Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef issued a strongly worded attack against the pro-Israel Christian group The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, accusing it of seeking to convert Jews to Christianity and warning Israelis not to attend the ICEJ’s annual conference during the upcoming Succot holiday.
ICEJ, which belongs to the evangelical denomination of Christianity, is extremely pro-Israel and has provided funds for many charitable projects in the country.
It always has insisted that it does not engage in any missionary activity at all.
In their open letter, the chief rabbis accused ICEJ of seeking to convert Jews to Christianity and said Christian “elements” undertaking “missionary [activities] on behalf of the International Christian Embassy,” were responsible for organizing the conference.
The event in question is the ICEJ’s annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration, staged by the organization for the past 35 years celebrating the Succot holiday, which in Jewish tradition was a time when non-Jews were invited to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and when 70 bulls were sacrificed for the 70 nations of the world during the Temple period.
“Part of this organization’s goals is to change the religion of Jews from the religion of Israel and to bring them under the wings of Christianity,” the chief rabbis charged, adding that these “elements” want to convert “all the inhabitants of the world to Christianity,” especially the Jewish people.
Lau and Yosef warned members of the public not to attend the event, but acknowledged that ICEJ is pro-Israel.
“Even though it is possible that the organizers of this conference are friends of the State of Israel, practically the event expresses a spiritual danger that undermines [the state’s] Jewish character,” the chief rabbis said.
Every Feast of Tabernacles event has included an Israeli guest night, which are attended by members of the Israeli public as well as rabbis and other communal leaders, and are framed as an evening of solidarity of Christians with Israel and Israelis.
The ICEJ insists that there has never been any proselytizing activity of any kind at these evenings.
The organization, founded in 1980, says its goal is “To stand with Israel in support and friendship; to equip and teach the worldwide Church regarding God’s purposes with Israel and the nations of the Middle East; and to be an active voice of reconciliation between Jews, Christians and Arabs; and to support the churches and congregations of the Holy Land.”
ICEJ’s projects in Israel include the running of an assisted-living home for Holocaust survivors in Haifa. It also is active in the Gaza border region where it has donated 25 bomb shelters.
Over the years, the organization has received praise from several Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and numerous others.
There has been increased activity of late against evangelical organizations and Christian missions to Israel by several groups including Yad L’achim and the radical Lehava organization, among others.
Rabbi David Rosen, the International Director of Inter-religious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee who has served in the past as an adviser to the chief rabbis, expressed his regret over the statement published by the chief rabbis on Wednesday.
“It seems to me that someone has set up the chief rabbis, for reasons known to these persons, and this is unfortunate because the ICEJ is extremely responsible in not advocating any missionizing or proselytizing activity at all,” Rosen told The Jerusalem Post.
“Instead of censuring this organization, they should be applauding it.”
In response to the chief rabbis, the ICEJ said it was “disappointed to learn of the letter,” adding that the chief rabbinate acted on the basis of misinformation.
“It is regrettable that the Chief Rabbinate acted solely on the misrepresentations of those bearing false witness against us,” the organization said in a statement to The Post.
“Over the past 35 years, the ICEJ has established a strong, proven track record of sincere friendship and support for Israel as a Jewish state.
This track record has put us in good stead with numerous official institutions in Israel, including our partnerships and cooperative efforts with the Knesset, the Foreign Ministry, the Tourism Ministry, the Jewish Agency and Yad Vashem, among others. We have held countless rallies in capital cities worldwide to stand with Israel and to combat against anti-Semitism. We have addressed parliaments around the world, challenging initiatives directed against Israel in scores of countries.
In addition, the ICEJ has sponsored the aliya of nearly 120,000 Jewish immigrants to Israel, and assisted with the successful absorption of tens of thousands more.
“This will be our 36th annual Feast celebration in Jerusalem and we have always been warmly welcomed in Jerusalem, in keeping with the biblical tradition of the gentiles being welcomed at Succot. It is thus a shame that some are trying to scare the Israeli public against us. We trust that the Chief Rabbinate will reconsider this decision, which could do much harm to the new level of close Jewish-Christian relations that have developed over the past 60 years.”