Rev. Professor Dr. Jerry Pillay, a South African Uniting Presbyterian Church member, has been elected as the next general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC). His term will begin in 2023.
Pillay has compared Zionism to apartheid in his native South Africa and called on fellow Christians to “resist the empirical ambition of Israeli Jews,” according to a JNS report.
In 2016, Pillay perpetuated a vile antisemitic trope by criticizing the “exclusionary and violent character of the Israeli Zionist project,” adding that the state was created via a conspiratorial “Jewish leadership” collaborating with European colonialists.
He also expressed support for the BDS movement against Israel, writing that “Jewish leadership” helped “influence European nationalism and colonization” with “a common desire to establish the State of Israel … on the land of Palestine
Pillay told anti-Israel activists from the Presbyterian Church USA that, “For the sake of just peace we may have to support boycott, divestment and sanctions.”
Pillay accused Israel of wrongfully acting against “the indigenous people of the land” under “the guise of ‘national security’ or ‘national interest.’ ” He also asked Christians to “resist the empirical ambition of Israeli Jews.”
Despite being a member of the Christian clergy, Pillay rejected the Biblical and historical connection between the Jews and the land of Israel, accusing the Jewish “settlers” of abusing the “the indigenous people of the land.”
David Michaels, B’nai B’rith’s director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs, decried Pillay’s appointment in a post in the Medium.
“For too long… 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,” Michaels wrote.
“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.”
Michaels added that “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,” Michael said.
“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.”
The WCC was founded in 1948 and represents 352 churches of various denominations and 580 million Christians from 120 countries. Pillay will be the ninth general secretary in the organization’s history. Pillay is currently dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria.
When Pillay was nominated, Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein the Chief Rabbi of The Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa, called on him to “retract statements accusing Israel of apartheid and calling for a boycott of the Jewish state.”
“The WCC has a long history of systemic bias against the Jewish state. I call on Rev Pillay to use his new position to break with its disturbing history, and usher in a new era,” said the chief rabbi.
“I further call on Rev Pillay to engage honestly 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,” said Goldstein.
“As South Africa’s Orthodox chief rabbi, I have been at the global forefront of repudiating the false and libelous charge that Israel is an apartheid state. In numerous articles, speeches, and public statements, I have brought all the evidence to dismantle the apartheid libel against Israel,” he said.
“I have shown that it’s without foundation in fact or law and that to make this comparison is 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. It’s vital to repudiate the apartheid libel against Israel so that the cause of peace can be advance
South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) General Manager Pamela Ngubane says her organization is “alarmed at the controversial appointment of Reverend Professor Dr Jerry Pillay as general secretary of the WCC. Pillay holds a hostile and divisive anti-Israel ideology that attempts to disconnect the Jewish people from the land of Israel. It’s a travesty, and we call upon this appointment to be reviewed and challenged.” SAFI is a grassroots organization for South Africans who support Israel.