The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, left, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, visits Jerusalem on March 31, 2017, to meet with local church leaders and members of WCC's programs working for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine. Photo courtesy of Ivars Kupcis/WCC

Peace in the Holy Land can be realized only if we work together

(RNS) An opinion piece by Gerald Steinberg, president of “NGO Monitor,” suggests my recent expression of concern over a new Israeli law betrays a general anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic stance.

That suggestion is far from the truth.

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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.

As the U.S.-based NGO Jewish Voice for Peace writes in its policy statement on fighting anti-Semitism: "Definitions of anti-Semitism that treat criticism of Israel or of Zionism as inherently anti-Semitic are inaccurate and harmful."

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.

As I told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in February, we in the WCC believe peace can be achieved only together with “the other.” We believe and see that the local churches can and do play a role in promoting peace and justice on both sides of the conflict.

One concrete manifestation of international Christian solidarity for peace with justice is the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, which the WCC established in 2002 in response to an appeal from local church leaders.

International volunteers, proposed by WCC member churches and partners, serve for a period of three months, offering a protective presence to vulnerable communities, and monitoring and reporting on human rights abuses. For example, they accompany Palestinian schoolchildren on their daily walk to school in Hebron, to protect them from settler violence and abuse.

Alumni of the program often return to their home countries with strong impressions and a deep commitment to sharing what they have seen, and to continuing to work for a just peace in Israel and Palestine.

The WCC encourages the sharing of eyewitness testimonies with faith leaders, decision-makers, media, and civil society in their own contexts — and that is probably why Steinberg calls the program "politicized."

Yet 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. We believe it is our responsibility to give Christian witness for justice and peace everywhere, and perhaps especially in the land of Christ’s birth and earthly ministry.

The WCC, together with the United Nations and the vast majority of the international community, considers Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories as illegal. And on this basis the WCC has encouraged boycotting goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, divesting from companies that benefit from the occupation, and investing in Palestinian enterprises that stimulate the local economy.

We have not called for a general or cultural boycott of Israel because we believe that dialogue is better than isolation.

The “Entry to Israel Act (Denial of Visa to Non-Residents Who Knowingly Call for a Boycott on Israel)” which the Knesset passed in March apparently makes no distinction between boycotting Israel proper and boycotting products of the settlements. Nor does Steinberg, who describes my expression of concern over the law as a "WCC denunciation" of a measure against "activists who call for the boycott of the Jewish state."

The fact that I have been able to enter Israel in late March could mean that the Israeli government’s actual policy and practice will not be as extreme as the letter of the law suggests.

However, the concern remains that this law opens the door to restrictions on freedom of expression and on religious liberty for those who want to visit Israel, but who oppose through nonviolent means the logic and practice of occupation, and would set a negative example to other countries. This concern is shared by a wide spectrum of partners, including many Jewish organizations.

The World Council of Churches values dialogue. Representatives from the WCC staff leadership met with NGO Monitor in October 2016, in Jerusalem.

(The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit is the general secretary of the World Council of Churches. He is an ordained minister of the (Lutheran) Church of Norway)


  1. You aren’t going to get peace until Jesus returns. This is a contest between Abraham’s son and a group who wants to identify themselves as of Abraham.
    What we need to do is stop the infighting between the Muslim and their fear of each other. Saudi Arabia is expelling people all over the place, making new refugees for the west.

  2. The WCC and the United Nations are doomed to failure in their positions. No one will accept separate integrities when those so-called integrities are antagonistic to each other. Furthermore, once you start with this relativistic nonsense, who is to decide which entity takes precedence? The WCC and the United Nations have NO special claim to moral superiority, to justice, or to peace. They should clean up their own house first; sexual predation and immorality in the ranks and among their so-called peace-keepers.

  3. And the solution as noted previously by an on-line commentator:

    Orthodox Jews- 12.5 million lost “souls” still suffering from childhood brainwashing via the myths of the OT/Torah and causing havoc in the process. They should give up their foolish claims to Israel and all move to Canada and the USA. We can always use talented people. If the Muslims of the USA and Canada want to move to the “Allah-forsaken” land of Palestine, we wish them well.

  4. The Apostles’ Creed 2017: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (references used are available upon request)

  5. So the Reverend would like to use Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as a fig leaf to hide his nakedness. Some things must be clarified, then:
    1. JVP does not require that its members be Jewish. Many, and some believe most, are not. It was founded by Jews, but it was only after it grew considerably without this requirement of Judaism as a prerequisite for membership that it adopted BDS as a platform.
    2. JVP supports BDS, an inherently antisemitic movement that seeks to destroy the only state in the world where Jews are a majority. BDS flagrantly violates the UN Charter’s demand that all people have a right to self-determination and selectively applies this bigotry only to the Jewish people. From this we learn that JVP has zero respect for Jews as a nation.
    2A. There is no such things as “BDS Light.” If you boycott, you boycott. The movement is clear about its goals and you can’t selectively pick and choose.
    3. JVP disrupts Jewish events. It disrupted the 70th year commemoration of Auschwitz in the NY State Assembly in order to push its anti-Israel propaganda. Some months later, it disrupted and ruined a sabbath event at a national LGBTQ event. These are recent actions. These actions are, by any definition, antisemitic.
    4. Hiding behind JVP, for the reasons noted above, or even behind leftist Israel-critical groups that are often critical of Israel to a frenzied degree, does not make the Reverend or the WCC any less culpable for their actions.
    5. Since we are discussing antisemitism, then permit me to inform you that people seeking to redefine this term so that they may continue to disrupt Holocaust commemorations, compare Jews to Nazis, or apply standards that are dishonest or target only the sole Jewish-majority state, are fooling nobody. They – you – are trying to give themselves a “pass” without really facing the bitter truth: when you selectively target Jews, you are by definition acting as an antisemite, whether you are Jewish, a reverend, a reverend hiding behind people claiming to be Jewish, or any other person playing silly semantic games.
    6. So stop giving yourself a pass. And stop trying to play everyone else for fools. Nobody, except your own hateful circles, is buying it.

  6. I looked up the innocous-sounding “Jewish Voice for Peace” online and quickly learned that it is a radical, fringe, anti-Zionist organization (which seeks Israel’s demographic destruction under the so-called “right of return”) that is on the ADL’s top-ten list of anti-Israel organizations.

    Quite an honor!!!

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