Head of Huge Evangelical-funded Israeli Charity Quits Suddenly After Sexual Harassment Suit

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Evangelical Christians at an event in Jerusalem, September 29, 2015.
Evangelical Christians at an event in Jerusalem, September 29, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews — the largest private philanthropy active in Israel — is stepping down unexpectedly. George Mamo’s resignation comes on the heels of a U.S. court decision to move ahead with a lawsuit in which two former employees accused him of sexual harassment.

Mamo informed the IFCJ’s top management of his decision in an email on Monday. A hearing in the case is scheduled for next Tuesday.

The IFCJ (more commonly known in Israel as Hakeren Leyedidut) raises about $140 million a year for causes in Israel, mostly from evangelical donors, but this is the second major shakeup in the organization in recent months. In February, Yechiel Eckstein, the charismatic rabbi who built this philanthropic empire by tapping into support and passion for Israel in the evangelical world, died suddenly of cardiac arrest. Soon after his death, Mamo, who had served for close to 20 years as chief operating officer, assumed the position of CEO.

Sources in the organization told Haaretz that they were under the impression he had intended to continue working at the organization for at least two more years, when he was scheduled to retire.

In a decision handed down on June 10, a district court in Illinois rejected a request by the IFCJ to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Margaret Kennedy and Leah Miles-Cacella. According to court documents, Kennedy alleged that Mamo, who was her supervisor, “stared at her breasts, spread his legs suggestively and refused to promote her because she would not have sex with him.”

George Mamo, outgoing CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.Credit: Screengrab from International Fellowship of Christians and Jews website

Miles-Cacella alleged that the Chicago-based interfaith group retaliated against her “when she reported similar conduct and then terminated her because of her sex.”

Asked to comment on Mamo’s surprise resignation, Yael Eckstein, who took over as president of the IFCJ not long before her father’s death, told Haaretz: “We’ve been going through a transition since my father died in February, and we’re very strong right now. I think he [Mamo] believed it would be best if a new CEO came in after we went through this transition.”

When asked whether Mamo’s resignation might be connected to the sexual harassment allegations, she said: “You’ll have to ask him that, but not as far as I know.”

After the two former employees issued their complaints, Yael Eckstein said, an outside law firm was hired to conduct an independent investigation. “They came back with a report saying that the claims were unfounded and no other action was recommended on our part,” she said.

She added that “making sure the Fellowship is a safe and happy and productive place to work, especially for woman,” was a top priority.

Yael Eckstein, who now heads the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.Credit: Oren Nahshon

In response to an email query from Haaretz about whether his resignation was connected to the allegations, Mamo wrote: “That issue will be resolved through the legal process and it is not related to my decision.The board and I had agreed some time ago that there would be a two-year process for my retirement which would provide time to go through a reorganization.”

Mamo added he was “looking forward to an opportunity to take it easy and to help in the transition to a new CEO as the board has asked me to stay on until August 31.”

Yechiel Eckstein, who was an Orthodox rabbi, often attributed his success with the IFCJ to his ability to persuade many millions of Christians to contribute small sums of money (about $76 per donor). Since his organization was founded nearly 40 years ago, it has raised about $1.5 billion.

In recent years, it has been devoting special efforts to South America, where the evangelical movement is growing.

The IFCJ supports some 400 welfare projects in Israel. Its main areas of focus are combating poverty, facilitating aliyah and strengthening security.

The late Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, in July 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Yechiel Eckstein immigrated to Israel nearly two decades ago. Since then, Mamo has overseen most of the charity’s operations internationally and was the most prominent Christian face of the interfaith organization.