A Christian charity that claims to be the leading importer of humanitarian aid to Israel has said that the coronavirus has presented “the greatest opportunity in our history”.
The disturbing description of the pandemic comes in an appeal from the US-based Joseph Project asking for donations from its supporters.
In the letter posted online, which has now been deleted but has been seen by the JC, the charity says the pandemic is “connected to God’s prophetic plan for the redemption of Israel and the return of Yeshua [Jesus]”.
Critics in Israel claim the wording reveals the charity is deliberately “exploiting trauma and tragedy”.
The “Urgent Joseph Project Communication” appeared on the website of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA), a US non-profit organisation. The letter said the pandemic has given the NGO an “unprecedented opportunity to expand the reach and impact of the Joseph Project both physically and spiritually for the glory of the Messiah, Yeshua”.
It is signed by Joel Chernoff, “Founder/Board Chairman, Joseph Project [and] General Secretary/MJAA”.
The Joseph Project claims to be the leading importer and distributor of humanitarian aid in Israel. From its 22,000 sq ft warehouse, it distributes furniture, clothing, medical and other supplies to needy Israelis.
The project says it has given more than $100 million in aid to social services, hospitals, Holocaust survivors’ centres and more in preparation for what it says will be the “fulfilment of biblical prophecy”. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing in the Joseph Project’s work.
But Rabbi Tovia Singer, the Director of Outreach Judaism, an organisation dedicated to bringing Jews in the Church back to Judaism, says it is “weaponising humanitarian projects in order to reach Jews, because Christians ordinarily wouldn’t have access to them”.
Two separate websites promote the Joseph Project, one with an Israeli “.org.il” domain. Both feature similar promotional videos, but there are significant differences. The Israeli version omits a crucial part in which Chernoff says “the Joseph Project is giving Christians an opportunity to… see the true, prophetic biblical body of the Messiah”.
Rabbi Singer claims the reference is key to Messianics’ evangelism: “Converting the Jews means triggering the second coming of Jesus, and that’s why these evangelical Christians are focused on Israel.” The video also shows representatives of Israeli organisations praising the Joseph Project’s work.
The MJAA’s fundraising letter for the Joseph Project claims that various Israeli institutions asked for the organisation’s help during the pandemic, including a government welfare housing company, a Holocaust survivors’ organisation, Herzog Medical Centre and several others.
Herzog Hospital’s International Director Steven Schwartz told the JC the Joseph Project has given them “easily in access of one million shekels” worth of donations. He said: “Never once did they promote any Messianic Judaism to us. Their donations were never with any message about this movement, nor condition to accepting these donations.”
He called the work they do “phenomenal, unconditional” but added he is “not aware of any letter about Covid and the messages about prophetic plans for redemption. Nor have I approved that they refer to Herzog in [that] context”. He says he knows many of the key people well, and none have ever spoken to him about Messianic Judaism.
Commenting on the letter, Shannon Nuszen, Director of Israeli anti-missionary group Beyneynu, said: “These missionaries are deliberately exploiting trauma and tragedies in Israel. They are using desperate events to convey their brand of Christianity to the weakest and most vulnerable members of Israeli society.” She claims that their acts of charity open the door, making the contact and starting the relationship.
“Christians wanting to give are welcome to do so. But we have to draw the line. There are safe ways we can have these partnerships, but they include boundaries and guidelines in which these things should operate.”
A spokesman in Israel for the Joseph Project told the JC he was “not familiar with this letter, nor is anyone from our staff. It was definitely not on our website”. Regarding the differing videos on the two websites, he said he “can only speak for josephproject.org.il which represents our work”.
The spokesman added: “Joseph Project works with a variety of social organisations that help people regardless of religion, race, gender, and ideology. Joseph Project does not do any religious or missionary activity.” He added that the Joseph Project is not a religious organisation, has no religious or messianic aims and beliefs and does not seek to convert or influence the attitudes of Israelis and Jews towards Jesus by giving them aid.
He also said: "We are not in touch with Joel Chernoff. He and MJAA say what they say to their constituents and donate to Joseph Project. We are separate organisations."