B’nai B’rith International President Seth J. Riklin and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin have issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International, which has expressed alarm over the election by the World Council of Churches of a leader who has written of “the exclusionary and violent character of the Israeli Zionist project” and urged Christians to “resist the empirical ambition of Israeli Jews,” is appalled by the ecumenical group’s disingenuous response.
The WCC has claimed “false media reporting” on its next general secretary, Rev. Dr. Jerry Pillay, without disputing or repudiating any of the verbatim sentiments attributed to him. And Pillay, in press interviews, has doubled down—calling criticism of his record “mischievous” and attributing it to “right-wing Jewish media” and a “Zionist Christian, a conservative Christian” source. The WCC itself includes numerous churches that are socially and doctrinally conservative, and undoubtedly many accept Zionism—meaning belief in Israel’s legitimate right to exist.
In a press release by the WCC, Pillay asserted that the WCC “would never elect a leader who practiced or preached antisemitism in any way.” But the WCC has a long record of demonizing Israel—a focal point of many Jews’ core identity and home to roughly half of the world’s Jewish population—in a way it does no other country.
“After decades of critical progress in Christian-Jewish relations, something that B’nai B’rith again celebrated in meeting privately with Pope Francis just recently, the disregard by an ecumenical body of serious objections to its record and choice of a leader is striking and unsettling,” B’nai B’rith International President Seth J. Riklin said.
B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin remarked, “It isn’t for the WCC, let alone Rev. Pillay, to decide that their posture on Jews should not offend Jews, including Israelis whose fundamental rights and exceptional challenges the WCC has belittled for so long. Partisan advocacy dressed as a call of religious conscience will only pit faith communities against one another, and we know that many Christians are not represented by ideological extremism on the Middle East.”
In an op-ed for RealClear Religion, B’nai B’rith United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs Director David Michaels detailed the WCC’s activity surrounding Israel. He also called out Pillay for saying an especially polemical statement he had signed followed a trip to both Israel and the Palestinian territories—but the very same statement reported only that Pillay’s delegation visited “the occupied state of Palestine.”
In the WCC’s news release on the current controversy, Pillay said, “We are a faith-based – not a political – organization,” yet he and the WCC are repeatedly invoking the U.N., a decidedly political body, home to nearly 60 Arab and Muslim member states, that has condemned Israel more than all other countries combined.
Pillay has professed to respect Jews’ “religious beliefs.” But, Michaels wrote, “he has not said he believes in Israel’s legitimacy or Israelis’ need for self-defense. He has certainly not indicated which other countries, in the Middle East and beyond, may warrant the ‘apartheid’ label and ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ warfare” that Pillay has justified against the Middle East’s only democracy, Israel.
The WCC cannot recognize anti-Semitism as a “sin against God and man” while disregarding prevalent contemporary forms of that scourge.