Cablegate: Bloodless Holy War: The Beckfords Vs Yad L'achim

Published: Wed 4 Oct 2006 03:58 PM
Carol X Weakley 10/05/2006 03:44:11 PM From DB/Inbox: Carol X Weakley
DE RUEHTV #3911/01 2771558
R 041558Z OCT 06
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Bloodless Holy War: The Beckfords vs Yad L'Achim
REF: Tel Aviv 00189
1. Summary: Consular officers went to the city of Arad in the
Negev desert to interview two American citizens about their ongoing
conflict with the anti-missionary group, Yad L'Achim (lit.," Hand to
Brothers"). While the Americans are clearly being harassed in their
pursuit of daily activities, they do not appear to be in danger from
Yad L'Achim. What they are in has been called by media, "a
bloodless Holy War over Jewish souls in the Jewish homeland." Their
antagonist is a relentless, unyielding organization and the
prognosis is that eventually, Yad L'Achim may well succeed in
getting one of the missionaries deported from Israel. End summary.
2. Embassy Tel Aviv Consular officers and staff traveled to the
Negev desert city of Arad on September 18 to visit Lura and Eddie
Beckford, who had reported to us that they were being severely
harassed as they tried to go about their business of running a chess
club and converting Jews to Christianity. While in Arad (and later
in Beersheva), we spoke with the Beckfords, other members of their
missionary community, local and regional police officials, and
members of Yad L'Achim.
3. The saga started simply enough. Lura Maiman immigrated to
Israel in the 1990's with her Jewish husband, who died in 1999.
Eddie Beckford was a buddy of Mr. Maiman's from the Vietnam War who
eventually came to Israel and married the widowed Lura. The two are
self-styled Christian missionaries working to convert local Jews to
Christianity. A community of about 20 American-Israelis and 80,
mostly Russian, immigrants has coalesced around the Beckfords and a
Christian preacher named Yehoyakim Figris. They attend Christian
services held in members' homes and many of the men play chess or
dominos in the Beckfords' modest club house. Every week at their
clubhouse the Beckfords distribute used clothing and other items
along with Christian literature to anyone who wants it.
4. But things got complicated. This missionary activity attracted
the attention and determined opposition of the group Yad L'Achim, an
organization dedicated to assisting new immigrants to Israel and
fighting the conversion of Jews to other religions. Stopping the
Beckfords is a top priority of Yad L'Achim, and for years its
members of have been harassing the Beckfords and others in their
community. Tactics include playing loud music incessantly to
disturb the concentration of the chess players; taking photos of
club members and others who visit the premises, publishing newspaper
articles about the missionary activities, and picketing the
clubhouse and community members' homes. The strategy seems to be
focused on Eddie Beckford, who is not yet an Israeli citizen and
could be subject to deportation for a criminal offense.
5. Yad L'Achim harassment of the Beckfords has resulted in four
significant events. First, police prevented Yad L'Achim members
from picketing the homes of congregants, resulting in a case now
before the Supreme Court alleging that by so doing the police are
violating Yad L'Achim member's right to demonstrate. Second, their
chess club was burned down on August 4, 2005. Then, a mentally ill
man not associated with Yad L'Achim entered the clubhouse and again
attempted to burn it down, this time with people inside. And
finally, Eddie Beckford violently attacked a Yad L'Achim member and
is being processed criminally for the assault and battery.
Yad L'Achim
6. Yad L'Achim was established in 1950 in order to assist new
immigrants settle in Israel, integrate into Jewish religious
organizations, and to find jobs. Yad L'Achim also provides food,
clothing and apartments free of charge to poor Jews "recovered" from
missionary groups. The group is funded by donations, including some
from the GOI to support their women's shelter activities (last year
the organization rescued 58 children and 34 women from "bad"
marriages to Arabs). Its primary objective, according to co-founder
Rabbi Shalom Lifschitz, is, given the Holocaust, "let not Jews
disappear from the earth."
7. Over the years Yad L'Achim has "assumed other responsibilities"
such as fighting missionaries and helping families "bring home"
daughters who married outside the faith. Lifschitz told us that
there are some 60 full-time employees and perhaps as many as 600
volunteers in the organization. Yad L'Achim claims that there are
at least 100 congregations and cults in Israel that are actively
seeking to convert Jews to various religions, including Jehovah's
Witnesses, Messianic Jews, Scientology, Hare Krishna, Falun Gong,
and Landmark Forum. [N.B., Public sources estimate that there may
be as many as 10,000 Messianic Jews in Israel.]
8. On the other hand, the targets of Yad L'Achim are vociferous in
their denunciation of the group. Messianic Jews and members of
other "targeted" religious groups accuse the Yad L'Achim of verbally
harassing congregation members after services, videotaping them and
writing down their license plate numbers, reporting them to the
security services, spray painting graffiti on houses and other
"Messianic" facilities, slashing their tires, slapping and spitting
at them, getting them fired from their jobs or deported, etc. One
lawyer we spoke with has a case list of 93 clients from all over
Israel who believe they have suffered "discrimination" in various
pursuits from gaining residency to keeping teaching jobs. The
lawyer believes that Yad L'Achim has had a hand in most of these
Issue of Security
9. The primary concern of the Embassy is that the Beckfords and the
other American citizen-members of their community is that the
ideological harassment does not turn violent or inspire violence
from third parties to the conflict. Deputy Consul General
interviewed Rosi Shapira, a respected rabbi who is knowledgeable
about Yad L'Achim. Shapira described the organization as a
humanitarian group -- but one that is very shrewd and creative in
dreaming up "dirty tricks." Shapira explained that Yad L'Achim will
go to great lengths to achieve their anti-missionary objectives, but
will not violate the law. Shapira knows of no instance in the
group's 56-year history where they have used violence to gain their
10. Additionally, we have been assured by the regional police
authorities that Yad L'Achim is not a violent group and that police
intelligence indicates the Americans are not in danger. Moreover,
the local police have promised to increase their presence in the
Arad marketplace where the Beckfords' clubhouse is located. Most
importantly for the Beckfords, the police have counseled them to
remain passive in the face of Yad L'Achim provocations. Eddie
Beckford, however, said he is not a passive man and probably would
not be able to restrain himself if further provoked (an evitable
11. The threat of violence has, however, spread beyond Yad L'Achim.
Supporters in the movement against the Beckfords include many
people outside the Haredi community (orthodox Jews who reject modern
secular culture). Several months ago, leading citizens, including
the former mayor, met in Arad with Yad L'Achim members to denounce
the conversion activities of the Beckfords. Although the meeting
also denounced any use of violence, three days later a secular
Israeli Jew tried to set fire to the chess club.
12. At least twice before the Beckford fires, fires were set in
unoccupied missionary warehouses in other parts of Israel. Luckily,
there were no injuries in any of these attacks and, unfortunately,
police made no arrests. Also, in December 2005, a crowd of several
hundred Haredim attacked a congregation in nearby Beer Sheva after a
Yad L'Achim warning that "ten busloads" of Jews were to be baptized
(see reftel). Clearly, Yad L'Achim activity incites violent
behavior against Messianic Jews, and other missionary religeous
groups and their property, despite the official non-violent
character of the group and it is disingenuous to deny the link.
The Religious Conflict
13. As most people know, Israel is a land of perpetual religious
conflict. What many do not know is that the scale of those
conflicts ranges from world and regional contests to spats between
individuals. Rabbi Shapira put clash into a broader context by
noting Judaism considers the conversion of a Jew to another faith as
one of the gravest moral acts possible, on a par with murder. In
the eyes of Yad L'Achim, the Beckfords and other missionaries have
come to Israel to engage in a legal, but morally obscene activity,
that demands members be dedicated eradicating it.
14. Despite the religious questions involved, proselytizing in
Israel (specifically, trying to convert Jews to another religion) is
legal. But it is illegal to offer money or other "material
inducements" to Jews to convert, or to proselytize anyone under the
age of 18. Yad L'Achim argues that the clothing and other
charity/assistance given to poor Jews by the missionaries amount to
material inducements and that preaching to the children of
congregants is on its face illegal. The police and courts however,
so far do not agree.
15. Abusing the Israeli Law of Return, however, is another matter.
A foundation of the modern state of Israel, the law permits any Jew
to immigrate to the Israel as a citizen by right, but does not apply
to Jews who convert to another religion. Several high-profile
missionaries have publicly admitted that they immigrated to Israel
under false pretenses. In one case, a prominent American Messianic
Jew had withheld this key information and was turned down by the
Ministry of the Interior based on information supplied by Yad
L'Achim. For their part, many missionaries make no secret about
their belief that their ultimate "prize" is the conversion of a Jew
to Christianity and that there is no better place to accomplish that
than in the Holy Land itself -- where Jews have resisted conversion
for 2000 years.
16. The Beckfords are locked into a millennial battle in which
neither side will back down. The Beckfords will undoubtedly
continue to proselytize Jews and Yad L'Achim will continue their
harassment. Despite assurances from police, violence from some
quarter will remain a possibility. In the end, Eddie Beckford might
prove accommodating and again bash a Haredi, providing the grounds
necessary for the Ministry of Interior to revoke his residence
permit and deport him. As for USG interests, it appears that the
Beckfords are enjoying the protection of Israeli law and that they
are not being targeted for their nationality. They are in fact,
being allowed to practice their religion and are even being
protected in their missionary activities -- albeit, in balance with
Yad L'Achim's exercise of their rights to demonstrate against those
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