(Washington, D.C., June 17, 2022)— B’nai B’rith President Seth J. Riklin and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin have issued the following statement:
The Rev. Professor Dr. Jerry Pillay, a South African with a record of hostile views toward Israel and Jews, has been elected as the next general secretary of the World Council of Churches, beginning at the start of 2023. His selection is not shocking, but is astounding and alarming nonetheless.
B’nai B’rith International’s Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels has responded in a new Medium blog post, whose text follows.
Rev. Pillay, a Presbyterian and a dean at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, has a problem with Jews – at least those supportive of Zionism, meaning nothing more than belief in Israel’s right to exist.
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. In particular, it demonstrates a deepening threat to decades of progress in Christian-Jewish relations – vital not only to that distinct, historic bond but as a model for interreligious reconciliation more generally.
In a lengthy 2016 piece, Rev. Pillay equated the State of Israel – but not the policies of Palestinians’ inciting leaders or of any Arab or other governments – with South African racial apartheid, which he said evokes “the exclusionary and violent character of the Israeli Zionist project.”
He positively referenced campaigns to target Israelis with the one-sided economic warfare of the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement.
He wrote that “Jewish leadership” helped “influence European nationalism and colonisation,” 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.”
Reflecting on wrongs committed “under the guise of ‘national security’ or ‘national interest’” against “the indigenous people of the land,” he made explicit his zero-sum view of belonging, agency and malice in the Holy Land: “In the case of the State of Israel… the value judgment that determines the good is the value judgment of the (powerful) Israeli Jews.”
And rueing that “Christian organisations are often split on their positions on the Israel-Palestine situation,” Rev. Pillay concluded with an appeal for Christians to, plainly, “resist the empirical ambition of Israeli Jews.”
Needless to say, Jews and Christians, like all people, are entitled to theological, political and other differences.
For too long, however, the WCC – while invoking its recognition of anti-Semitism as a sin in the aftermath of the Holocaust, which culminated centuries of Christian anti-Semitism – has been complicit in a predominant contemporary strain of anti-Semitism.
That strain, responsible for fueling attacks against not just Israelis but often diaspora Jews, consists of singling out the world’s only Jewish state for vilification and discrimination, while turning a blind eye to the delegitimization, dehumanization and unending violence targeting the nearly half of the Jewish people who call Israel home.
Over the course of decades, I have watched a minority of partisan activists weaponize the WCC, a prominent ecumenical body.
From United Nations forums to interreligious gatherings to the council’s own programs and declarations, the WCC has stigmatized Jewish nationalism but not Palestinian nationalism, encouraged punitive actions against Israelis but not their adversaries and demonized the Middle East’s only pluralistic democracy but not an array of the world’s most utterly vicious regimes.
Now, the WCC has elevated Rev. Pillay, who is on record with especially strident, simplistic ideological extremism on Jews and the Jewish state. 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.
This is sanctimonious and, yes, sinful. It is upon all people of principle – Christians, Muslims and others – to assert that genuine and meaningful peacemaking cannot be founded upon antipathy to the identity, rights and complex lived circumstances of Israelis and of Jews.