Earlier this month, I posted an article questioning whether the World Council of Churches (WCC) is doing Palestinian Christians a favor by mobilizing both them and churches elsewhere for the promotion of the Palestinian political agenda. Among other things, I mentioned the WCC's sponsorship of the so-called Kairos Palestine Document (KPD), referring to my earlier analysis of that document.
Now one of the authors of the KPD, Rifat Odeh Kassis, has written a response in which he seeks to contradict me. His approach is thoroughly confusing. For instance, he claims that my earlier and later contributions are almost identical, which they are not. I wrote earlier on the KPD, mentioning somewhere that it had been sponsored by the WCC, and later on the WCC, exemplifying the KPD among other schemes that it had sponsored. Otherwise, the differences are manifold.
More than that, Mr. Kassis claims: "There is nothing in Mr. Lowe's new article that we have not heard before, including from him: again and again, he shrilly insists that a peaceful resolution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict amounts exclusively to collaboration with the oppressive policies enacted by the Israeli state." I defy Mr. Kassis to find anywhere in either contribution of mine any proposal whatsoever for resolving the conflict. What he writes here is an outright falsehood.
Nor did I advocate "exclusive collaboration" with Israel – another falsehood. I merely pointed out that as there are many more Arab Christians in the State of Israel than under the Palestinian Authority, it is important for the Heads of Churches to maintain a good relationship with Israel as well as with the PA. And the Heads of Churches, almost without exception, do seek that. It is rather Mr. Kassis, through the KPD, who demands an exclusive identification of Christians with Palestinian political aims. And that can only damage relations between the churches and Israel.
If I am not to conclude that Mr. Kassis deliberately misleads readers and slanders me, the only alternative is to suppose that he has not seriously read anything that I wrote, but emits knee-jerk shrill accusations in response to whoever challenges the validity of his own outlook. That this is the likely explanation is confirmed by another curious phenomenon: the more he claims to be contradicting me, the more he explicitly confirms what I wrote.
For instance, he claims that "Kairos Palestine neither claimed that the Heads of Churches had endorsed BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], nor asked them to endorse it" but he simultaneously insists that "the Heads of Churches decided to endorse the document" and he proudly confirms that the document indeed calls for BDS against Israel. Also the then-General Secretary of the WCC, Samuel Kobia, on December 21, 2009 hailed "the endorsement by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem of the Kairos Palestine Document".
Any normal thinking person concludes that if people endorse a document calling for BDS, they are endorsing BDS. But if Mr. Kassis thinks differently, he would do everyone a service if he could persuade the promoters of the KPD to make it clear at every opportunity, including prominently on their dedicated website, that the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem do not endorse and have never endorsed BDS against Israel.
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Another point, which I did indeed mention in both articles, is that Bishop Munib Younan was the only Head of Church who was originally listed as an author of the KPD, but he later withdrew his signature. My exact words in the later article are: "The only genuine church leader listed among the authors was Arab Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, but he hastily called for his signature to be removed."
Writes Mr. Kassis: "Mr. Lowe... states (again) that Bishop Munib Younan withdrew his involvement from the Kairos Document. This is incorrect: while the bishop is no longer listed as a co-author of the document itself, his signature remains on the list of endorsements. In fact, Bishop Munib has never denied the fact that he has been part of the group who worked on the document." That is, first Mr. Kassis ascribes to me a formulation that I did not use ("withdrew his involvement"), then he claims that the formulation is incorrect, and then he asserts the very thing that I did say. In short, he is correcting not me but his own amazingly careless reading of what I wrote. And the same carelessness appears time and time again.
Moreover, as we have seen, Mr. Kassis claims that an endorsement of the document does not endorse its contents. But if that strange claim is true, then the so-called endorsements are of no weight, so why are they so important to Mr. Kassis? In any event, there was no endorsement by the Heads of Churches but merely a mildly worded brief reaction, which the WCC and the KDP authors eagerly dubbed an endorsement.
Actually, however, I am quite grateful to Mr. Kassis for his carelessness. For I had personal knowledge of Bishop Younan's waverings, yet I was unable to quote them from a written source, apart from noting that the website of Kairos Palestine had removed the signature. Now Mr. Kassis has obliged by supplying that written source, his own article, in which the equivocal behavior of the bishop is stated as plainly as anyone could wish.
Whether the bishop wished his role to be made so public is another matter. "Never denied the fact" merely implies that the bishop does not tell everybody. He, too, likes to be on good terms with the Israeli authorities. Currently, Bishop Younan is making every effort to get recognition of his church within the State of Israel, although it is almost the only local church that has no presence in Israel. Admittedly, the bishop has a congregation that meets in Jerusalem's Old City, but he, like Mr. Kassis, does indeed deny that this is part of Israel.
Identification with BDS is the last thing that Bishop Younan needs just now. But Mr. Kassis insists that the bishop not merely "endorsed" the KPD in some unclear sense but was active in the formulation of its contents. It is Mr. Kassis, not I, who has let the cat out of the bag.
Mr. Kassis is, however, completely correct in one regard. He emphasizes that for some long time now the Israeli Interior Ministry has been making inordinate difficulties for Christian priests, Christian volunteers and even Christian friends of Israel to obtain visas to stay in Israel. Here too, he thinks that he is contradicting me, but he is echoing what I explicitly wrote in the later article.
This is indeed a thoroughly unfair and foolish policy of Israel, as I have myself urged with many Israelis, both publicly and privately. Sometimes the situation improves, currently there is a marked deterioration. But Mr. Kassis still fails to ask himself: Has this policy anything to do with the WCC's exploitation of Israeli tourist visas to promote a Palestinian agenda? For the WCC runs a program in Jerusalem (EAPPI) that has trained hundreds of pro-Palestinian agitators and sent them out into churches all round the world. The participants in the program enter Israel invisible amid the crowds of tourists and receive visas along with them.
In general, I agree with Mr. Kassis that there are various issues regarding the rights of Christians in Israel. Where I disagree with him is in my assertion of an obvious truth: that if he and the WCC instrumentalize those issues in order to promote Palestinian political aims, such as BDS, uprooting Jewish settlements and giving millions of Palestinians a "right of return" to Israel, then the relevant Israeli authorities will be less inclined to deal with those issues seriously, if at all.
On the other hand, it is futile to deny that Christians living under the Palestinian Authority have issues with certain Muslims and with the PA itself. But the WCC has ignored those serious issues, certainly compared to its international campaigns of denunciation of Israel. The reason can only be that admitting such issues might lessen the persuasiveness of those campaigns.
Now, I will not accuse Mr. Kassis of sharing that attitude of the WCC, since I do not claim to know everything that he has ever said or written. Maybe, although it is unknown to me, he is on record as a critic of the PA and of Palestinian Muslim harassment of Christians, as vigorously as I demand due rights for Christians from Israel. But as a co-author of the KPD, he is co-responsible for its pretense that such issues do not exist. Let Mr. Kassis examine his Christian conscience, as he expects me to examine my own.
The World Council of Churches [WCC] in Israel can only effectively help local Christians by withdrawing from the sphere of Palestinian political advocacy, ceasing to mobilize Christians – both locally and internationally – for that purpose, and then insisting that the rights of Christians must be upheld regardless of who rules where in Israel or the Palestinian Authority.