South African church leaders have made conflicting statements on Israel over the past 10 days, highlighting the widely different positions held by SA Christians on the Holy Land conflict.
A group of church leaders led by Bishop Zipho Siwa, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa, has called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. In a statement released on December 8, following a week-long “solidarity” visit to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the church leaders said they were “traumatised” by what they saw and that they felt like they had walked into “an apartheid ambush” in which Israel was violating international law to oppress Palestinians.
Meanwhile another group of church leaders, together with SA’s chief rabbi, Dr Warren Goldstein, have urged the African National Congress (ANC) to treat Israel fairly and warned that support for BDS strengthens “the forces of extreme violence”. The call was made in an open letter published in the Sunday Times on December 16 as the ANC began its Mangaung leadership conference where it has been speculated that it could adopt a BDS resolution against Israel. Recent anti-Israel action by the SA government includes moves requiring products from areas of Israel to be labelled as originating from “Occupied Palestinian Territory”, and an endorsement of BDS by former Deputy President and current ANC Chairperson Baleka Mbete at a recent international conference in South Africa.
The statement by the pro-sanctions church leaders was signed by Bishop Zipho Siwa, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa; Dr Jerry Pillay, General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa and President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches; Reverend Moss Nthla, Secretary General of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa and Chairperson of Kairos Southern Africa; Dr Braam Hanekom, Deputy Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church; Ms Nonhlanhla Shezi, President of the Anglican Youth of Southern Africa; Ms Theresa Ramphomane, Coordinator of the SACC Women’s Ecumenical Conference; Ms Nobuntu Madwe, General President of the Women’s Manyano (Union) of the Methodist Church of South Africa; Father Michael Deeb, coordinator of the Justice and Peace Department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference; Father Zweli Tom, Anglican Priest and Secretary General of the Nelson Mandela Bay Consultation of Christian Churches; Ms Nonqaba Esther Dlula, Eastern Cape Anglican Church; Dr Stiaan van der Merwe, Kairos Southern Africa; and Ms Marthie Momberg, Kairos Southern Africa.
The anti-sanctions open letter to the ANC is signed by Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and co-chairman of National Religious Leaders Council; Pastor Ray McCauley, president of the International Federation of Christian Churches and co-chairman of the National Religious Leaders Council; Inkosi Vukile Jehovushilo Shembe, of the Nazareth Baptist Church; Professor Nelus Niemandt, moderator of the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church; Dr Izak Burger, president of the Apostolic Faith Mission; Pastor Mosa Sono, of the Grace Bible Church; Bishop Stephen B. Zondo, of the Church of Rivers of Living Waters; and Chief Rabbi of South Africa Dr Warren Goldstein.
“South Africa has no just cause for choosing sides,” the letter reads. “We should support both sides in their struggle for a peaceful solution.”
“When South Africa’s ruling party chooses sides in this bitter conflict, our country loses the credibility to be a voice for peace between the parties, and only the agenda of conflict is served. Such actions impede a peaceful solution that would enable Jews to live in their ancient Biblical land in peace side by side with their Muslim neighbors.