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Israeli embarrassment over officials' warm welcome for Scientology

    The Israeli government has distanced itself from a new Scientology centre in Jaffa, insisting that its employees who attended the opening event last week did so in a strictly personal capacity.

    Scientology — a controversial movement often accused of being a financially-driven cult and blaming the Holocaust on modern psychiatry — put out a press release claiming that “national and city dignitaries” gathered to open the centre.

    The “national” figures were two employees of the Prime Minister’s Office, Mohammad Kaabia and Rania Pharyra, who are respectively Director for the Bedouin Sector and Senior Coordinator on the Status of Minority Women.

    A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two employees attended “solely as private citizens who are deeply involved in promoting social issues in their sectors”, on the invitation of an anti-drugs organisation. Scientology’s mentioning of their place of employment “was done without their knowledge [and] without their consent.” The spokeswoman at the new Scientology centre, sought for her comment for this article, did not return calls.

    In contrast to the distancing at the Prime Minister’s Office, a prominent local politician was enthusiastic about her attendance. Tel Aviv-Jaffa council member, Meital Lehavi, a former deputy mayor, called the opening a “nice event”. Ms Lehavi, who is not a Scientologist, commented: “I think that Tel Aviv is a pluralist city, the most pluralist in Israel, which accepts everyone. Each time a new group comes we have questions as to if it’s ok but I think it should welcome everyone.”

    Anti-missionary organisations are concerned. “It is a danger to the public,” said Aaron Rubin, a senior figure at the Orthodox-run Yad L’Achim.

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