The newly elected leader of the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 352 churches from more than 120 countries, has been caustic in his references to the Jewish state, comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to “apartheid.”
Rev. Prof. Dr. Jerry Pillay, former general secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, in 2016 also spoke of the “exclusionary and violent character of the Israeli Zionist project.”
Having Pillay in such a prestigious and influential position as the WCC leadership should raise concerns for Christians from all backgrounds. Has the Church not learned by now that anti-Semitism does not mix well with the teachings of Jesus? And that anti-Zionism often masks an underlying anti-Semitism?
This is all the more true for Pillay, the dean of the University of Pretoria, who really should know better. After all, as a black South African, he understands the true nature of apartheid, and how evil it is. Blacks under South African apartheid had no equal rights, at all.
Such is not remotely the case among Israeli Arabs. They represent 20% of the population and have full legal rights. They are elected and selected as leaders throughout Israeli society at the highest levels, including as members of the government.
Arab Israelis are represented in the media and are active in healthcare, as well as almost every business sector. They even serve in leadership roles in Israel’s army and security services.
Where is the apartheid?
Sadly, by elevating Pillay to this senior leadership role in the World Council of Churches, the WCC has also elevated his anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Pillay could say that he was speaking only of the treatment of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and Judea-Samaria (commonly called the West Bank). But there, too, the charges are false; the Israeli government has sought to find fair and equitable solutions for this population, while the Palestinian Arab leadership has let their own people down consistently. And, even still, charges of “apartheid” do not apply.
Ironically, but not surprisingly, within days of the announcement that Pillay would lead the WCC, the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, of more than 10,000 congregations and communities, voted to declare Israel an apartheid state and to establish a Nakba Remembrance Day. The PCUSA also passed two other resolutions highly critical of Israel at the religious body’s 225th General Assembly.
They declared that “Israel’s laws, policies and practices regarding the Palestinian people fulfill the international legal definition of apartheid,” alleging that Palestinian Arabs are systematically oppressed, with racial domination as the goal.
The PCUSA claims that Arabs living in Israel, Judea and Samaria have “an inferior status” and that Palestinian Arabs are unable to participate in the “political, social, economic and cultural life of their country.”
Disregarding that Israeli law applies to all Israeli citizens – Arabs, Jews and others – and that Palestinian Arabs are governed by the laws of the Palestinian Authority, the PCUSA asserts that Israel oppresses and discriminates against Palestinian Arabs because of the “two sets of laws.”
The Presbyterian organization alleges that “Jewish-only settlements” have stolen Palestinian Arab land and water, and that Palestinians have been denied freedom of residence and movement, having to live in “separate reserves and ghettos.” As ugly as these allegations are, they are inaccurate and exaggerated, as the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs live in and under the autonomous P.A.
Not only is there no basis for allegations of apartheid, but both Pillay and the PCUSA seem to disregard Palestinian Arab delegitimization of Israel’s very right to exist.
And what of the steady stream of attacks against Israeli Jews, often spurred on by the rhetoric of Palestinian leaders? Is there no other side to the story?
Remarkably, despite its extreme biases and, one could argue, heretical beliefs, the PCUSA allegedly wants to use its position to be peacemakers. They state that the church’s amendment, which “recognizes” the existence of Israeli “apartheid against the Palestinian people” “is pursued with the hope it will lead to a peaceful reconciliation for the people of Israel and Palestine similar to that which occurred in South Africa when apartheid was internationally acknowledged.”
So, just as “Christians spoke out in the 1950s against segregation in the United States and later against apartheid in South Africa,” today, “they must again raise their voices and condemn Israel’s discrimination against Palestinians and give a name to the crime against humanity that this discrimination represents, the crime of apartheid.”
One of the elements of anti-Semitism is the holding of Jews to a different standard than others. So, we ask, where are the other PCUSA resolutions decrying actual crimes against humanity, rather than ascribing this hateful allegation only to Israel?
If it wasn’t enough to misrepresent what apartheid was, or misapplying it to Israel, the PCUSA resolution went even further, evoking the Holocaust.
“After World War II, when the horror of the Nazi Holocaust was revealed, Jews around the world said, ‘never again,’” the church conglomerate stated. “Christians, too, vowed that never again would they be silent if a government passed laws establishing and maintaining the domination by one ethnic group over another ethnic group through systematic separation, oppression and denial of basic human rights. Silence in the face of evil was wrong then, and it is wrong now.”
The term “never again” is being used now against the Jewish people of Israel, who, every day, still fight for their survival?
So, today, it is the Israeli Jews who are the Nazis and the Palestinians who are the innocent Jews. Does the PCUSA have no shame? Is this denomination that tone-deaf to historical and contemporary realities?
There is more.
In order to counter charges that the PCUSA is anti-Semitic, the leaders recommended that the church replace references to anti-Semitism with “anti-Jewish,” asserting that anti-Semitism “encompasses other people groups in addition to our Jewish siblings.”
But, as we all know, the term “anti-Semitism” was coined in reference to Jews alone, not all Semitic peoples (such as the Arabs today, or the Babylonians of old).
There is no ambiguity here at all; but rather than be accused of anti-Semitism (certainly a fair charge), they want to rewrite the dictionary. Seriously? What would Jesus say?
Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has become a respected bridge between Jews and Christians and serves as president of the Genesis 123 Foundation. He writes regularly on major Christian websites about Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He is host of the popular Inspiration from Zion podcast. He can be reached at [email protected].
Michael L. Brown is the founder and president of AskDrBrown Ministries and of FIRE School of Ministry, and host of the daily, nationally, syndicated talk radio show, The Line of Fire.