Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Global Ministries Statement on Denial of Israeli Visa to World Council of Churches Leader


By Thomas Kemper*

I join leaders of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in strongly protesting Israel’s detention and deportation December 5 of the council’s associate general secretary, Dr. Isabel Apawo Phiri, who was denied an entrance visa to attend consultations of the 14-year-old Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

Dr. Phiri’s treatment at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv was based on “prevention of illegal immigration consideration,” according to Israeli authorities, but it had strong overtones of racism and was based, according to the WCC, on incorrect and unreliable information.

European press reports state that Israeli officials based the action on the belief that Dr. Phiri was engaged in promoting the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement that protests Israeli settlements and other activities in Palestinian territories.

Dr. Phiri, a native of Malawi, was the only African and the only one of a five-member WCC delegation denied entry. I commend WCC General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit for asking legal representatives to enter an appeal of what he called “patently unjust and discriminatory action.” He said that “the accusations made against the WCC and the EAPPI in the interrogation of Dr. Phiri and published in the media…are completely false…The WCC deeply regrets the Israeli antagonism against the WCC’s initiatives for peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

EAPPI was set up in 2002 by the WCC in response to a request from Christian leaders in Jerusalem for “protection of all people in order to assist the re-establishment of mutual trust and security for Israelis and Palestinians.” It also invites “peace-loving people” worldwide to come to the Holy Land to join in a “manifestation for just peace.” Participants include more than 70 churches, ecumenical groups, and specialized ministries in 22 countries.

The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries takes part in EAPPI and considers it an important contribution to a just peace in Israel and Palestine. It has been a member since EAPPI’s founding in 2002.

Dr. Israel Phiri, who currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland, where the WCC is headquartered, is associate general secretary for public witness and diakonia (service) of the organization that has 358 member Protestant, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and united churches in 110 countries. She has held the post since 2012 and is a theologian by training and profession. She is the former director of the Center for Constructive Theology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and holds a master’s degree from the University of Lancaster, England, and a doctorate in religious studies from the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

WCC: Israeli action towards WCC leadership unjust, discriminatory and misinformed.

*Thomas Kemper is General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries.