Jewish agency severs ties with Christian ministry over 'false' claims of proselytizing

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Israel flag | Wikimedia Commons/The State of Israel

A leading Jewish organization that helps Jews across the world settle in Israel is severing ties with the Canadian-based Christian Zionist group Return Ministries over allegations the Christian nonprofit engaged in proselytizing.

The leader of Return Ministries, which runs the Aliyah Return Center dedicated to helping Jews across the globe migrate to Israel, is speaking out against what he considers to be false allegations made against his organization that led the Jewish Agency for Israel to end a yearlong partnership.

The Aliyah Return Center operates at The Jewish Agency’s Bikat Kinarot educational facility south of the Sea of Galilee and has often brought Christians to volunteer at the site. Return Ministries has operated in the region since 2013 and helped restore a former boarding school in the Jordan River Valley. 

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Together in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel, they have operated the 15-acre campus called the Bikat Kinarot Center at Beit Zera, according to the Return Ministries webpage

However, Israeli media reported this week that the agency has terminated its agreement with Return Ministries and the Aliyah Return Center after the organization was accused by an “anti-missionary group” of proselytizing in the name of Christ to the Jews being helped by the ministry. 

“We have been accused, as Christian Zionists, of missionizing and proselytizing the people we have been serving, this anti-missionary group would say, with hidden agendas,” Return Ministries International Director Dean Bye wrote in a letter to supporters Thursday. “These are complete lies.”

“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,” he added. “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.”

Bye called for a transition plan that “meets the needs of all parties involved” and one that is built on “mutual respect.”

“We maintain our innocence to the false accusations and further misrepresentations of our ministries in the media,” Bye said. “We declare our continued commitment to Israel’s Aliyah and Absorption, the Return and Restoration of God’s people to their land. We pray our relationship with the Jewish Agency for Israel will continue and grow stronger as truth prevails.” 

In a statement Monday reported by Haaretz, the Jewish Agency explained that it terminated the partnership even though it “found no evidence of any direct missionary activity.” However, the agency believes that videos online posted 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.”

Additionally, the agency accused the Aliyah Return Center of taking credit in social media posts “for involvement in areas such as Aliyah, specifically with proselytizing lone soldiers and new Olim [Jewish immigrants to Israel].” The agency argues that such actions resulted in the “termination of the partnership agreement in its current form.”

In his statement, Bye said that he has been involved in this type of ministry work for over 30 years and has worked alongside secular, orthodox and messianic individuals in Israel. He warned that he has “often been misunderstood by them all.” 

Over the last five years, Return Ministries has entered into many different partnerships with Israeli and Jewish partners.

“Throughout our history in Israel, we have taught Christians to bless and serve Israel’s Olim and have mobilized fundraising to accomplish the task, all without one complaint of proselytizing,” Bye added.

Bye assured that proselytization is not “our corporate calling or ministry purpose.”

“We demonstrate and teach a service that loves without condition, and we vet volunteers who serve to do likewise in all our projects in Israel,” he said. “Our call is to help God’s children home.” 

The Christian Broadcasting Network reports that trouble began last month when the anti-missionary group Beyneynu sent a letter to the Jewish Agency arguing that the Aliya Return Center has a hidden agenda to convert Jews to Christianity through worship programs. 

According to Haaretz, the Jewish Agency initially responded with a legal memo calling on the Beyneynu to stop the false allegations against the Aliya Return Center.  However, the anti-missionary group continued to push and published edited videos about the Aliya Return Center that the Jewish Agency initially considered to be “old and irrelevant footage” that contains false statements. 

Return Ministries is not the only Christian organization serving in Israel that has faced allegations of proselytizing that has cost them partnerships. 

Earlier this year, the Israeli government removed GOD TV’s Shelanu channel from the Israeli cable provider HOT over claims that the network aimed to evangelize to Jews. 

Evangelism in Israel has been described as a “touchy subject” as it is illegal in Israel to proselytize to minors without the consent of their parents. Under the terms of the television license, Shelanu TV was forbidden from engaging in missionary activities. 

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