts, historical presence, and theological discourse to justify the existence of a Jewish state,” it does “exactly that in making its case for a Palestinian State.”

Steinberg levels two more charges about the Kairos Document. It mobilizes “churches worldwide in the call for BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) of Israel and compares Israel with the South African apartheid regime.”

Again, Steinberg is on solid footing. The text’s title (“Kairos Palestine”) is borrowed from a document published in 1985 by anti-Apartheid protesters in South Africa. The whole point of the document was to portray Israel as an apartheid regime just like South Africa.

And as far as BDS is concerned, paragraph seven of the Kairos Palestine Document calls for “the beginning of a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel.” (This call for a system of economic sanctions undermines Tveit’s assertion that the WCC does not call for a general or cultural boycott of Israel — written elsewhere in his op-ed — for if the WCC does not support a general boycott, then why is it promoting the Kairos Document, which does?)

Rather than admit that everything Steinberg wrote about the Kairos Palestine is accurate, Tveit evades the issues raised. He writes that “Steinberg treats promotion of the document as an aggressive act — even though the document actually rejects violence.”

The WCC’s General Secretary is partially correct on this score. The document in question does reject violence, but at the same time, it uses theology to delegitimize Israel’s claims to the land, portrays illegal attacks against Israeli civilians as “legal resistance,” compares Israel to South Africa and calls for economic warfare against Israel.

In sum, the Kairos Document promotes contempt for Jewish presence and sovereignty in the Holy Land, downplays the horror of Palestinian terrorism and encourages people to engage in economic warfare against the Jewish state in a manner that is clearly reminiscent of historical Arab boycotts of Israel. All this lends substance and credence to Steinberg’s assertion that the WCC has engaged in “campaigns to isolate and demonize Israel internationally.”

Tveit simply cannot bring himself to admit that Steinberg’s concerns about the Kairos Palestine Document and the WCC’s promotion of this text are entirely legitimate.

Tveit must know that Steinberg is not alone in his concerns about the Kairos Document. Rabbi David Sandmel, Interfaith Director for the ADL spoke to the WCC’s Central Committee in 2016. During his talk, Rabbi Sandmel declared explicitly that the Kairos Document was marred by “theological antisemitism.” He also declared that the document’s

treatment of the universal mission of the land is built on the supersessionist idea that the Jews’ particular connection to the land was abrogated by the coming of Christ. The WCC’s silence on this is disturbing.

Was Tveit not present during this talk? Or did he just forget what Sandmel said when it came time to respond to Steinberg’s commentary?

In his defense of the WCC Tveit writes that “it is our Christian principles and teachings that compel us to insist on an equal measure of justice and dignity for all people, for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

If the WCC is truly committed to insisting on an equal measure of justice and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians, then why does the organization tolerate the ugly images and polemics put forth by Yusef Daher, the General Secretary of the Jerusalem Interchurch Center (JICC)? Daher, as many Snapshots readers will know has lamentably posted troublesome cartoons and commentaries on his Facebook page. Such images, detailed here and here, do not offer a message of dignity, but legitimate contempt and hostility toward Israeli Jews and the very existence of the Jewish state.

Despite repeated complaints about Daher’s Facebook postings, which clearly contradict Tveit’s assurances that the WCC is committed to promoting a message of dignity for Israelis, the WCC has yet to issue a public statement distancing itself from these postings.

Whether Tveit wants to admit it or not, the WCC has a problem with Israel, the Jewish state, and has been an intimate bystander to increasingly virulent expressions of contempt toward the Jewish people world wide. Steinberg is not alone in drawing attention to this problem.

For proof, watch this video. It's worth your time.

As the above video demonstrates, the previously mentioned Rabbi David Sandmel from the ADL made it perfectly clear that there was a problem with the WCC's approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He offered this message when he spoke to the WCC's Central Committee in 2016. His remarks, which included the following, were met with applause:

I have to wonder to what extent the persistence of antisemitism predetermines and distorts the WCC’s approach to this conflict. I wonder how much the presence of antisemitism in the WCC contributes to global antisemitism, which has real world implications for me and my people.

Rather than write evasive and deceptive editorials like the one just published by RNS, Rev. Olav Fyske Tveit should exercise some leadership and confront the problems of antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the organization he leads.

Posted by dvz at April 25, 2017 01:56 PM

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