Tel Aviv-Associate General Secretary for the World Council of Churches for Public Witness and Diakonia Dr. Isabel Apawo Phiri from Malawi was banned on Monday from entering Israel after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport.
The Christian theologian was refused entry in Israel for alleged involvement in activities boycotting the state.
Phiri was travelling to Israel to take part in consultations in Jerusalem on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which is a program of the World Council of Churches.
According to Israeli officials, the WCC established several highly biased and politicized groups including the EAPPI, which brings activists to Israel to gather images and stories of Israeli Jews oppressing Palestinians.
Through various organizations and campaigns, the WCC promotes BDS and demonizes Israel for its “apartheid,” “collective punishment,” “war crimes” against Palestinians, and “illegal occupation of Palestinian lands,” officials said.
After consultations among the Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, the Immigration Authority and the Strategic Affairs Ministry, Deri decided to refuse entry to Phiri.
The WCC, which has lodged an appeal, said it “deeply regrets the Israeli antagonism against the WCC’s initiatives for peace with justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.”
The WCC noted that Phiri was the only African member of the WCC staff delegation and the only one denied entry.
For his part, WCC General Secretary Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit said: “The accusations made against the WCC and the EAPPI program in the interrogation of Dr. Phiri and published in the media are completely false.”
“I am very surprised and dismayed that the Israeli Ministry of Interior is apparently basing its decisions on incorrect and unreliable sources.”
More than 70 churches, ecumenical bodies and specialized ministries in 22 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America actively participate in the program.
Almost 1,800 “accompaniers” have taken part, travelling to the West Bank to monitor and help local communities.
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the government’s anti-BDS operations, concurred with the decision, saying, “We will continue to work to prevent the entry of BDS activists into Israel, as their purpose is to harm the State of Israel by gathering information and presenting it in a false and distorted manner.”
He further noted that these activists need to remain outside the borders of Israel, and Israeli authorities will continue to work in every possible way to prevent them from entering the country.