World Council of Churches leader deported by Israel allegedly over BDS

07 December 2016

Israel has has detained and deported senior leader of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Dr Isabela Apawo Phiri, while she was en route to Palestine.

According to the New York Times:

“Israel’s public security and interior ministers said on Tuesday that they blocked the entry of Isabel Phiri of Malawi because of her long affiliation with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.” (Click here)

The Guardian Newspaper wrote that Israel’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri: “[D]ecided against issuing the visa after consultation with [Israel’s] public security minister, Gilad Erdan, who is also in charge of countering anti-Israel boycotts.” (Click here)

According to the Guardian Newspaper, Deri said: “Granting an entry permit to activists such as Phiri would in effect reinforce the wrongful activities she and her peers are advancing and I have no intention of lending a hand to that. I will use any authority at my disposal to avert harm to Israel.”

Israel’s public security minister, Gilad Erdan (who is responsible for the Israeli Government’s efforts to counter the Palestinian-led BDS movement) reportedly told media that: “The place of the boycotters is outside the country’s borders and we shall continue to do everything possible to prevent them from entering our country.”

In a statement released yesterday the WCC said that this was “an unprecedented move against the leadership of the World Council of Churches”. The WCC explained that their Associate General Secretary “was apprehended, interrogated and deported from Ben Gurion International Airport”. (Click here)

Dr Isabela Phiri is an accomplished academic theologian who previously served as the head of the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. The WCC has over 348 member churches across the world, with over half a billion Christians in 110 countries and includes most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and independent churches.


The WCC has also suggested that Phiri may have been singled out because she was African: “Noting that Phiri was the only African member of the WCC staff delegation, the only one denied entry, and that the reason given for her deportation was ‘Prevention of illegal immigration considerations,’ the WCC has instructed its legal representatives to immediately lodge an appeal against ‘this patently unjust and discriminatory action against Phiri.'”

The singling out of Apawo Phiri fits in with Israel’s racism against Africans. Africans in Israel and Ethiopians in particular have (in addition to the indigenous Palestinians) been at the receiving end of Israeli racism. In May 2012 Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that African migrants were “threatening the fabric of Israeli society, its national security and its national identity.” A few weeks later Israel’s Minister of Culture Miri Regev described African migrants as “a cancer” in our body. In 2013 it was reported that Israel was administering mandatory contraceptive shots, without consent, to African women. In 2016, Tahunia Rubel, a well known Ethiopian-born Israeli model and actress remarked that: “Israel is one of the most racist countries in the world.”


The human rights and Palestine solidarity organization BDS South Africa joins the WCC in condemning the Israeli Government’s denial of entry to Dr Isabela Apawo Phiri and those wanting to visit the Palestinian territories (including the holy towns of Bethlehem and Jerusalem). We join the National Coalition 4 Palestine (NC4P) in demanding that the South African Government investigates the issue of South Africans, particularly church members, being denied entry to Palestine.

In the last two years alone more than 15 South Africans have been deported by Israel. In the past Israel has also denied Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister Thulas Nxesi and various other high profile South Africans entry into Palestine.


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