Stated Clerk speaks out on Israel’s treatment of WCC official

December 14, 2016


Honorable Ronald Dermer, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.

As Presbyterian members of the worldwide Christian community and, particularly, as members of the World Council of Churches (WCC), I am writing to express our profound displeasure over the indignities visited upon our WCC Associate General Secretary, Prof. Dr. Isabel Phiri, at the Ben Gurion International Airport on December 5, 2016.

Dr. Phiri arrived in Israel as part of a WCC delegation sent to consult with our church partners in Jerusalem and those involved in our Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The mandate for EAPPI derives from a request from church leaders in Jerusalem in 2002 to wit, “We would respectfully request protection of all people in order to assist in the reestablishment of mutual trust and security for Israelis and Palestinians. Further, we would call on all peace-loving people from around the world to come and join us in a manifestation for just peace.” This initiative is well-known among Israelis and Palestinians and has served the cause of peace well.

Notwithstanding these facts, Dr. Phiri was apprehended, interrogated, falsely charged under “Prevention of illegal immigration considerations,” deported, and forced to return to Geneva, where she resides. Some reports indicated that she was also falsely accused of complicity with the “BDS movement,” with which she has nothing to do.

Her deportation stands in contrast with the experience of the other four members of the WCC delegation who had arrived somewhat earlier. They went through the usual security procedures at Ben Gurion International Airport and were allowed to proceed without hindrance. It is notable that Dr. Phiri was the only African member of the delegation.

In filing our complaint over the treatment of Dr. Phiri, we urge more care in dealing with Christian leaders who come in the name of a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. It has long been the policy of our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to support every effort to create a peaceful and just outcome for both Israelis and Palestinians, marked by self-determination and security for all who are involved.

We expect to continue to support and work with our Christian partners in Israel and Palestine and we trust that in the future, those who come in the name of such a vision will be treated with more respect than Dr. Phiri received.

Sincerely yours,

The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Cc: Honorable Daniel B. Shapiro, U.S. Ambassador to Israel
WCC, etc.

  1. Since the PCUSA is determined to take a political stand in the Israel vs. Palestinians issue, here are some raw facts for your consideration. There are 54% of Americans who are sympathetic to Israel. Only 19% are sympathetic to Palestine. Therefore, when you take anti-Israel positions (MRTI would be an example), you should expect quite a few Presbyterians to be turned off.

    by Geoff Goodman

    December 28, 2016

  2. Let’s be clear about our definitions and the supported policies of the church, particularly that of the PCUSA. For more than twenty-five years, the church has stated its support for the right of the State of Israel to exist and its citizens the right to live in a secure environment. Attempts to conflate anti-Semitism with criticisms of the Israeli government, whose policies prevent the same guarantees for not only Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories (OPT), but also those who have Israeli citizenship within the State of Israel, are fallacious and unfounded. The policies of the church have long supported the call for equality for all people on both sides of the wall. The church has not agreed to be a part of the world wide BDS movement and has explicitly stated so in the last three meetings of the General Assembly (GA). As a matter of fact, in 2016, our church agreed to “prayerfully study the call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel”. So, the issue still remains before us. Related to boycotts and divestments, what has the church also agreed to so far? In 2012, the church passed a resolution to boycott all products produced in the illegal Israeli settlements. In 2014, the GA approved divestment from the Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions for their profit making during the occupation of the territories. These are the facts. Finally, this summer in Portland, Oregon, the GA, after much study over a six-year period, adopted the Confession of Belhar which said that “the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.” The rejection and the embarrassment experienced by a representative of the World Council of Churches at Ben Gurion Airport certainly calls for an apology, especially since 2002 the mission of the WCC has been to “request protection of all people in order to assist in the reestablishment of mutual trust and security for Israelis and Palestinians.” In the absence of other voices, who else but the church needs to take such a stand?
 My thanks to our Stated Clerk for being the voice of the church in a circumstance that clearly violates our positions, not only in Israel and in Palestine, but against oppression throughout our world. Bill Plitt

    by Bill Plitt

    December 23, 2016

  3. You reap what you sow. Dr Phiri's long standing support for BDS of Israel is well known and documented. Common sense on the part of the Israeli government to deny entry. As a member of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, I support the Israeli government in this action. I know the Elders and the Clergy of my church will be disappointed in my stance. I feel no sorrow or shame. I am still waiting for the General Assembly to block investment in the cement firms that provided material for the terror tunnels into Israel. PCUSA's lens on the ME is clouded by political correctness gone wild.

    by John H Poulin

    December 17, 2016

  4. Thanks you J. Herbert. I am willing to bet that many more folks support you ongoing and vocal support than stand against it.

    by Bruce Steven Reyes-Chow

    December 17, 2016

  5. Before the Stated Clerk begins to lecture on the nature of terror, one should be reminded that the PCUSA has a long and established record of providing aid and comfort to agents of transglobal terror. Their six decade embrace and support of the murderous Castro brothers of Cuba. Their 40 year support of Mugabe of Zimbabwe who only butchers and starves his own people. Indeed, the PCUSA is the last agency to provide any guidance or commentary on Islamic terror, or terrorism in general.

    by peter gregory

    December 16, 2016

  6. We Presbyterians certainly have become a bigoted lot. Here our Stated Clerk condemns the State of Israel for denying entry to a foreign national while remaining mute on the Assad regime's genocide in Aleppo and the Islamic State's bombing of St. Mark's in Cairo. In the PCUSA's twisted ethos, only Jews are guilty in the Middle East. Arab tyrants and Islamist murderers get free passes. Be reminded in this season of Advent that we Presbyterians worship the Son of David, himself a Jew.

    by Giles Caver, RE, Westminster Church, Nashville, TN

    December 15, 2016

  7. Odd how Israel so often becomes the thing it hates...facist

    by andy blair

    December 15, 2016

  8. Get the facts PC-USA - The nation of Israel is well within its rights and authority to do what it has decided to do here. Countries like Israel often deny entry to people they consider to be pro-Palestinian foreign activists and agitators. But, for the first time, Israel refused a visa to a person on the grounds of being allegedly involved in the BDS movement. This is actually the first time the State of Israel refused the entry of a tourist due to a clear background of anti-Israel activity and promoting economic, cultural and academic boycotts against Israel. This case comes after both Interior Minister Deri and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced earlier this year a plan to keep BDS supporters out of Israel and deport those already in the country. And when it comes to deciding whom to trust, the WCC or the Nation of Israel, I will side with Israel and it's rightful place of authority to make these sorts of decisions.

    by Steve

    December 15, 2016

  9. Thank you, J. Herbert, for speaking out on behalf of our denomination.

    by Mary and Newell Witherspoon

    December 14, 2016

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