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by Paul C. Merkley


There is loose in World Council of Churches (WCC) circles today a certain wicked genie that attracts clergymen to the company of the most loathsome anti-Israel, anti-Jewish ideologues.

In October of 2004, this genie led a delegation of senior American Presbyterian leaders to Lebanon in order to meet with the leaders of Hezbollah. Appearing on the television network of Hezbollah (al-Manour) the head of the delegation, Rev. Ronald Stone reported: "Relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders.... We treasure the precious words of Hizb'Allah and your expression of goodwill towards the American people." This visit provided opportunity to mark the twenty-first anniversary of the suicide-bombing of the barracks of American marines in Lebanon, which took the lives of 241 American soldiers involved in the peace-keeping force in Lebanon — Hezbollah's debut upon the world stage. Hezbollah later went on to establish a state-within-a-state in Lebanon, funded by Syria and Iran, equipped with rockets with which to rain down death and destruction for years to follow upon the civilian communities in Northern Israel. Among Hezbollah's other active daily pursuits is intimidation of the Christian population of Lebanon, for the purpose of encouraging them all to depart forever.

This same wicked genie inspired a group of leaders of the National Council of Churches of Christ (the American branch of WCC) to visit President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran in March of 2007. They reported back that "Ahmadinejad comes across as a very religious man" — who would want to deny that? — a man furthermore, "having a measured tone, seemingly reasonable and having a witty personality." Abraham Foxman of the Anti Defamation League expressed the puzzlement of Jews everywhere that these leaders of what most Jews still imagine are the mainstream American denominations seemed unfamiliar with Ahmadinejad's repeated pledge to wipe the State of Israel from the map, his mockery of the Holocaust and his contempt for "Zionists" whom he calls "the most detested people in all humanity."

On May 8, 2008, Ahmadinejad observed the sixtieth anniversary of the State of Israel with these charming words: "Those who think they can revive the stinking corpse of the usurping and fake Israeli regime by throwing a birthday party are seriously mistaken.... Israel is on its way to annihilation .... [and] has reached the end like a dead rat."

WHEN I WAS SEARCHING MATERIALS FOR MY BIOGRAPHY OF REINHOLD NIEBUHR THIRTY-ODD YEARS AGO, I spent, for my sins, long hours studying Church journals, interchurch journals of opinion (including this one), and policy statements representing in the 1930s roughly the same constituency as the WCC claims to speak for in the year 2001 — namely, "Christian Opinion." I find that they habitually got it wrong. They were wrong about Hitler and Mussolini, whom they judged to be sober-minded statesmen intent on bringing self-respect to their abused people. They were wrong about the prospects for peace, preferring to believe that a loving attitude towards the grievances of the soft-spoken Adolf Hitler would make it unnecessary — indeed, criminally irresponsible, to prepare for war. They lionized Chamberlain, and loathed the war-monger Churchill. They were silent on the issue of Hitler's persecution of the Jews, opposed to Zionism, and vocal in support of British restrictions on further Jewish emigration to Palestine in 1939. They opposed relaxation of the existing immigration laws which prevented the influx to America and Canada of the hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing for their lives from lands occupied by Hitler. Peace Delegation after Peace Delegation went to Germany and then came back to Britain and to America with praise for the modesty and temperance of Adolf Hitler — whom they found as genial as their successors today found Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah.

All of this is abundantly documented in many scholarly books. But who reads books? Not the statesmen of the Church, who have to dedicate all their hours to policy statements. Not the chairpersons of the many Social Justice Committees of the many member-churches, who are even now posting WCC Press Releases to their bulletin boards.

In this same appeasing spirit the WCC during the entire Cold War period refrained from complaint on behalf of the persecuted Christians in the Communist world while their declarations and policy statements invariably singled-out the U.S.A. for racism and systematic denial of human freedoms. No ink was ever spent on analyzing the faults of Ho Chi Min or Pol Pot or Kim Il-sung, as this would deplete the supply needed for denunciation of the Presidents of the United States. The spirit in which WCC leaders court Ahmadinejad also bears likeness to the Christian Pacifist spirit that drew progressive clergy into Popular Front company in the 1930s and the spirit of "radical chic" of the 1960s and 1970s that drew left-liberal intellectuals to the bomb-throwing Black Panthers and African terrorist-liberation movements. It is the spirit that inspires the fixed policy today of the WCC to refrain from reference to persecution of Christians in Muslim lands.

Positions on international political matters taken by ecumenical bodies, by annual meetings of member denominations, and by interchurch journals of opinion have almost invariably been exposed as wrong as history unfolds. Being proved wrong never leads these bodies to apologize, however, as they are much too busy getting to the head of the parade on the wrong side of the next historical issue.

As for Israel: The National Council of Churches in the U.S.A (NCCUSA), the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), and the many denominational bodies which publish journals and newsletters for their members, all take their editorial line on Israel/Palestine wholesale from the same source, the World Council of Churches — which, in turn, takes its rhetoric from the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). A trained ear quickly picks up the recurring phrases: "standing with the Palestinian people in their struggle," "oppressive and illegal occupation," references to the armed forces of nations as "instruments of terror," references to Palestinian Christians as "living stones," victims of the "contemporary Herod." This is the language of the Declarations which issue from MECC meetings in Limassol and WCC meetings in Geneva, where no opportunity is ever afforded to Israel or any friend of Israel to put a contrary view, and from where no minority report has ever issued. This has been going on since the dust settled on the Six Day War of June, 1967.

The World Council of Churches (which claims to speak for over three hundred and forty denominational bodies within the universal church of Christ, representing about 550 million Christians in more than one hundred and twenty countries) went over to the side of the "Palestinian national struggle" in 1967 and has become increasingly blatant in expression of its basic contempt for Israel ever since. Suffice to say that the Durban Declaration was achieved in large part by the active lobbying of the World Council of Churches serving as brokers between the Muslim states and western opinion in August 2001.

WCC statements do their very best to ignore the very existence of the State of Israel, preferring to speak of "Occupied Palestine and Israel (OPI)." In a statement dated November 29, 2007 (the sixtieth anniversary of the Partition Resolution at the General Assembly) the Rev, Christopher Ferguson, "WCC Representative to the UN," addressed the United Nations General Assembly Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, "reflecting" he said, "on behalf of the international community of civil society" on "this 40th year of the Occupation and the 60th year marking the Resolution on the UN Partition plan and the 59th year since the Nakba."  In May of 2008, as in May of 1998 at the time of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, the World Council of Churches chose to express its contempt for Israel by turning its back to the people of Israel, instead organizing events in commemoration of the Nakba, the Catastrophe.

THOUGH FULLY AWARE THAT THEIR COMMAND OVER THE POLITICAL LIFE OF WESTERN DEMOCRACIES has waned steadily over the past four decades, leaders of the so-called mainline churches are determined to gain recognition as the conscience of mankind. For this purpose, there must be both solidarity of ideology with academic elites and cultural leaders in the west and solidarity with the agenda of the majority of nations at the UN. In that first circle, anti-Semitism, disguised as politically-acceptable anti-Zionism, is requirement for membership. In the General Assembly of the United Nations, bloc-voting by Arab and Muslim nations turns all the major UN commissions into factories for ceaseless production of anti-Israel declarations.

SINCE ENTERTAINING HIS CHRISTIAN GUESTS IN TEHRAN IN MARCH OF 2007, President Ahmadinejad has expanded the scope of his denunciation of the Jews. Currently, he refrains from referring to their human qualities, preferring to characterize them as sub-humans, specifically as "filthy bacteria," and as "rats [who] lash out at nations in the region like a wild beast " — the very language preferred by Hitler and Goebbels. This Iranian potentate, like "wicked Haman", the power-mad servant of the ancient Iranian tyrant whom the Greeks called Xerxes, has pledged himself before the population of Iran "to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day" (The Book of Esthen, 3:13.) Also like Haman, he intends to accomplish this task for the sake of mankind: "The lifetime of criminals and invaders [Israel] is over, "said Ahmadinejad over Iranian national television in February of 2008. "Powerful hands of Palestinians and regional nations will hit the last blow of destruction against the criminals. "

In pursuit of his dream, Ahmadinejad has two monumental advantages over Haman — advantages that would have lifted the heart of the latter. Firstly, modern weapons of mass destruction now provide superabundant means to accomplish in real time and place Haman's proclaimed objective: liquidation of the Jews "in one day." Secondly, modern communications makes it possible for the contemporary Haman to address his call for liquidation of the Jews far beyond the borders of the world of that tyrant — limitless though the Persian empire was believed to be at the time, consisting of "the satraps, the governors, and princes of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred and twenty-seven-provinces" (Esther 8:9.) Ahmadinejad has literally the whole world as his audience, an audience of billions: the rulers and the citizens of all the nearly two hundred nations that make up the General Assembly of the UN have heard in the same moment of time his uncensored call to cooperation in the liquidation of Israel.

In his address to the General Assembly of September 2007, Ahmadinejad described the brutal occupation of Palestine by the Zionist regime. "The Palestinian people have been displaced or are under heavy military pressure, economic siege or are incarcerated under abhorrent conditions.... deprived of water, electricity and medicine for the sin of asking for freedom, and the government that was freely elected by the people is targeted. Terrorists are being organized to attack the lives and property of people with the blessings of the politicians and military officials of the big powers." He called upon all the nations of the world to rally to his side in order to overthrow that regime.

Israeli officials have repeatedly called the attention of the Secretary General of the United States to what they say is "blatant violation" of the letter and the spirit the United Nations Charter and they have invoked the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, which calls explicitly for punishment and prosecution of those that carry out "direct and public incitement to commit genocide."

On September 25, 2008, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the guest of honor at a "dialogue dinner" hosted by the WCC together with the American Friends Service Committee and the Mennonite Central Committee, held in New York City to coincide with Ahmadinejad's visit to address the UN General Assembly at its opening session. Speakers for these church bodies expressed their appreciation for Ahmadinejad's example as a servant of the God Whom they all acknowledged. There was some passing censure for the provocative note which sometimes appeared in Ahmadinejad's remarks about Israel; and it was suggested that he might want to reconsider his denial of the historicity of the Holocaust of six million Jews in Europe. The human rights performance of his government was questioned mildly, but it was conceded that it was after all, not conspicuously worse than that of their own governments. No one complained when he stated that evening that "we [Iran] have the highest possible standards regarding observing human rights." But, as Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein noted in an op-ed piece in the Washington Times: "The only dialogue available to the distinguished leaders was with the waiters. Despite his earlier promises, Mr. Ahmadinejad took no questions. Instead, he spoke, feasted on the propaganda bonanza, and departed." These two authors note, incidentally, that the dialogue coincided with the seventieth anniversary of the Munich Conference in September, 1938.)

A spokesman for one of the sponsors of the "dialogue dinner" explained to the press that their purpose in this, as in all their earlier dealings with Ahmadinjedad, has been to "to moderate the president's public comments." He claimed (against all the evidence quoted here and much more available elsewhere) to have succeeded at that task. But Ahmadinejad was no more ready after that event than previously to speak words of love towards Israel. This became obvious to the entire world when, speaking from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly Ahmadinjed launched into another violent tirade against Israel and its lackeys. He noted that the global financial crisis which was shaping up as everyone's greatest concern at that moment was the work of "a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists" who control the financial and political centers of Europe and the US "in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner." There was good news, however: "Today, the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse, and there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool created by itself and its supporters." Then, four days after the dialogue-dinner, he made a visit to Sudan where he proclaimed that "Zionists are the true manifestation of Satan."

Taking a far more disapproving tone than the WCC leaders have ever used in public with Ahmadinejad, the Secretary — General Ban Ki-Moon (according to a letter sent by him to the Simon Wiesenthal Centre) told Ahmadinejad in person that he "was disturbed to hear the comments made by President Ahmadinejad of Iran in which he predicted the collapse of Israel and alluded to racial stereotypes... [He] urged President Ahmadinejad ... to refrain from making such remarks."

Since his New York appearances, Ahmadinejad has developed his line about the international Zionist plot to subvert the world economy in a statement carried on the Iranian News Channel:

The Zionists are crooks. A small handful of Zionists, with a very intricate organization, have taken over the power centers of the world. According to our estimates, the main cadre of the Zionists consists of 2,000 individuals at most, and they have another 8,000 activists. In addition, they have several informants, who spy and provide them with intelligence information. But because of their control of power centers in the U.S. and Europe, and their control of the financial center and the news and propaganda agencies, they spread propaganda as if they were the entire world, as if all the peoples supported them, and as if they were the majority ruling the world.... They are a handful of lying, power-greedy people who have no religion, who only want to take over all the peoples and countries, and to trample the rights of the peoples.... They kidnap oppressed, destitute, ignorant people from other countries, and bring them to the occupied lands [including, Palestine] to serve as human shields.... The strong arm of the peoples will wipe these germs of corruption off the face of the earth.


ISRAELIS AND JEWS EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD ARE JUSTIFIABLY BAFFLED BY THE STRANGE AMBIVALENCE IN CHRISTIAN ATTITUDES towards the State of Israel. While the WCC pursues the line we have been describing — aligning itself with the Durban manifesto and lending its distinguished auspices to the diatribes of the most hateful enemies of Israel — Hezbollah, Hamas, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - the vast majority of Christian laity are well-disposed towards Israel. This is just one facet of a large theme — the daily-growing gap between attitudes and beliefs of hierarchies and attitudes and beliefs of laity. Here we note only that the many Christian pro-Israel organizations, largely funded by volunteer donations of many millions while vociferously denounced by the mainline church leadership as "fundamentalist dupes for Israel's right-wing," have been stepping up to support the State of Israel in its life-and-death contest against Ahmadinejad.

International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is one of the organizations which cooperated with Jewish and Israeli activists in gathering 55,000 signatures in support of a legal indictment against Ahmadinejada, under the terms of the 1948 Convention already noted.

The director of ICEJ, Malcolm Hedding, is familiar with both the Book of Esther and the history of the 1930s. In remarks at a ceremony for presentation of this petition to the public, he noted that the "dialogue dinner" coincided with the 70th anniversary of Munich: "We are outraged," he said, "that [Ahmadinejad] was on American soil in the first place, and that Christians met with him at all. We fear that it's an appeasement of wickedness ....After the failure of the churches to speak out in the face of Nazi Germany's anti-Semitism in the 1930s, we dare not be silent again."

Paul C. Merkley is Professor Emeritus of History, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. His first published book was Reinhold Niebuhr: A Political Account (1974) and his sixth and most recent is American Presidents, Religion and Israel (Praeger: 2004). Contact him at This was submitted December 21, 2008.


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