Rev. Prof. Dr. Jerry Pillay, a South African with a record of hostile views on Israel and Jews, has been elected as the next general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), beginning at the start of 2023. “His selection is astounding and alarming nonetheless,” is the response of B’nai B’rith International.
He is the ninth general secretary in the organization’s history since the fellowship of churches was founded in 1948. Pillay is currently dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria. A member of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, he is from South Africa.
As said in a report of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), in 2014, Pillay spoke at an event organized by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church USA, which like the WCC, has a long history of demonizing Israel. According to CAMERA, Pillay’s talk took place during the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly which approved a divestment resolution. The title of this speech was “Apartheid in the Holy Land.”
According to CAMERA, Pillay said the following: “For the sake of just peace we may have to support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). We may have to go against those we do not wish to isolate but in the words of Luther we may need to say: ‘Here I stand, I can do no other! So help me, God.’”
After visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2012 with South African church leaders, the group, with Pillay one of its senior members, published an anti-Israeli statement: “The Palestinians [Christians as well] are asking the world for economic, cultural and other forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) – a strategy that helped us to end apartheid in South Africa. We believe that maximum pressure must be put on Israel to abide by international law.”
B’nai B’rith International’s Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels has responded to Pillay’s new role. According to Michaels, Pillay “has a problem with Jews – at least those supportive of Zionism, meaning nothing more than belief in Israel’s right to exist.”
He explained that “under all normal circumstances, a Jewish communal representative like me would not opine on a leadership appointment at a Christian ecumenical organization. But if protecting Jews’ basic equality, dignity and security is inseparable from true ecumenism and the pursuit of human rights, Rev. Pillay’s rise risks devastating harm to the cause of social justice.”
Michaels quoted a lengthy 2016 piece, written by Pillay, where he equated the State of Israel with South African racial apartheid, which he said evokes “the exclusionary and violent character of the Israeli Zionist project.”
FURTHERMORE, MICHAEL quoted Pillay claiming that “Jewish leadership” helped “influence European nationalism and colonization,” with “a common desire to establishing the State of Israel” – not in Jews’ small, sole ancestral homeland, from which they had suffered an excruciating exile, but “on the land of Palestine.”
“The WCC has elevated Rev. Pillay, who is on record with especially strident, simplistic ideological extremism on Jews and the Jewish state,” Michaels concluded, “he will, of course, like nearly all those guilty of prejudice, deny this bigotry – even while discrediting Jews’ right, unlike other marginalized or beleaguered groups, to call out such animus.”
“As South Africa’s chief rabbi, I have been at the global forefront of repudiating the false and libelous charge that Israel is an apartheid state,” South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein responded to The Jerusalem Post on the matter, “I, therefore, call on Rev. Pillay to retract his 2016 statements accusing Israel of apartheid and calling for a boycott of the Jewish state.”
“In numerous articles and speeches and public statements I have brought all the evidence to dismantle the apartheid libel against Israel – showing that it is without foundation in fact or law, and arguing that to make this comparison is a gross defamation of the Jewish state and an insult to the victims of the real apartheid. I will gladly avail Rev. Pillay of the academic literature regarding the legal and historical context to the conflict to substantiate this view.”
WCC vs. Israel
Goldstein added that the WCC has a “long history of systemic bias against the Jewish state,” and called on Pillay to “use his new position to break with its disturbing history and usher in a new era.
“I further call on Rev. Pillay to honestly engage with the issues affecting this conflict in the same spirit of open dialogue and tolerance with which we engaged with each other and our fellow members of the National Religious Leaders Council in South Africa. It is vital to repudiate the apartheid libel against Israel so that the cause of peace can be advanced,” Goldstein said.
Pillay responded to Goldstein and to a report in the South African Jewish Report. “The author has taken selective lines and mainly academic references to make the claim that I am anti-Jews. There is absolutely no merit or value to this preposterous and absurd claim.”
He added that “I sincerely value and cherish my Jewish friends and the Jewish community and faith.” He mentioned that he’s “worked with Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein for many years in the ecumenical movement,” particularly on the issues of moral and justice concerns in South Africa, “and I am sure that he will confirm that I have never ever spoken against the Jewish faith or community in any way.”
“I have no problem whatsoever in the Jewish community preserving their identity, religious beliefs, values and community,” he said in his response, “What I referred to in my article was on the issues of justice in the Israel/Palestine situation where, admittedly, we may have some differences of opinions. My article was a reflection on personal experiences undertaken with a group of Church Leaders from South Africa to the Holy Land to try and understand this conflict situation, it was examined from a justice perspective.”
“As an ecumenist,” Pillay explained, “I believe that all religions must be respected and people of all faiths and no faith must work together to create a world of justice and peace in which we express love, unity and reconciliation. This, evidently, is the stance of the World Council of Churches and it would never elect a leader who opposes Jews. However, the WCC will always promote justice and peace.”