The World Council of Churches (WCC) today expressed grave concern about a new law passed on Monday by the Knesset which reportedly forbids granting entry visas to foreign nationals who call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The ‘Entry to Israel Act (Denial of Visa to Non-Residents Who Knowingly Call for a Boycott on Israel)’ apparently makes no distinction between boycotting Israel proper and boycotting products of the settlements, which are widely considered illegal under international law.
“If reports of its content and intent are correct, this law is a shockingly regressive law,” said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. “It would be a clear violation of freedom of expression, that is critical for those who want to visit Israel, for those who have to live under the occupation, and for those who want access to the Palestinian territories. It is also a significant violation of freedom of religion. It is precisely because of our Christian principles and teachings that we in the World Council of Churches find the purchase and consumption of goods produced in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories immoral, and it is for the same reason many churches and Christians around the world choose to divest from companies that profit from the illegal occupation.”
Tveit observed that, if strictly applied according to its reported terms, “this new legislation would have the effect of barring representatives of many churches around the world from entering Israel, from accompanying sister churches and fellow Christians in the region, and from visiting the holy places for Christians. This potentially impacts the religious freedom of many Christians around the world, and harms Christians in Israel and Palestine. It could mean that I cannot, as general secretary of the WCC, visit our member churches in Israel and Palestine any more, nor go to the holy sites.”
The WCC – whose 348 member churches represent more than 560 million Christians globally – has encouraged its member churches to consider in their own contexts appropriate non-violent means of opposing the occupation and of working for a just peace in Israel and Palestine according to their own moral principles and teachings. The WCC has a specific and longstanding policy inviting member churches to boycott Israeli settlement products and to re-consider their investments from the same perspective, and many of them have made statements and taken actions accordingly.
“The WCC affirms and supports Israel’s right to exist, categorically rejects violence as a means of resolving the conflict, and has described anti-Semitism as a sin against God” Tveit stressed. “But we, together with the United Nations and the vast majority of the international community, consider Israel’s 50 year-long occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal. And on this basis the WCC has encouraged boycotting goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, divestment from companies that benefit from the occupation, investment in Palestinian enterprises that can stimulate the local economy, but not a general boycott of or sanctions against Israel.”
“The WCC seeks an equal measure of justice and dignity for all people, with a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Tveit continued, “but this legislation represents a form of isolationism that cannot be in Israel’s best interests as a member of the international community, let alone of the people of the region. It is a critical shift in the way Israel relates to the rest of the world. I hope and pray it will not prove to be the government’s actual policy and practice."