South African Council of Churches vice president and senior World Council of Churches official, Rev Frank Chikane is at the centre of a media storm over “incendiary” anti-Israel remarks he made during a Zoom webinar on February 6.
In his contribution to a webinar to launch a documentary about the pro-Palestinian activism of Michel Sabbah, the former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, he told more than 300 Christian activists on the call that “blood will be sought” from people who “support Israel to brutalise Palestinians”.
Chikane has “declared war on Israel and its supporters” through “a hostile and incendiary assault on the legitimacy of the Jewish state, and an implicit threat against those who support it,” wrote Middle East expert Dexter Van Zile in an article in The Algemeiner, an independent publication covering the Middle East, Israel, and matters of Jewish interest around the world.
He said Chikane portrayed Israelis as “demons” and said that the world will seek blood from people who support Israel in its fight against the Palestinians.
Gerald McDermott, a theologian, scholar, and author who recently retired from Beeson Divinity School, said Chikane is “out of touch with the situation on the ground”, reports The Algemeiner
“Why does he not denounce the violations of Palestinian human rights in Gaza [by Palestinian leaders]?” McDermott asked. “If he really cares about Palestinians,” McDermott added, “he would tell the world about Palestinians in Syria and most Arab countries where Palestinians are denied citizenship. Why does he not urge the UN to do something about the Palestinians being held in prisons controlled by Assad? Or about the 91% of Palestinians in Syria who live in absolute poverty?”
“When Chikane and others ignore human rights crimes against Palestinians by Arab countries and make absurd charges about so-called apartheid in Israel, they suggest that they are less concerned about Palestinians and more concerned about making political hay,” McDermott said.
“Christian leaders remain silent as church recycles its oldest hatred” reads the headline in a report in Israeli publication, Israel National News, which interprets Chikane’s remarks as “theological incitement against the State of Israel” by the World Council of Churches.
Chris Eden national director of Bridges for Peace, a Christian ministry focused on building relations between Christians and Jews, wrote that Chikane’s remarks have “ignited a fire within the Jewish world and added a sinister dimension to the division within the Christian world about Israel”.
Speaking to the SA Jewish Report in response to the article in The Akgemeiner, Chikane said he was using theological terms when he said that “the blood of the people of Palestine will be sought from them”, and that he didn’t mean it literally. “I don’t support violence or terrorism,” he said. “I don’t believe in curses. What I was saying is that we can’t fail in our responsibility to others. I should have used simpler language. People can disagree with me, but they don’t have a right to distort what I said.”
He pointed out that his views aren’t those of the WCC or the SACC, and he takes personal responsibility for them.
SA Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein disagrees that Chikane’s statements are harmless, reports SA Jewish Report. “His unhinged attack on Israel is as detached from reality as the medieval Christian blood libels,” he said.
“Unfortunately, this kind of hardline anti-Israel fanaticism with no basis in truth remains a real impediment to the cause of peace and justice in the region.”
Goldstein, however, said it didn’t represent the view of the majority of Christians in South Africa.
SA Zionist Federation national chairperson Rowan Polovin said Chikane’s “position is at odds with a growing movement of Christians around the world who understand that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel’s existence and prosperity stands as an important bulwark against the extremism that affects Christian populations in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Former AFM pastor Chikane who played a key role in the struggle against apartheid and previously served on the NEC of the ANC, did get support from Africa4Palestine, formerly BDS SA. Responding to criticism of Chikane’s webinar comments Africa4Palestine issued a statement ,”warning the Israel lobby in SA” to “lay off the anti-apartheid icon” and suggesting it might be time to go beyond its advocacy of sanctions and openly support the Palestinians’ armed struggle against Israel.
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