Tuesday, June 28, 2011
'Interior Ministry nixing Evangelical visas'
Outgoing International Christian Embassy head says ministry has "decimated organizations' ability to hold professional staff."
The Interior Ministry has started revoking and denying visas to employees of local Evangelical organizations, the outgoing executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) charged.
Rev. Malcolm Hedding, who has run the ICEJ for the last decade, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post last week that over the last three years, he has noticed a new ministry policy toward Evangelical foreign agencies, which has “decimated their organizations in terms of their ability to hold professional staff, significantly impacting our ability to operate.”
Hedding said the Christian Embassy was staffed by approximately 60 people, but the number has dropped to the 40 mark. “We are working through these challenges, and hope they can be resolved. To me, this has been one of most disappointing things, because here we have Israel’s best friends, and they are struggling to operate because the Interior Ministry cannot enter into any type of working agreement with us on how to move forward. So what happens is we find senior staff removed overnight,” Hedding said.
The ministry flatly denied Hedding’s charge. “There has been no change in the policy toward the embassy... and any claim to that effect is baseless,” the ministry’s spokeswoman said in response to a query.
The ICEJ, which was founded in 1980, has branches and representatives in over 80 nations worldwide and “stands at the forefront of a growing mainstream movement of Christians worldwide who share a love and concern for Israel,” according to the organization’s website.
While religion is the underlying motivation behind the group, its activities are more along the lines of social aid and Israel advocacy, Hedding said.
“This organization is not built upon any type of future, eschatological speculative ideas, though many have tried over the years to pin that on us,” Hedding stressed in response to the suspicions against the group’s reason for their support of Israel and presence here. “But it’s not true.”
“It's been a huge privilege to be the executive director of probably one of biggest pro- Israel organizations in the world, if not the biggest,” he said.
Dr. Juergen Buehler will replace Hedding.
The ICEJ’s close ties with the Israeli establishment were evident last Wednesday, when Hedding’s going-away reception was attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Yad Vashem’s director of International Relations Shaya Ben-Yehuda.
“We are strong advocates for Israel in each and every forum we could get access to. The organization has worked in the European Union on behalf of Israel, and arranged and orchestrated some of the biggest pro- Israel rallies in Europe,” Hedding said.
Hedding also noted the support his group provides to needy segments of Israeli society, such as new immigrants and Holocaust survivors.
“If we closed our doors tomorrow, the whole of Israel would realize that something that has invested millions of dollars in their well being was gone,” he said, noting that they had no intention of doing so.
The ministry’s alleged change of timbre has been “one of most disappointing times of tenure,” Hedding said. “But on the other hand, there have been far more achievements and gains.”
Asked if the ministry’s alleged attitude might be due to suspicions of proselytizing, which is against Israeli law, Hedding said that “there are Israelis who are always suspicious; that's a given.”
However, for 25 years, he said the Christian Embassy had “a fairly settled working regime with the Interior Ministry. All that period, the Christian Embassy proved its impeccable credentials, and proved that these Christians were genuinely here to help, and stand alongside Israel.”
Hedding said that representatives of the ministry, with whom they met, wouldn’t confirm a policy change or explain what brought to the alleged change in attitude.
“You never get answers to your questions from them.”