OAKLAND, California, Jan 3 (IPS) - After raising more than two hundred million dollars for various projects in Israel, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), the organisation he founded and is president of, has hit pay-dirt.In late December, the Jewish Agency for Israel, which helped found the State of Israel, announced that the IFCJ "will be declared a funding partner of the Jewish Agency... [and] Eckstein will ... receive new voting powers that will include spots on the committees that oversee the agency's budget and that meet with the prime minister and his Cabinet," the Jewish Daily Forward reported.
The announcement indicates a major shift in agency policy. Nearly 10 years ago, the head of the Jewish Agency "refused to be photographed taking a check" from Eckstein. "Now, it has publicly, and apparently proudly, acknowledged that the IFCJ would be donating 45 million dollars to the agency over the next three years, almost all of it raised from evangelical Christians in North America," according to The Forward.
Eckstein told the news service JTA that "This elevates" the fellowship and "thereby Christians around the world to strategic partner with the worldwide agency..."
"Appointing Eckstein on the basis of how much money he can bring raises wider questions about who should be making policy for the agency -- which is supposed to be the bridge between Diaspora Jewry and Israel, not simply a philanthropy -- and how the Jewish community is represented," Gershom Gorenberg told IPS.
Gorenberg, the author of "The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount" and "The Accidental Empire", pointed out that "If money is the sole criterion, if this is simply a philanthropy, then there is no reason for the institutionalised relationship with the government."
"The Jewish Agency is essentially saying that pro-Israel Christians are joining with the Jewish community worldwide in helping aliyah [Jewish immigration to Israel] and in strengthening the security and welfare of the State of Israel. That has never happened before," Eckstein added.
Earlier this year, at a conference at the Centre for Jewish Studies at Queens College in New York City on the state of world Jewry titled "Is it 1938 again?" Eckstein, in answering the question in the affirmative, called for a strategic alliance with evangelical Christians, because they are "our best friends and closest allies".
"He brushed off concerns about their supposed ulterior motives -- converting Jews and advancing Armageddon -- as a 'figment of, if I can say it, this liberal, Jewish and journalistic imagination,'" the Florida Jewish News reported.
Eckstein's organisation "represents a community whose interest in Israel is based on their own theology," said Gorenberg, who is also a senior correspondent for The American Prospect. "However much they proclaim love of Israel and Jews, their priorities are not based on Israeli or Jewish evaluations of what's in Israel's interests. They may oppose a two-state solution, for instance, because it doesn't fit their theology -- which is different from right-wing Jews who believe that such a solution is dangerous to Israel's future. I disagree with the right-wing Jews as well, but it is a different type of disagreement."
"It feels like we're losing control," said Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, a co-founder of the Web site Jews on First, which monitors the religious right and Christian Zionist groups in the United States. "Those who will be in charge of the Zionist enterprise will not be Jews, but the senior partners with the most money."
While Eckstein's role in the Jewish Agency raises serious questions, Gershom Gorenberg pointed out that the "ad hoc relation that sometimes exists between Israel and conservative Evangelicals … is parallel to the ad hoc coalitions sometimes created by circumstance between feminists and fundamentalists on issues such as prostitution or pornography. They may jointly support a particular measure, but there is no real community of interests, no coalition."