A major charity organization in the city of Natanya, Kupat Tzdaka Merkazit (Central Charity Fund), has refused to accept a pre-Purim gift of 100 thousand shekel (roughly $27,000) from Keren Hayedidut (The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews), administered by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. The reason for the rejection, according to the local magazine HaShabat B’Netanya, is the fact that the fund’s money comes from Evangelical Christians.
The donation, according to the magazine, was contingent on the Netanya charity posting a large sign on its office wall announcing the fact that they are supported by the IFCJ – which members of the Netanya organization, after a debate, deemed unacceptable.
But the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews said it was “surprised to read the article mentioning an organization that rejected our funds. The fellowship receives numerous requests for funding from hundreds of organizations from all sectors in Israel and distributes funds according to professional criteria. We never offer funds to organizations who did not apply for it and we do our best to provide aid to populations and people in distress.”
The IFCJ, founded in 1983 by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein—an Orthodox rabbi—who remains its central force, has been the subject of criticism from both Haredi and National Religious Jews, who view it as a promoter of missionary activities.
Many have argued that the IFCJ’s strategy is to gain the Orthodox Jewish public’s trust, and so to break down the Jewish cultural barrier and earn a legitimacy for the Christian faith in those circles.
It has also been argued that the reason Evangelicals are supporting the State of Israel is rooted in their belief that it is a phase in the process of Christian redemption, and that at some point in the future the Jews will “see the light” and embrace Christianity.
HaShabat B’Netanya offered a long list of past and present Orthodox scholars who decreed against accepting money from the IFCJ, including the late Rabbis Avraham Chana Shapira, Shalom Yosef Elyashiv, Mordechai Eliyahu, and, may they live a long and healthy life, Rabbis Ovadia Yosef, Nissim Karlitz, Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss, Simcha Ha’Cohen Kook, Dov Lior, and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner.
Back in 2007, the Jewish Agency signed a cooperation agreement with IFCJ, which called for the American organization to raise $50 million for aliya and absorption projects, and in return the fund was to get a Christian representative on the Jewish Agency’s board of directors. This was discovered by the anti-missionary organization Lev La’achim, which campaigned against it along with other Jewish groups, until the deal was stopped.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein has coined the term “Christian Zionism,” and has engaged for three decades in fostering good Christian-Jewish relations, with an eye to the generosity of Christians, particularly the Evangelicals.
“Christian Zionism exists today in America but it did not happen by itself,” he told an interviewer in 2012. “When I first started meeting Evangelicals, I was the only Jew in the field and often, I was attacked by both communities.”
Eckstein says that his extensive media outreach to the Evangelical community, with hundreds of infomercials emphasizing the joint “Judeo-Christian” connection to the Bible and promoting tourism to the Holy Land, has changed things considerably.
“I would like to believe that we played a significant role in fostering relations by directing their biblical attention to walking where Jesus walked and highlighting the Jewish roots of Christianity,” Eckstein said, adding that he was grateful for having had the foresight to see the potential that “nobody else could see.”
An IFCJ official wrote The Jewish Press Online: “Our policy has always been to be as generous as possible with those who are in need and we do not force our funds on anyone, ‘lo rozeh lo zarich’ (you don’t want, you don’t have to). Moreover, we never heard of the organization mentioned in the article nor have we offered it any funds.”