BDS IN THE PEWS: European, US, and Canadian Government Funding Behind Anti-Israel Activism in Mainline Churches
- Since the 2001 NGO Forum at the UN’s Durban Conference, boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) aimed at Israel have developed as a key issue in mainline Christian denominations in the United States, Europe, Canada, and elsewhere.
- A number of European governments, plus the United States and Canada provide funds for these church-based efforts to delegitimize Israel. These tax-payer funds are disbursed as grants to church-based humanitarian NGOs, which then transfer these funds to highly politicized pro-Palestinian NGOs, including Christian groups that promote BDS, the one-state solution and, in many cases, antisemitic supercessionist, or replacement, theologies within mainline churches worldwide.
- The most recent initiatives in 2012 include:
- In May, the United Methodist Church (U.S.) voted down an anti-Israel divestment resolution, but passed a resolution calling for selective boycotts of settlement products.
- In July and August, anti-Israel resolutions supporting divestment and/or boycotts are to be debated and voted upon at the national policy gatherings of the Presbyterian Church-USA and the United Church of Canada.
- The Episcopal Church (U.S.) in July will deliberate on a resolution that, according to an email action alert with the subject line “The Episcopalians Need Our Support Too!” circulated by Anna Baltzer of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, “is similar to the ground work that the Methodists and Presbyterians were laying several years ago as part of their long-term campaign” for divestment and boycotts.
- The Church of England at its General Synod in July will deliberate and vote on whether to recognize the World Council of Church’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and a Palestinian “right of return”.
‘BDS’ Briefly Defined
- The BDS campaign has its origins in the NGO Forum of the UN’s 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban where some 1,500 NGOs united to adopt a political war plan against Israel.
- In July 2005, a number of Palestinian groups issued the Palestinian United Call for BDS against Israel. BDS seeks to totally isolate Israel via boycotts of Israeli academic, cultural, consumer, and sports institutions, divestment from companies doing business with Israel, and sanctions in the areas of military, economic, and diplomatic cooperation agreements between Israel and other states.
- BDS strategists view the churches as a key target for promoting the BDS agenda: “religious institutions are seen in many communities as embodying important moral and ethical principles… Divestment campaigns that target companies such as Caterpillar have been initiated in a number of major Christian churches. Not only will successful divestment campaigns financially weaken the Occupation, but will raise both the public profile and legitimacy of the BDS campaign.”
(More information on BDS is found at the end of this report.)
Government Funding Entangled in Church BDS Efforts
NGOs that promote BDS and their governmental patrons:
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
Sabeel, located in Jerusalem, was founded in 1989 and is led by Anglican Canon Naim Ateek. Sabeel is a major actor in the effort to convince Christian churches to support divestment and boycotts against Israel. Promoting its “Palestinian Liberation Theology”, Sabeel plays a central theological role for pro-Palestinian activists in the mainline churches.
- Sabeel seeks to build a critical mass of influential church leaders who will amplify its message that Israel is solely culpable for the origin and continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflict.
- Sabeel works with pro-Palestinian activists within different denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Israel-Palestine Mission Network, the Episcopal Church’s Palestine Israel Network, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Kairos Response, American Friends Service Committee, World Council of Churches, and many others.
- Through its international “Friends of Sabeel” network Sabeel hosts numerous church-based conferences in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia each year where it promotes its agenda to large audiences of Christians.
- Additionally, “Sabeel sponsors an International Conference which attracts intellectual, spiritual and civic leaders from around the world.”
- Sabeel also brings delegations of Christians to “Palestine-Israel” on highly politicized “Witness Visit” tours “to experience the reality of life in today’s Holy Land.” Further, Sabeel’s annual “International Young Adult Conference” brings “young Christians aged (18-35) from around the world to create an alternative pilgrimage experience that emphasizes active engagement with both the people and the land.”
- An example of how Sabeel co-opts churches is seen in the March 2010 conference held at the First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo, Calif, headlined “A Time for Truth, A Time for Action.” According to eyewitnesses at the conference:
- The 500 participants were guided through lectures and workshops designed to motivate them into active participation in BDS.
- The “Time for Action” segment was led by Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement. He painted Israel as a “racist” and “apartheid” state founded on a “colonialist” ideology committing “slow genocide” against the Palestinians and thus requiring full BDS. He was warmly received by the audience. (Barghouti is signatory to the One-State Declaration. In 2003 he wrote, “Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead. But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial and we can all move on and explore the more just, moral and therefore enduring alternative for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Mandate Palestine: the one-state solution.”)
- Over twenty other speakers and workshop leaders repeated these themes, blaming Israel alone for the conflict.
- Jeff Halper, director of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (an Israel based advocacy NGO funded, in part by European governments), was also a key note speaker, urging that the “discussion” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be reframed into a human rights conversation. He further said that the framing should be within the categories of traditional references to “colonial imperialism and apartheid politics.” Halper is a frequent speaker at Sabeel conferences – he is slated to speak at one in Albuquerque, New Mexico in September on the topic “From Two States to Apartheid to Warehousing: Where Do We Go From Here?”
- Conference speakers attacked the Jewish religion, with Naim Ateek and Mark Braverman repeatedly referring to Judaism as “tribal,” “isolationist,” “exceptionalist” and to contemporary Jews as “paranoid” and suffering from “psychological issues.”
- Not a single participant, including the Christian clergy present, raised any objections to these theological attacks.
- Through Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), Sabeel often participates in denominational policymaking conferences. For example, at the 2012 Presbyterian General Assembly, FOSNA’s executive director, Rev. Dr. Donald Wagner, is listed as leading a workshop for the Israel Palestine Mission Network side-events.
- Ideologically, Sabeel supports “one-state,” meaning no independent Jewish state. Its “Vision for Peace” states: “The ideal and best solution has always been to envisage ultimately a bi-national state in Palestine-Israel… One state for two nations and three religions.” (emphasis added)
- Sabeel promotes Palestinian Liberation Theology (PLT), which includes Christian replacement theology, as a means to refute Jewish religious and historical claims to the land of Israel. At its core, PLT is Palestinian nationalist ideology encased in a theological covering.
- Sabeel uses antisemitic deicide imagery against Israel and consistently disparages Judaism as “tribal,” “primitive,” and “exclusionary,” in contrast to Christianity’s “universalism” and “inclusiveness,” fitting the definition of supersessionism. Some examples:
- “In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge [G]olgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull…” (emphasis added)
- “The tragedy of many Zionists today is that they have locked themselves into the nationalist concept of God. They are trapped in it and they will be freed only if they discard their primitive image of God for a more universal one…” (Naim Ateek, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, Orbis Books, 1989)
- Christianity came to take Judaism… pull it out of its tribal framework and make it universal… (Jesus) was saying this: we need to transform our religion. He was speaking truth to power. It’s for everyone and it’s not about a place, it’s not about a land anymore. This is where Judaism was supposed to go. But, instead, what has happened is this sense of isolationism, this sense of election and exclusivism has incubated for 2,000 years and we see the result today in the State of Israel.” (Mark Braverman, member, Friends of Sabeel North America’s Advisory Board, speaking at the Sabeel Conference: “A Time for Truth; A Time for Action,” San Anselmo, California, March 5-6, 2010, verbatim transcript)
Governments providing funds to Sabeel:
Netherlands: The Dutch government grants hundreds of millions of euros annually to Dutch church-based aid organizations such as Kerk in Aktie (KIA) and the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO). In turn, these groups disburse these funds to NGOs around the world, including Sabeel.
- Kerk in Actie (KIA)
- Sabeel lists Kerk in Aktie among its donors. KIA claims to support Sabeel in order to promote the voice of Palestinian Christians within the church.
- KIA supports a “general boycott” of Israeli products as per the policy of the Protestant Church of the Netherlands. (Kerk in Actie voert het beleid van de Protestantse Kerk in Nederland uit en wijst een algemene boycot af.)
- On its web site, KIA seeks to raise €50,000 for Sabeel and €70,000 to support the work of Meta Floor, a Dutch Christian activist who works on “peace, human rights, and lobbying” at Sabeel’s Jerusalem office.
- Meta Floor’s blog is located on the KIA web site. She writes: “The delegitimization and criminalization of the Israeli government and its local and international support is gaining unstoppable momentum. The existence of international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns and other forms of nonviolent resistance is an established fact. The Government and the State of Israel are now regarded as an apartheid regime.” (Google translate)
- Sabeel, along with its Dutch partners and funders KIA and ICCO, organized the Uur van de Waarheid conference in Amsterdam on September 15-16, 2011. The event’s aim was to promote the Kairos Palestine document. (More information on Kairos Palestine is found at the end of this report).
- Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO)
- In 2010, ICCO received €88.8 million in Dutch government funds, representing 85% of its €103.5 million budget. It also received money from the European Union (€5.3 million, an additional 5%) and the Dutch postcode lottery (€900,000 in 2009).
- ICCO funded Sabeel for a project that is only mentioned on ICCO’s English website aimed at “building communities” and “to reflect in a theological manner on the Palestinian situation in terms of Israeli occupation.”
Sweden: The Swedish government’s International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) has been providing substantial aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since 2000. In 2008, these areas received SEK 455 million (~$59 million, over 70% of the Middle East and North Africa [MENA] budget). Much of this aid is funneled through Diakonia, Sweden’s largest humanitarian NGO.
- Diakonia: founded in 1966 by five Swedish churches: the Alliance Mission, the Baptist Union, InterAct, the Methodist Church and Mission Covenant Church.
- In 2008, Diakonia’s revenue exceeded SEK 367 million (~$47.2 million), of which SEK 332 million came from the Swedish government’s International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), SEK 10.5 million from the EU, and SEK 5 million from the Norwegian government.
- Sabeel’s website states, “Diakonia is closely associated with Sabeel” and credits this relationship for changing the direction of Swedish foreign policy toward Israel: “Through its theological stance Sabeel has succeeded in establishing networks of Friends of Sabeel, for example, in the US, Britain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Australia. Sweden, a country which was strongly pro-Zionist in the past, manifests strong support [for Sabeel’s agenda].”
- SIDA (via Diakonia) also funded Sabeel’s Nakba Memory program in 2008 “to commemorate the Nakba [Catastrophe] of 1948, examine the current struggles for freedom, equality, and identity, and confront the continuing problems of the 1948 refugees.” And in 2011 Sabeel received SEK 225,000 ($32,390) from SIDA (via Diakonia) for its “Community Program,” a four-month project.
- In its 2011 annual report (Narrative Report 2011), Sabeel listed Development et paix (Development and Peace) as a donor without specifying the amount.
- According to its 2010-2011 Annual Report, Development and Peace granted $180,000 to the “Palestinian Territories” without specifying the recipients.
- HLT’s executive director Sami Awad, speaking at the National Leadership Conference for the Vineyard Church in 2009, told the audience: “We’ve actually done training in non-violence for Hamas leaders and other militant groups as well” (at 01:20:27 in the audio). Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department and the EU. Further, the US Supreme Court upheld a law criminalizing material support for terror organizations. (Holder, Attorney General, et al. v. Humanitarian Law Project et al. 2010). The law defines “material support” as including “any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including… training, expert advice or assistance…” See below for details of US government funding of HLT.
- HLT’s list of “International Associates” on its “Who We Work With” page includes American Friends Service Committee, Amos Trust, Christian Volunteer Network, CordAid (Netherlands), Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), Mennonite Central Committee.
- HLT produced a film called “Little Town of Bethlehem,” a 77-minute documentary that tells the story “of three men of three different faiths and their lives in Israel and Palestine. The story explores each man’s choice of nonviolent action amidst a culture of overwhelming violence.” Using a façade of multiple viewpoints, however, the film actually presents a single narrative of Palestinian victimization and Israeli violence.
- Screenings of this film have taken place in the US, Canada, Europe, India, Philippines and South Africa. Many of these screenings have been hosted by churches.
- HLT suggested in 2010 that its participants “limit information” given to Israeli airport security and hide the reason for their visits. In May 2005 HLT signed a petition calling for the academic boycott of Israel. Also in 2005, an HLT conference included NGOs such as Sabeel, and Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).
Governments providing funds to Holy Land Trust:
United States: The National Endowment for Democracy, mostly funded by the US Congress, granted the Holy Land Trust (HLT) $124,300 (2009, 2010, 2012).
Netherlands: Cordaid (Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development) received more than €4 million from the Dutch government in 2009. Almost half, €1.7 million, was spent in Israel and the PA. Despite a lack of transparency, NGO Monitor’s research shows that the Holy Land Trust received Cordaid funding.
United Kingdom: The British government granted to HLT £15,000 in 2010-2011. The government’s Middle East and North Africa Conflict Pool (MENA CP) provided £10,000, and £5000 was provided by the Bilateral Program Budget, managed through the British Embassy in Tel Aviv or Consulate in Jerusalem.
European Union: In 2009, the European Commission (EC) via the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) granted € 198,380 to HLT for the production of a TV Series on Human Rights (HR). In 2005, the EC via its Partnership for Peace Program granted €156,543 to HLT for the “Empowering citizen peace building” program whose purpose is to provide “training” in “nonviolence.” According to news reports, participants attended a “nonviolent Palestinian demonstration against the Wall and settlements.
World Council of Churches (WCC)
- The WCC plays a key role in mobilizing the church BDS effort globally. The WCC works closely with Sabeel and promotes Sabeel’s Palestinian Liberation Theology.
- Sabeel’s theological influence within the WCC is apparent. A Google search of the WCC website for the keyword “Sabeel” brings up 348 references. For instance:
- The Sabeel-authored liturgy Contemporary Way of the Cross, containing antisemitic deicide imagery, can be downloaded from the WCC site. This document’s first “station” directly compares the “ethnically cleansed” Palestinian village of Lifta with the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Israeli government with those who condemned Jesus to death, implying the Jewish authorities depicted in the New Testament: “Just as Jesus is condemned to die by the authorities to protect their own power, status and ideals so the Palestinians suffer as the result of the fear and ideology of the founders of the State of Israel.”
- In 2011 the WCC organized a World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel in which Sabeel played a significant role in planning and leading events in numerous countries. In the 2009 program, Sabeel was named a “a member of the planning group.” Sabeel was equally involved in this project in 2008, 2009, 2010. For 2012, Sabeel is also a central player.
- The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) was founded by the WCC in February 2002. EAPPI is a “wholly owned” subsidiary of the WCC.
- EAPPI frequently uses inflammatory and demonizing rhetoric against Israel and engages in boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns. It presents a one-sided Palestinian narrative, promotes the “right of return,” ignores terror attacks against Israelis, and blames Israel entirely for the conflict.
- EAPPI is an important resource for pro-Palestinian activists in various denominations worldwide as “sending organizations.” Some examples:
- United States: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Maryknoll Missioners, Episcopal Church, Church World Service, The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.
- UK and Ireland: Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), Christian Aid, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the Church of Scotland, the Iona Community, the Methodist Church, Pax Christi UK, Trocaire, United Reformed Church, USPG.
- Norway: Norwegian Church Aid, Church of Norway, YMCA, YWCA, Christian Council of Norway.
- Switzerland: Peace Watch Switzerland, Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, HEKS/EPER.
- EAPPI brings international volunteers to the West Bank “to experience life under occupation” and to “provide protective presence to vulnerable communities.” Often, these activities instigate confrontations with Israeli settlers and the Israeli army.
- EAPPI partner Christian Aid is heavily subsidized by the Irish and UK governments.
- EAPPI’s core publication, “Faith Under Occupation” is jointly published with WCC and the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre (2012). It places sole blame on Israel for the difficulties faced by Christians in the Holy Land. It also seeks to “disprove” what it calls “unfounded Israeli and Christian Zionist propaganda that Palestinian Christians are depopulating due to Muslim fundamentalism in Palestinian society” (page 10).
- The document suggests that “for more information on actions that you can take to work towards ending the occupation and realizing a just peace, we recommend that you refer to Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh’s ’50 Ways to Act for Peace with Justice.’”
- Dr. Mazin Qumseyeh is a Palestinian Christian living in the West Bank. He is a researcher and instructor at three Palestinian universities who speaks frequently on behalf of Sabeel. He was the opening speaker at Sabeel’s 8th International Conference in 2011 and is a recommended speaker on the website of Friends of Sabeel North America. He often uses antisemitic tropes:
- writing about the “Zionist controlled mainstream media” and how “the Zionist controlled media does not dare publish reality… The popular resistance is all but ignored by the self delusional right wing Zionists and their managed media outlets” (emphasis added)
- claiming that Israeli Jews “have developed fear of gentiles to paranoia levels” and asking “Why will there not be a US foreign policy that benefits US population? Is it because certain Jews make money out of the tribalism that is Zionism?” (emphasis added)
- engaging in Holocaust-denial when he writes “in ‘democratic’ Europe there are countries were you can examine and challenge any historical event except the Zionist version of WWII history.” (emphasis added)
- asserting that NATO is under Zionist control when it “follow(s) the script prepared for them in Tel Aviv” and that NATO’s definition of “terrorism” is the one promoted by “the Zionist media around the West (that Islam is the cause).” (emphasis added)
Governmental funding of the World Council of Churches
The WCC is the recipient of governmental funding, both indirectly via various church aid organizations, and directly from the Norwegian and Canadian governments. (WCC Financial Reports 2010 and 2011.)
Amount in Swiss francs (CHF)
Amount in Swiss francs (CHF)
|Direct government funding to WCC|
|Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs||160,075||0|
|Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)||110,815||278,743|
|Indirect government funding to WCC|
|Christian Aid (UK)||361,839||224,957|
|Kerk in Actie (Netherlands)||664,567||753,458|
|Norwegian Church Aid (Norway)||691,934||598,581|
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) network
- The BDS campaign has its origins in the NGO Forum of the UN’s 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban where some 1,500 NGOs united to adopt a political war plan against Israel. Their final declaration, using demonizing language designed to delegitimize Israel, declares “Israel as a racist, apartheid state in which Israel’s brand of apartheid as a crime against humanity,” calls for the “launch of an international anti-Israeli apartheid movement,” and for the “complete and total isolation of Israel.”
- This is the “Durban strategy” of which BDS is a main component. From this foundation, anti-Israel groups expanded their efforts to promote economic and cultural boycotts of Israel (2002), particularly the call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions (2003).
- Among the accredited NGOs at the Durban NGO Forum were a number of mainline Christian denominations that in the next decade would become proponents of the Durban strategy (World Council of Churches, Quakers), funders (Cordaid and Diakonia) and targets for co-optation by proponents of the Durban strategy (Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, etc.)
- In July 2005, a number of Palestinian groups issued the “Palestinian United Call for BDS against Israel,” further expanding the radius of these activities and increasing the resources devoted to this form of political warfare.
- Some key BDS supporters are clear about their movement’s goals:
- Dr. Norman Finkelstein, a BDS supporter, critiqued the BDS movement for being “dishonest” about their goals, saying, “We have to be honest, and I loathe the disingenuousness. They [BDS] don’t want Israel… And they think they’re very clever because they know the result of implementing all three [demands] is what? What’s the result? You know and I know, what’s the result? There’s no Israel.” (emphasis added)
- Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil, a Northern California BDS campaigner, responded to Finkelstein in Al Akhbar: “Finkelstein rightly asks whether the real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel. Here, I agree with him that it is. That should be stated as an unambiguous goal. There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.” (emphasis added)
- “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state… Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself.” (Ahmed Moor, leading U.S. BDS activist) (emphasis added)
The Kairos Palestine Document
- The Kairos Palestine Document was drafted in 2009 by a group of thirteen Palestinian Christian clergy. It calls for BDS against Israel, denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, and blames Israel solely for the continuation of the conflict. Its purpose is to rally churches globally to support BDS, delegitimization, and demonization directed at the State of Israel.
- Kairos Palestine was nurtured and widely promoted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) through its Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF). It was the culmination of a process that included the WCC’s June 2007 “Amman Call,” which explicitly supports the claim of a “right to return,” and the 2008 “Bern Perspectives.”
- Kairos Palestine rationalizes and trivializes anti-Israeli terrorism, failing to name any Palestinian groups involved in carrying out terror attacks against non-combatant Israeli civilians and calling it “legal resistance”:
- Some (Palestinian) political parties followed the way of armed resistance. Israel used this as a pretext to accuse the Palestinians of being terrorists and was able to distort the real nature of the conflict, presenting it as an Israeli war against terror, rather than an Israeli occupation faced by Palestinian legal resistance aiming at ending it. (emphasis added)
“The Palestinian ‘Kairos’ Document: A Behind-the-Scenes Analysis,” Malcolm Lowe, New English Review, April 2010
“CCAR Resolution on the 2009 Kairos Document,” Central Conference of American Rabbis, April 15, 2010