Isabel Phiri, a prominent African theologan and an assistant general secretary with the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, has been denied entry to Israel due to her BDS activism.

While Israel has denied entry to anti-Israel activists before, this is the first time Israel has refused someone directly for their involvement with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Israel’s interior minister, Aryeh Dery, said he had decided against issuing the visa after consulting with the public security minister, Gilad Erdan, who is also in charge of countering anti-Israel boycotts.

In a statement to media, Dery said: “Allowing entry to activists such as Phiri would effectively reinforce the prohibited activities she and her friends are promoting. I will use all my authority at my disposal to prevent harm to Israel.”

Erdan said: “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.”

Israel’s decision to refuse entry to Phiri is likely to be controversial, due to her prominence as an African theologian and her role in leadership in one of the world’s largest Christian organisations.

According to the Interior Ministry, it was Phiri’s work for the WCC that lead to her visa being denied.

The World Council of Churches has supported the BDS movement since 2002 and reportedly works to advance the EAPPI plan – Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine.

The EAPPI website claims that the program seeks to “to change the international community’s involvement in the conflict, urging them to act against injustice in the region,” and promote “a future in which the occupation of Palestine has ended and both Palestinians and Israelis enjoy a just peace with freedom and security based on international law.”

The WCC represents churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries, and claims to represent more than 500 million Christians and including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and independent churches.