A SENIOR member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) staff has been refused a visa and deported from Israel.
Professor Isabel Apawo Phiri, the associate general secretary of the WCC, was denied entry at Ben Gurion airport on Monday afternoon. She was part of a WCC delegation that had been scheduled to attend consultations with religious leaders in Jerusalem about the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, which WCC supports.
Israeli authorities said that this was because alleged links between her and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Officials say that this is the first time that a foreign national has been refused entry for this reason.
In a statement to the media, Aryeh Deri, the interior minister of Israel, 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.”
The WCC firmly deny the allegations against Professor Phiri.
“I am very surprised and dismayed that the Israeli Ministry of Interior is apparently basing its decisions on incorrect and unreliable sources,” said the WCC’s general secretary, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. “The accusations made against the WCC in the interrogation of Dr Phiri and published in the media today are completely false.”
A statement released by the WCC said that Professor Phiri, who is a Malawian national, had been “apprehended, interrogated and deported” because of the “prevention of illegal immigration considerations”.
It highlights in its report of the events that Professor Phiri was the only African member of the WCC delegation, and was the only member of the group denied entry.
The WCC has instructed its legal representatives to file an appeal against what it terms “patently unjust and discriminatory action”.
Professor Phiri said that the WCC “deeply regrets the Israeli antagonism against the WCC’s initiatives for peace with justice for both Palestinians and Israelis”.
Homes legalised. Last week, the Israeli parliament voted to legalise retroactively previously unlawful settler houses that had been built on Palestinian land.
The vote has put pressure on relationships within the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, and Mr Netanyahu has warned that the vote could result in his country’s political leaders being questioned by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.