Dexter Van Zile
Dexter Van Zile

Chikane must repent, or go

Rev. Frank Chikane at a 2018 meeting of the World Council of Churches Central Committee in Geneva. Ivars Kupcis/WCC (Courtesy Photo downloaded from WCC’s website.)

By his own admission, Rev. Frank Chikane, moderator of the Churches Commission on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, is unfit to serve in his post. The man promotes an irrational and potentially lethal belief in the preeminence and centrality of malign Jewish power and its influence on human affairs. Consequently, he cannot credibly moderate the proceedings of an ecumenical organization charged with confronting issues of war, peace, and human rights from an authentically Christian perspective.

Chikane promoted his agenda in an interview he gave to Salaamedia, an internet news station in South Africa that promotes crackpot conspiracy theories under the guise of “humanitarian journalism.” (More about Salaamedia below.) In late February, Chikane told his host, Inayet Wadee, that he will talk about the injustices perpetrated and endured by other people in the Middle East only after Israel takes its “knee off the neck of the Palestinians.”

“Remove your knee [from] the neck of the Palestinians, then we can talk about other people,” he said. “They are saying I’m not balanced, I’m not talking about Syria and other places. I’m saying, ‘No sir, remove your knee [from] the neck of the Palestinians. Then I will talk about other people.’”

Chikane’s hyperbolic rhetoric, which fails to take into account Palestinian violence and incitement against Israel and Jews in the Holy Land, reveals a troubling belief that there is something preeminently evil about the actions of the Jewish state and that no other problems facing humanity, no matter how egregious, can be discussed until Israel, and only Israel, perfects its behavior.

The question is what happens when the Jews and their state, like the rest of humanity, cannot be perfected. Then what happens?

Chikane’s answer to this question is that if Israel can’t make things right with the Palestinians, Israeli Jews should be deprived of their right to self-determination and forced to share a state with people who have been attacking and killing them for the past several decades. This is akin to asking the Armenians to submit to Turkish rule. It’s a recipe for a disaster.

Rev. Chikane is not seeking to ameliorate human suffering wherever it manifests itself, but is instead working to deprive Jews of their sovereignty, their autonomy, and of the very power they have used to defend their lives and property in the face of genocidal hostility for the past 72-plus years.

Chikane’s attitude toward Jews is not one of eliminationist hostility. He does not want them to disappear entirely; he just does not want them to have the power needed to exercise their right to self-determination and self-defense. In sum, Chikane, like many anti-Zionists, likes his Jews beleaguered. Because of ideas espoused by Chikane and so many others, depriving Jews of their power and self-determination has become the great task of Christian peacemaking. Stymying Jewish sovereignty in the name of human rights — while ignoring human rights abuses elsewhere in the world — has become the hallmark of the WCC’s prophetic witness.

In a region where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been murdered in a decade through massacres and gas attacks by their own government in Syria, Rev. Chikane would have the world focus on a secondary conflict that has cost some tens of thousands of people their lives over the course of the past century.

Yes, the deaths caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict are tragic, but Israel is much more restrained in its use of violence to protect its citizens than Arab and Muslim regimes in the Middle East are in their use of force to stay in power.

By his own declaration, Chikane won’t speak about these other crises until the Israelis unilaterally bring their conflict with the Palestinians to an end. Chikane would effectively abandon the Syrians to Assad, Iranian dissidents to the mullahs, the Uighurs and Christians to their oppressors in China, and persecuted Christians to their killers in Nigeria and Pakistan. All this to feed his own obsession with the Jewish state, which in Chikane’s mind, is the equivalent of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Talk about the dangers of false equivalencies.

In Chikane’s world view, the lynchpin of human suffering in the Middle East is comprised of Israel, the recalcitrant Jews who live there and determine its policy, and benighted Christians who support it.

This narrative is a recapitulation of all the worst aspects of Christian antisemitism. It is not rendered acceptable or tolerable because it is enunciated by a pastor who represents the interests and concerns of the Global South.

The saga surrounding Rev. Chikane began on Feb. 6, 2021, when he gave a three-minute talk during an online showing of a film lionizing Michel Sabah, the former Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem who praised Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian leader who turned down two chances of statehood in the early 2000s (which never stopped Sabbah from blaming Israel for the Palestinians not having a state).

During his three-minute discourse, Chikane portrayed Israelis as demons who are recruiting other demons to assist them in their campaign to brutalize Palestinians. He also said, “We need to begin to say to those who support Israel to brutalize Palestinians that the blood of the people of Palestine will be sought from them because they collaborate by allowing this system to continue.”

After these outrageous comments came to light, Chikane defended himself in two venues with two different messages. In an interview with the South African Jewish Report (SAJR), he said that he should have used simpler language, he didn’t mean what he said literally, and he doesn’t support violence or terrorism: “People can disagree with me, but they don’t have a right to distort what I said.”

In a subsequent interview on Salaamedia, Chikane took a much harder line. It was in this interview that Chikane declared that he will get around to speaking about other injustices in the world once Israel takes its knee off the neck of the Palestinian people. He also defended his “blood” rhetoric by declaring that European Christians who feel guilty about what happened to the Jews at their hands can’t “allow the person you sinned against to commit sins and you keep too quiet,” adding, “Then the blood of the people who are dying will be sought from you.”

What makes these statements so troubling is that they are made by a man who enjoys nearly unassailable credibility as a leader of the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa, whose suffering surpassed that of anti-apartheid giants such as Desmond Tutu and Alan Boesak. Chikane was, on multiple occasions, beaten to within an inch of his life by South African police and was twice poisoned.

In his 2002 book Fault Lines: Journey into the New South Africa, author David Goodman writes, “Suffice it to say, Chikane has endured far more hardship than most mortals can conceive of. Since 1977 he has survived six rounds of detention, countless hours and unspeakable methods of torture, a year of hiding during the 1986 state of emergency, and, a 1989 assassination attempt which very nearly succeeded. Over the years, such abuse has left him at various times paranoid, confused, unable to walk, sleep or speak.”

Chikane’s suffering compares to what Christians such as Richard Wurmbrand endured in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War and what they are enduring in places like Pakistan today.

That is why the reverend must be challenged so forcefully about his rhetoric and its underlying logic. Folks who hate Israel and Jews with an unwholesome passion and think that Jewish power is an explanation for all that is wrong with the world will hide behind the false credibility that Chikane’s undeniable suffering affords them.

This is not a theoretical concern.

This is a real and concrete problem in light of Chikane’s decision to appear on an internet radio show hosted by Inayat Wadee, a host on Salaamedia, a South African internet news and talk station that promotes crazy conspiracy theories and virulent hostility toward Israel to its Muslim audience.

For example, during a Feb. 23, 2021 webinar hosted by Wadee titled “The Destruction of the Khilafah, 100 years of Tragedy,” pro-Palestinian activist Sakina Al-Ashhab inveighed against Jews and Israel in a shocking manner.

Al-Ashhab declared that the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1921 paved the way for Israel’s (“the Jewish entity’s”) establishment in 1948. And without a single leader to organize Muslims, the Muslim world was unable to achieve Israel’s destruction in the years since, she lamented.

“In 1948, the Jewish entity was declared and then there were fake wars, a series of fake wars between the Jewish entity and the Arab rulers which were completely not real wars,” Al-Ashhab said. “The Jewish entity has never really confronted, faced a real confrontation with the Muslims so it was all fake wars. Obviously, with the fall of the Khilafah, Palestine has been handed over to the Jews and the Jews have their entity and of course, that has a direct effect on the lives of the Muslims.”

Nevertheless, there are some Muslims who are faithful to the cause of Israel’s destruction in the West Bank, Al-Ashhab, who lives in Hebron, Al-Ashhab said.

“Even under this enormous pressure we still identify as Muslims and we still are waiting,” she said. “You can ask a small child — any small child on the street — ‘Are the Jews’ days numbered?’ and anyone will tell you, ‘Yes.’ It’s almost miraculous even though our educational system had didn’t teach them that, the media that we consumed didn’t teach them that — the West and our rulers [the Palestinian Authority] did everything they could to make us forget that. And so it’s almost miraculous how we just have this unwavering faith that the Jews’ days are numbered. Everyone knows in their heart that the Khilafah will be established and Palestine will be liberated, Masjid Al-Aqsa [the Al-Aqsa Mosque] will be liberated.” There is no evading the eliminationist logic of Al-Ashhab’s polemics.

In September 2020 Wadee interviewed Daryl Bradford Smith, a conspiracy theorist currently residing in France. Smith spoke about a criminal trial stemming from the Charlie Hebdo Massacre in Paris in 2015. The trial, as Smith described it, was not an attempt to bring people to justice, but was a propaganda event orchestrated to make Muslims lose confidence in their faith and to make non-Muslims in France feel fear toward Islam.

“The controllers, and we’ll leave that as their name for now, ‘the controllers’ of this world, the people who are pulling the strings want the population of the world to stay in fear because a fearful population is very easy to control,” he said.

The Boston Bombing, 9/11, if you want to know the truth was a setup,” Smith told Wadee adding that the attacks in Paris and Nice were also set-ups. “Many of these things were proven by a very astute researchers to be put together by intelligence services. Which intelligence services took part in it, I’m guessing MI6 and CIA and the Mossad of course and probably the Directorate Extern (sic) which is here in France.”

Smith also told Wadee that there was really no difference between Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden the two remaining candidates in the 2020 presidential campaign because Trump was controlled by Jewish bankers, as were other world leaders.

“Mr. Trump, back in the in the early 90s was bailed out by a man named Wilbur Ross,” Smith said. “Wilbur Ross was a lieutenant of the Rothschilds. He worked for Rothschild and Mr. Rothschild’s bank and he worked for the Bank of International Settlements and so he worked for the largest Mafia in the world — the banking mafia — and he bailed out Donald Trump’s bankruptcy. Now the same group is the person that put Mr. macron into his presidency.”

No responsible Christian leader who claims to be about peace, justice, and human rights would lend his credibility to a venue that traffics in these ideas.

Rev. Chikane did. His irrational attitude regarding Israel is bringing his career as a pastor and the WCC into disrepute.

Reverend Chikane must forcefully repent of his irrational beliefs in the preeminent evil of Jewish self-determination and agency or step down voluntarily from his post. And if he can do neither, he must be forced out by the leaders of WCC’s member churches.

Each day Rev. Chikane continues to serve as moderator of the CCIA is an injustice not only against Israel and its Jewish and Christian supporters, but also against WCC member churches and the witness they offer in their respective mission fields.

Dexter Van Zile is Shillman Research Fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis. His opinions are his own.

About the Author
Dexter Van Zile is Shillman Research Fellow at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.
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