Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) made headlines last week, when it announced it was cutting ties with Return Ministries, due to a breach of contract. But a closer look at the announcement reveals some head-scratching contradictions. Return Ministries, through its Aliyah Return Center in Israel, used the Jewish Agency’s 15-acre Bikat Kinarot campus to spread the gospel to lone IDF soldiers and new immigrants. We know this, because they said so in videos distributed to their followers. In an internal document distributed to the Jewish Agency board, however, JAFI claimed that Return Ministries did not engage in proselytization at Bikat Kinarot. The Agency says that Return Ministries only claimed to be engaging in proselytization, which is the breach that led to the termination of its contract with the group.

The JAFI statement says, for example, that accusations by Beyneynu (see: The Jewish Agency for Israel is Partnering with Evangelical Christians and “They’re not here just to pick grapes”) were “false” and that the Agency found “no evidence” that the group was proselytizing. At the same time, the Agency statement says “[Return Ministries] erroneously took credit in their media posts for involvement in areas such as Aliyah, specifically with proselytizing lone soldiers and new olim.”

In summary, the Jewish Agency appears to be saying, “Return Ministries didn’t proselytize, but they bragged that they did, and that’s the reason we ended their contract.” In that statement somewhere is also more than an intimation that my friend, Shannon Nuszen of Beyneynu, is a liar. Here is the official written statement from the Jewish Agency for Israel:

Return Ministries, through its Israel activity at their Aliyah Return Center, was found to have inaccurately portrayed our relationship with them at our Bikat Kinarot campus. They erroneously took credit in their media posts for involvement in areas such as Aliyah, specifically with proselytizing lone soldiers and new olim. We executed an examination of these flagrantly false representations during December 2020 and our leadership took swift and firm action, issuing Return Ministries a cease and desist letter, notifying them of the immediate termination of the partnership agreement in its current form. Return Ministries admitted this violation of our agreement.

The Jewish Agency then demanded Return Ministries remove all presence of Aliyah Return Center activity and employees at the Bikat Kinarot campus.

Our examination showed no evidence of any direct missionary activity. Yet the videos posted by 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.

So there you have it: JAFI says that Beyneynu’s information is false and that no evidence was found to suggest the group was proselytizing. At the same time, the JAFI statement suggests the decision to terminate the contract was based on the information Beyneynu provided, in the form of video footage issued by the Aliyah Return Center, which Beyneynu found and sent to JAFI. These videos, says the JAFI statement, “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.”

The reasoning here is so convoluted it beggars belief. The Jewish Agency severs ties because of evidence that Return Ministries portrayed itself as proselytizing to soldiers and new immigrants, and not because they actually did so. Perhaps that is because Return Ministries swears up and down to the Jews that it is not a proselytizing organization. They state that they do not and have not missionized any Jews. At the same time, they tell their followers that everything they do is in preparation for the Second Coming, which includes bringing the Jews to Jesus. Why, when apprised of this situation, does the Jewish Agency refuse to believe what they see in front of their eyes and hear with their ears?

Did they not even glance at the Return Ministries website, where this mission statement appears?

Here is where I would like to offer a few thoughts:

·         An organization named “Return Ministries” is only going to be a missionary organization formed for the purpose of proselytization. It can’t possibly be anything else, as its name makes crystal clear. The belief is that Jesus can’t “return” until the Jews are saved.

·         The Jewish Agency got caught letting the foxes run the henhouse. So now they’re engaging in a bit of CYA, terminating the contract while claiming the accusations of proselytization are false.

·         If the Aliyah Return Center—there’s that word again: “return”—says it was proselytizing, and then trumpeted this fact to all and sundry on social media, why should the Jewish Agency believe otherwise (or even pretend to do so)?

If the Aliyah Return Center—there’s that word again: “return”—says it was proselytizing, and then trumpeted this fact to all and sundry on social media, why should the Jewish Agency believe otherwise (or even pretend to do so)?

Haaretz writer Allison Kaplan Sommer pleads the Jewish Agency’s tortuous case like this: "The decision to break with Return Ministries, [the Jewish Agency] stressed, was not because the group was conducting missionary work, but because it represented itself as doing so.”

To this claim that Return Ministries only “represented itself” as proselytizing and didn’t actually do it, I can only say, “Vas you dere, Charley?”

Which leads to my next point: why was what is clearly a missionary organization, left to run this Jewish Agency center for lone soldiers and new immigrants without any oversight? What in the world was the Jewish Agency thinking? (My best guess: free labor and lots of Evangelical shekels for the JAFI coffers.)

Will the Jewish Agency continue to work with Return Missionaries, albeit in a different capacity? According to the Christian Post, Return Ministries International Director Dean Bye finds this to be a real and plausible possibility. “As for the partner organization that has been persuaded to terminate agreements with us, we are yet to learn what all this entails but understand their ‘termination’ is only related to our Bikat Kinarot Campus agreement in its current form. As those who have committed our lives to God’s call to serve and bless Israel, we are prepared to work together on a peaceful resolution to the dissension that has been created,” said Bye, who continues, "We declare our continued commitment to Israel's Aliyah and Absorption, the Return and Restoration of God's people to their land. We pray that our relationship with the Jewish Agency for Israel will continue to grow stronger as truth prevails."

What, exactly, is the meaning of “termination in its current form?”

The termination of the Jewish Agency contract with Return Ministries, if it is indeed a termination, comes after the Agency worked double time to blame and defame the messenger: Beyneynu. Prior to terminating the contract with Return Ministries, the Agency threatened the nonprofit—dedicated to monitoring and raising awareness of missionary activity in Israelwith legal action: “Contrary to what is stated in your letter, Return Ministries has no involvement in the Jewish Agency's programs, and the Jewish Agency strongly [opposes] any prohibited missionary activity which is inconsistent with the Jewish Agency's character, goals and activities. Therefore you are hereby required to immediately cease your activity which contradicts the provisions of any law . . . The Jewish Agency will act in this matter to exhaust any right it has under any law, including against you personally . . . and will take every step necessary to charge you for any damage or expense caused . . .”

Note that the threatening letter says nothing about which laws were said to be broken by Beyneynu. That’s because Beyneynu broke no laws. Beyneynu did what it was created to do: raise awareness of missionary activity, in this case missionary activity occurring under the auspices (and nose) of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The goal of The Aliyah Return Center, after all, is no secret. That goal is to aid in the fulfillment of “prophecy” regarding both the “physical and spiritual restoration of Israel,” a time when all Jews, God forbid, will come to accept Jesus as their messiah. Evangelicals believe all this will trigger his “return.” This belief is reflected in the name Aliyah Return Center, and its parent organization, Return Ministries. Beyneynu meant only to raise awareness of the inherent problem of the Jewish Agency working in tandem with an organization whose sole mission is to proselytize the Jews of Israel.

Instead of thanking Beyneynu for shedding light on the issue, and dealing with the problem, the Jewish Agency threatened Beyneynu. It was only when the story began to attract publicity that the Agency decided to cover its tracks by terminating its contract with the missionary organization. Why such a contract existed to begin with is, again, not difficult to fathom: free missionary labor, lots of missionary shekels, lather, rinse, repeat.

Beyneynu is taking it all in its stride. The termination of JAFI’s contract with Return Ministries is, after all, a victory for the organization and for Israel, on whose population the missionaries prey (no pun intended). Rabbi Tovia Singer, a counter missionary expert with Beynenu says he is “delighted that sound minds prevailed here. These are evangelical Christians who work in partnership with the Messianic movement and create a toxic environment. The wording of the Agency’s statement is simply ‘damage control.’”

Founder and Director of Beyneynu, Shannon Nuszen, also expressed satisfaction with the Agency’s decision. "I am pleased that in the end the Jewish Agency made the right decision to terminate this relationship. We are grateful for, and appreciate our non-Jewish friends of all faiths that stand with us. But, for the protection of the Jewish people it is the job of Jewish leadership to ensure that certain lines in this relationship are not crossed

"Beyneynu simply brought to light, through presenting the video evidence from Return Ministries themselves, that these lines were indeed being crossed at the Jewish Agency program. While it hurts that the Agency attacked our group through this process, I am happy to hear that in the end leaders made the difficult decisions that had to be made, protecting our most vulnerable Jews.”


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