JERUSALEM, Israel – The Jewish Agency for Israel, a world-renowned organization responsible for helping millions of Jews immigrate to Israel, says it is cutting ties with a Christian ministry over allegations of missionary activity.
For years, the Jewish Agency has partnered with Return Ministries, a Canadian organization dedicated to assisting Jews make “Aliyah” (immigrate to Israel) and building bridges between Christian Zionists and the State of Israel.
Return Ministries runs the Aliyah Return Center, which operates at The Jewish Agency’s Bikat Kinarot educational facility south of the Sea of Galilee. There, the agency helps new immigrants (olim), lone soldiers, and Israelis in need through a variety of programs. The Aliyah Return Center partners with the agency by renovating and developing the campus and often brings Christian pilgrims and volunteers to the site.
The Jewish Agency said in a statement Monday that their partnership is now over because, “while it has found no evidence of any direct missionary activity” the videos posted online by the Aliyah Return Center “create a perception that is in direct opposition to the mission and values of The Jewish Agency for Israel and has unfairly entangled the organization’s work and reputation.”
“Let me be clear: The Jewish Agency for Israel will not allow any proselytizing attempts, under any circumstances, in any form, of the Jewish people or any people in our care,” the agency’s Director-General and CEO Amira Ahronoviz said in the statement.
The agency claimed the Aliyah Return Center “erroneously took credit in their media posts for involvement in areas such as Aliyah, specifically with proselytizing lone soldiers and new olim,” resulting in the “immediate termination of the partnership agreement in its current form.”
Return Ministries maintains that it is not a missionary organization, prohibits its volunteers from proselytizing, and has never implied or insinuated that evangelism takes place at the Aliyah Return Center.
The controversy erupted last month when the Israeli anti-missionary group, Beyneynu, sent a letter to the Jewish Agency accusing the Aliyah Return Center of having a hidden agenda to secretly convert Jews to Christianity – specifically through worship programs at the group’s prayer center at the Bikat Kinarot campus.
Both the Jewish Agency and Return Ministries strongly rebuked Beyneynu’s accusations as false and denied allegations of any missionary activity. Haaretz reports that the agency responded with a legal memo to the anti-missionary group calling its letter “a misleading document, slander and damage to the reputation of the Jewish Agency.”
The agency ordered Beyneynu to "stop distributing additional letters containing misleading and erroneous information about the activity of the Jewish Agency.”
However, the anti-missionary group repeated calls for the Jewish Agency to terminate its contract with Return Ministries and circulated doctored videos attempting to show that evangelism was indeed happening.
The Jewish Agency insisted the anti-missionary group’s videos “are heavily edited, using old and irrelevant footage and containing many false statements”
Chaim Malespin, a Messianic Jew who serves as director of the Aliyah Return Center, told CBN News Return Ministries never breached its contract with the Jewish Agency by proselytizing and claimed the anti-missionary group is lying.
He said every Christian volunteer is vetted and told to not share the gospel with Jewish participants, as part of their contract with the agency.
"People who come, come not to proselytize, but to show unconditional love through their actions," said Malespin. "That’s proven through our pristine and untarnished track record."
Malespin said Beyneynu “bore false witness” against his organization" and “the Jewish Agency has allowed this false witness to endanger years and years of building relationships."
Both the Jewish Agency and Return Ministries agree no missionary work occurred, but the agency explained in its letter on Monday, it chose to terminate their partnership because it believes Return Ministries "created the perception" that they did evangelize.
Malespin argues that terminating their agreement over appearances based on false allegations is a "dangerous precedent."
"It would be a travesty for our partners, the Jewish Agency, to act in a way that would cause Christian Zionist organizations globally to lose faith in them through acting in a discriminatory manner," he said.
Malespin also said the agency's decision to end its relationship with Return Ministries came without any warning.
Shannon Nuszen, a former evangelical who converted to Orthodox Judaism, founded Beyneynu. She insists that even if evangelism is not happening at the Aliyah Return Center, Jewish organizations should never partner with Jews like Malespin - Jews who believe in Jesus.
“Whether these volunteers are missionizing to olim or just doing the gardening, we should not be partnering with Messianics. I assure you we are on the same side with regard to safeguarding the Jewish future, and we would be happy to help the Jewish Agency address this serious matter," Nuszen told JNS.
While the future of the Aliyah Return Center appears grim, Return Ministries operates many other programs throughout Israel with no connection to the Jewish Agency. They will continue their work in helping Jews around the world make Israel their home.
“We have great respect for the Jewish Agency and the great work that they do and will continue to rally the Christian world to stand with and bless Israel with unconditional love and without hidden agenda as we’ve always done," said Malespin.
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