A major row has erupted in Israel over whether or not the Jewish Agency is allowing missionary activity in its Galilee education facility, Bikat Kinarot. The Agency strenuously denies the charges, made by the Beynenu anti-missionary group — but at the same time, it is conducting an inquiry, and has warned of a severe crackdown if the allegations of missionary activity prove to have any basis.
For several months, Beynenu has been complaining that the Jewish Agency, which runs educational centres all over the country, has allowed Christian missionaries, or “Messianics”, to operate on the Galilee site. In its latest allegations it has put together videos which it claims show Christians, operating under the banner of the Canadian Christian Zionist group Return Ministries, identifying their true missionary intentions to convert Israeli Jews. Bikat Kinarot, the target of Beynenu’s current claims, provides services to lone soldiers, new immigrants, and those preparing to enter the army.
Beynenu says these are vulnerable people and easy prey for the missionaries. The Jewish Agency, which acknowledges a formal agreement with Return Ministries, categorically denies that missionary activity is taking place. Instead, the Agency says, Return Ministries “provide volunteers and assist with construction, maintenance and landscaping work on the campus. This is done within a very clear contractual framework, stipulating that any kind of missionary activity is strictly prohibited”.
The Jewish Agency insists that Beynenu’s videos “are heavily edited, using old and irrelevant footage and containing many false statements”.
But it admits that “they do raise grave questions and concerns for us regarding our relationship with Return Ministries”. And this relationship is now being closely examined: the Agency emphasises that “any involvement of Return Ministries or the Aliyah Return Centre, beyond the very clearly demarcated roles…is in clear violation of their agreement with the Jewish Agency”. The Return Ministries themselves have repeatedly denied any missionary activity, insisting that their volunteers, often elderly Christians from all over north America, were involved in picking grapes or harvesting olive trees.
But it is not just alleged missionary activity which concerns the Jewish Agency. This week its legal adviser, Bosmat Chelouche, wrote to the Beynenu leaders, Shannon Nuszen and Rabbi Tovia Singer, after they had contacted employees, managers and members of the Jewish Agency board of governors, attacking the agreement with the Return Ministries.
In response, on December 11, Attorney Chelouche reiterated the Jewish Agency’s insistence that there was no missionary activity taking place on its Galilee centre. She added that Beynenu had had no right to access the email accounts of the Agency.
Shannon Nuszen — herself a former missionary who converted from Christianity to Orthodox Judaism — said: “Whether they are baptising olim, or just doing the gardening, we should not be partnering with Messianics. Legitimising Messianics undermines Jewish communities, and as the Jewish Agency emphasises, these communities are the building blocks of Jewish life”.
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