World Council of Churches trainees use antisemitic rhetoric, advocate BDS

The WCC calls itself the broadest organized group of churches, and says it seeks to represent 350 member churches in 110 countries and 500 million Christians throughout the world.

Pope Benedict XVI receives a book by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general-secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) (photo credit: OSSERVATORE ROMANO / REUTERS)
Pope Benedict XVI receives a book by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general-secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC)
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is training volunteers to promote boycotts of Israel and engage in antisemitic rhetoric, with funding from several Western governments and the EU, as well as support from the United Nations, a new report by research institute NGO Monitor has found.
The WCC flagship project – Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) – has sent 1,800 “ecumenical accompaniers” from around the world to serve as observers in the West Bank and Jerusalem over the past 15 years, and aim to have 25 to 30 of these unofficial observers on the ground at all times. This is the only program of this kind run by the WCC.
The stated goal of EAPPI observers is “accompanying, offering protective presences and witness...monitoring and reporting human rights abuses...standing with local peace and human rights groups...and advocacy.”
The volunteers receive 10 days of training at the start of the program, and at the end, there is a two-day debriefing, which includes “tips for public speaking and advocacy.”
This advocacy includes recounting what they saw “to open the eyes of their communities, churches and governments to the realities of the occupation,” the EAPPI says, and is meant to spark “international action for change.”
The WCC calls itself the broadest organized group of churches, and says it seeks to represent 350 member churches in 110 countries and 500 million Christians throughout the world. Its website says that the group’s goal is Christian unity.
Yet one of the ways it seems to achieve that is through anti-Israel advocacy, which at times has explicit antisemitic overtones, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This definition has been accepted by the EU, which along with some of its member countries, provides funding for the EAPPI.
WCC leadership and EAPPI volunteers have repeatedly made comparisons of Israeli actions to those of Nazi Germany in their advocacy sessions. For example, WCC general secretary Dr. Olav Fyske Tveit said: “I heard about the occupation of my country during the five years of World War II as the story of my parents. Now I see and hear the stories of 50 years of occupation.”
In 2017, an observer Rev. Gordon Timbers of the Presbyterian Church of Canada gave a presentation. When an audience member asked if “Jewish people who go in to see...the model of the gas chambers” see similarities between that and the West Bank, Timbers responded that “there are similarities,” including the use of identification papers.
South African EAPPI activist Itani Rasalanavho said during an “Apartheid Week” event in his home country that “the time has come to say that the victims of the Holocaust have now become the perpetrators.”
In a presentation by Rev. Joan Fisher, an EAPPI activist, she quotes a Palestinian cleric as saying: “We are sympathetic to the suffering of our Jewish brothers and sisters in the Holocaust, but you don’t deal with one injustice by creating another injustice.”
The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitsm states that “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is an example of antisemitism.
The WCC supports boycotts and divestment from settlements, but EAPPI activists have called for a boycott of all of Israel.
The EAPPI publication “Faith Under Occupation” called in 2012 for “sanctions and suspension of US aid to Israel,” to “challenge Israel in local and international courts” and “economic boycotts.”
EAPPI National Coordinator in South Africa Dudu Mahlangu-Masango signed a letter to then-president Jacob Zuma calling “on our government and civil society to instigate broad-based boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel” in 2012. She repeated this call in a 2018 television interview, calling for “total sanctions” on Israel.
The organization also seeks to combat Christian Zionism. In a 2015 WCC event, Zionism was called “heresy” under Christian theology, modern Israelis were said to have no connection to ancient Israelites, and Israeli society was noted to be “full with racism and light skin privilege.” Their leadership also compared Israel to apartheid South Africa.
In May 2016, EAPPI activist Hannah Griffiths made a presentation in London, in which she blamed the “Jewish lobby” for American Christian Evangelicals supporting Israel, and claimed Israel plants knives in the bodies of Palestinians who were shot after attempting to stab Israelis.
EAPPI activists have also spread falsehoods about Israel, such as one in the UK who said that Israel has a policy to reduce the Arab population by sending Arab citizens to the West Bank or Gaza. Others showed ignorance of the conflict, like an EAPPI volunteer in Canada who said that Israelis aren’t allowed in Area A not because of danger, but “to prevent Israelis from seeing what was going on.”
Local Jewish communities found EAPPI volunteers have inflamed antisemitism.
The UK Jewish Board of Deputies president in 2012 Vivian Wineman said “members of Jewish communities across the country have suffered harassment and abuse at EAPPI meetings,” and the organization said that the EAPPI “helped to create a climate of hostility towards Israel within the Church of England.”
EAPPI receives significant funding from governments around the world, some direct and some through local churches that support the program.
For example, the Swiss church NGO HEKS gave CHF 200,000 to EAPPI in 2018. Around 24% of HEK’s funding came from government sources in Switzerland, a report from 2015 found.
The British church NGO CAFOD, which has received funding from the EU, UK and Ireland, gave EAPPI GBP 25,000 in 2018.
DanChurchAid of Denmark pledged $328,995 to EAPPI in 2017-2019, the organization currently receives funding from Denmark and the EU.
Other countries that support church organizations that fund EAPPI are Norway, Sweden, Germany and Finland. UNICEF is also involved in funding the program, and was a conduit for Canadian and Japanese funds to EAPPI.
EAPPI is not registered as an NGO in Israel, but it operates out of the Jerusalem Inter Church Center, and cooperates with Israeli and Palestinian partner organizations, including B’Tselem, Machsom Watch, Rabbis for Human Rights and Breaking the Silence.
The WCC responded to The Jerusalem Post’s inquiries in light of the report that it has a unique focus on Israel, via its EAPPI program, “in response to a specific call from WCC’s member churches in the region.” A similar program is being tried in Colombia, and the WCC has different programs in other countries around the world.
In addition, the WCC says it “does not countenance equating Israel to Nazi Germany, neither in the training of participants in the EAPPI nor otherwise.”
Since its founding Assembly in 1948 the WCC has denounced antisemitism as a sin against God and humanity, and we strongly maintain that position,” WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs Director Peter Prove said.
Confronted with laws in various Western countries against nationality-based boycotts, the WCC said that its activities are in compliance with the law, and that it “does not promote boycotts based on nationality in this or any other context. Nor does WCC promote economic measures against Israel. It does however have a longstanding policy in favor of boycotting goods and services from the settlements.”