Jewish Agency and International Fellowship for Christians and Jews fall out over Aliyah programmes

Jewish immigrants from Ukraine disembark from an airplane upon their arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv in December.Reuters

The Jewish Agency, a world leading organisation for immigration to Israel, has accused one of its former partners of sabotage by creating competitive arrangements for aliyah.

The International Fellowship for Christians and Jews, an evangelical-funded organisation, and the agency parted company last year after they failed to agree on a list of conditions presented to the fellowship by the agency.

The fellowship then set up its own, independent aliyah programme offering large cash incentives to those leaving Ukraine for Israel on one of its flights.

The fellowship raises nearly $140 million a year from Christian Zionists worldwide, with a large part of that going towards aliyah and helping the people making aliyah, the olim, on arrival in Israel. At one point, the fellowship was giving up to $12 million a year to the agency. Christian Zionists support aliyah for religious reasons, believing they are helping to fulfil prophecies contingent upon the return of all Jewish people to Israel.

The two organisations have now fallen into an "unfriendly relationship", the Jewish political news site JPUpdates reported, because of the agency's new aliyah operations.

The fellowship had wanted to become a full partner with the agency in return for giving it more money. When this request was turned down, the fellowship presented a list of conditions in return for its contribution being maintained.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the high-profile founder of the fellowship, told the English-language Israeli website Haaretz that it was important for his 1.4 million Christian donors to be acknowledged for their contributions.

"We have money — we have millions that we can and wish to direct to aliya," Rabbi Eckstein said. "If you're going to accept funds from us, you need to make it public. We're not going to be the stepchild where you're accepting funds from Christians because you want it, but then you're not publicly saying 'thank you' to the Christian community for supporting us."

He said his fellowship launched their own aliyah operation because they wanted to respond quickly to violence in Ukraine.

The fellowship is offering $1,000 per adult and $500 for each child who emigrates to Israel before the end of the year, a big incentive for those fleeing war-torn Ukraine. This year it has financed three flights with more than 100 olim on each.

Bilana Shakhar, director of aliya for the agency in the former Soviet Union, said the fellowship was conducting its operations in a way that "harms the olim" because the new immigrants might not now be guided into work and education programmes, such as for learning Hebrew.

About seven in ten of those on last week's flight from Kiev began the aliya process with the agency but switched to the fellowship because of the cash incentive, she claimed.