Three Acre-based youth centers, established with funding from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), were vandalized earlier this week following on-going threats from local community members concerned that the programs run there are missionary in nature, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In a letter to the IFCJ, which was obtained by Post, Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri explains that some of those living in the vicinity of the so-called Fellowship Centers "are suspicious of your intentions and distrust the organization.
"In recent months, even as we are in the process of opening an additional youth center, those working on the project have been faced with violent threats, including one with a knife and another person nearly being hit by a car, broken glass and smashed plaques," the mayor wrote on July 14.
"We have established a steering committee to look into this matter for the next three months and to find a way of soothing community relations; until then we will not replace the [IFCJ] signs on the buildings."
He also said that the matter had been reported to the police, but a spokesman for the municipality refused to say if the perpetrators may have come from the city's haredi community, which originally voiced concerns over the IFCJ presence in the city.
"This is the first time such a protest has ever happened at one of our facilities," commented IFCJ chairwoman Dvora Ganani-Elad, highlighting that the non-profit organization runs similar centers in 60 other localities, including some haredi communities.
"The IFCJ is a philanthropic organization that raises money from Christians [in the US] that love Israel; they are not and never have been missionaries," she said. "In Israel, the IFCJ donates to social welfare projects for the elderly, new immigrants and other social matters; it does not deal with religious issues."
Ganani-Elad added that representatives from the IFCJ would attempt to meet with those protesting its activities in Acre to explain their intentions.
A spokesman for the city also said that it would reach out to those who are against the establishment of such centers.
"It is important for us to find out where the core of the problem is and to deal with it by working to build up trust in the community," he said "These centers and our work with the IFCJ are extremely important to us."
Indeed, in his letter, Lankri outlines how the three existing youth centers have been extremely effective over the past two years in reducing crime and antisocial behavior among the city's youth.
The IFCJ was founded in 1983 by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein to promote understanding between Jews and Christians and build broad support for Israel and other shared concerns.
With an annual budget of more than $90 million, the organization provides funding for a wide variety of social welfare programs in Israel and Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union.