Official: it’s OK to convert Jews

Charity chiefs approve missionaries

By Leon Symons, December 23, 2008

The Charity Commission is at the centre of a row after publishing advice that appears to give a green light to evangelical groups whose sole aim is to convert Jews to Christianity.

The Commission has been attacked by Rabbi Shmuel Arkush, Anglo-Jewry’s main anti-missionary campaigner. But it has received backing from the Board of Deputies, which described the advice as a “useful tool in helping to expose those groups who prey on vulnerable individuals”.

The advice was contained in a lengthy document published last week about the public benefits that charities are now required to demonstrate. The Commission wrote: “Proselytising is used by many charities advancing religion as an established and accepted means of attracting new followers or adherents. In some religions proselytising is seen as an essential part of the outworking of the religion...

“In the majority of cases, proselytising is carried out sensitively and without coercion, and does not present any public benefit difficulties.”

But Birmingham-based Rabbi Shmuel Arkush, who runs Operation Judaism, a campaign against missionary groups, said: “I regret that the Charity Commission has not been able to offer us any more protection in this document. It fails to recognise that there are a number of so-called charities set up to convert Jews to Christianity that within the British system have been allowed to operate and are accepted. But the Jewish community finds it highly unacceptable. There has to be respect for other faiths and the targeting of other religious communities is
completely unacceptable.”

However, the Board of Deputies, which monitors missionary activity in Britain, defended the Commission’s guidance, saying it had been “heavily involved” during its development.

“While the missionary groups that target Jewish areas for publicity campaigns tend not to violate this guidance, we will certainly continue to ensure that where Jewish communities feel that they have been singled out, we are able to offer appropriate advice and support,” said a spokesman.

Rabbi Barry Marcus of London’s Central Synagogue — an outspoken critic of the London Kabbalah Centre — said: “I am concerned because there are still a number of organisations that do openly prey on people who are vulnerable. I have come across instances in the past where some organisations were given free rein to approach people in hospitals. Many of these are still very active and their main source of ecstasy is when they manage to turn a Jew.

“Anything that could be misconstrued as giving encouragement to groups who proselytise is a cause for concern. This sentence is open to interpretation and it is vague. We don’t appreciate how focused and how intense these groups are when they prey on vulnerable Jews.”

Rabbi Arkush is seeking talks with the Commission to clarify its position.

Last updated: 6:47pm, December 23 2008