The US-based Church of Scientology has just opened a centre in the Jewish city of Karmiel, which it hopes will serve the entire northern region. It will run courses in Hebrew and Arabic on the philosophy of L. Ron Hubbard, the 20th-century science fiction writer who founded Scientology.
The emphasis at the centre appears to be on self-help and anti-drug programmes. It comes a little over a year after the opening of a Scientology centre in Tel Aviv, which claims it has welcomed 12,000 people.
Sefi Fischler, a spokesman for Scientology in Israel, said that the centre will not undermine the existing identities of those who attend, as one can remain Jewish or attached to any other faith while being involved in Scientology.
But some Jewish groups say they are concerned, and suggest that Scientology is not being straight.
Mr Fischler confirmed that Scientology in Israel deliberately dropped the word “church” from its title as it does not create the impression it wants. “They present themselves as a secular organisation — they are lying about their identity,” claimed Binyamin Kluger, a rabbi with the anti-missionary organisation Yad L’achim.
Rabbi Kluger said that his organisation plans to warn local Jews, through posters or newspaper adverts, about what it considers the dangers of getting involved with the new centre.
Ephraim Schwartz, rabbi of Young Israel of Karmiel, an Orthodox synagogue, said that he will not be concerned if the new centre limits itself to fighting drugs and other social-oriented activities, “but if there is some kind of ulterior motive to get Jews to convert or to give up their heritage that is something else.”