WCC rejects anti-semitism accusations
Responding to criticism of church policies on Israel-Palestine, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches has told a Jewish-Christian gathering that while anti-semitism is a sin, not every critique of Israeli policies qualifies as anti-semitism.
The Rev Dr Samuel Kobia was addressing the issue of churches divesting from companies making profits out of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in his keynote address at the annual conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ), in Chicago, yesterday.
Some critics have described as anti-semitic the WCC's recent call to member churches with investment funds to consider not participating economically in activities related to the occupation. Dr Kobia firmly rejected that view, reaffirming the WCC's strong historical condemnation of anti-semitism, which goes back 57 years to its inception.
A "sin against God and man," anti-semitism is "absolutely irreconcilable with the profession and practice of the Christian faith," Kobia declared, quoting the first WCC Assembly in Amsterdam in 1948.
While acknowledging that the divestment issue "has been received as something utterly disturbing by many Jews," he pointed out that "there is a risk and perhaps a temptation to fall into readily available metaphors".
Care should be taken not to fall prey to a simplistic use of analogies, like comparing divestment "with a call for boycott of Jewish goods and Jewish persons as in Germany in the 1930s," Dr Kobia warned.
The WCC general secretary highlighted the need for a "safe space for listening to each other, and for discussing how and where we need to go". "Our concern is peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians," he emphasized.
Recognizing "the power to unite and inspire, but also [Ö] to divide and destroy" that lies within every religion, Dr Kobia also called for a "commitment among people of faith" to make sure that religious traditions are not "used to breed contempt and death".
"We need to form new alliances for life that defy the division and conflicts that are a product of globalized injustice in all its many forms," he added.
The German-based International Council of Chrisrtians and Jews is a recognized umbrella organization of 38 Jewish-Christian dialogue groups worldwide. Created in the immediate aftermath of World War Two and the Holocaust, it aims at promoting better understanding between Christians and Jews.
Another Chicago-based group called the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews mainatins a 'Stand for Israel' campaign. Its spokesperson, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, is one of those who has alleged that some church policies "smack of anti-semitism".
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now numbering 347, in more than 120 countries in all continents and from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member, but works cooperatively with the WCC.