Evangelical Christian Group's Hot New Recruit Quits in Surprise Move

Eli Cohen, who headed the evangelical funded organization’s new aliyah apparatus, steps down after less than two months.

Yechiel Eckstein in the offices of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews: 'I would never want to say that Christian money is replacing Jewish money, but we are definitely filling in the gaps.'
Emil Salman

Barely two months after being appointed head of the brand new aliyah operation set up by the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews, Eli Cohen is stepping down.

Cohen confirmed to Haaretz that he had notified Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, the founder and director of the large Christian evangelical-funded philanthropy, that he was resigning. “I came, I invested and I’m moving on,” he said but refused to elaborate further on what prompted the surprise decision.

When Eckstein hired Cohen for the position, it was considered a major coup, as Cohen had previously served as director of the aliyah department at the Jewish Agency, where he was highly regarded.

Sources familiar with the situation said that Cohen was unhappy with his new boss’s very vocal criticism of the Jewish Agency and its aliyah promotion activities. They also said that Cohen, who lost the recent mayoral election in Beit Shemesh by a narrow margin to an ultra-Orthodox candidate, was considering a run for the Knesset. They noted that Cohen had been backed by Habayit Hayehudi Party Chairman Nafatali Bennett in the Beit Shemesh mayoral race and that he is also close friends with Moshe Kachlon, the former Likudnik who has just formed his own independent party. Cohen, who still sits on the Beit Shemesh city council, would not say anything beyond “there is all sorts of talk.”

Earlier this week, more than 220 Ukrainians immigrants were brought to Israel on a special charter flight paid for by the IFCJ, which raises close to $140 million a year from Christians around the world and is today the largest philanthropy operating in Israel. This week’s flight was the first organized by the new aliyah operation set up by the IFCJ. Another flight is scheduled to arrive next week. In addition to paying for the airline tickets of these new immigrants, the IFCJ provides each adult on its flights with a grant of $1,000 and each child with $500.

The flight that brought these immigrants to Israel carried the IFCJ logo on the body of the plane. More than 5,000 immigrants from Ukraine are expected to arrive in Israel this year – a dramatic increase from last year.

Eckstein withdrew millions of dollars a year in support from the Jewish Agency when he set up his own independent operation several months ago. He has said that what prompted his decision to go solo was concern that the Jewish Agency was not doing enough to encourage aliyah, particularly from countries in distress, like Ukraine.

Ever since assuming his position at the IFCJ, Cohen had expressed his desire to work in close partnership with the Jewish Agency, whose longstanding mandate has been promoting immigration. Cohen is not the only former senior Jewish Agency official to be recruited by Eckstein: Jeff Kaye, the former coordinator for financial resource development at the quasi-governmental organization also recently assumed a senior position at the IFCJ.

The IFCJ issued the following response to Cohen’s departure: “Eli was involved in bringing the first planeload of 226 immigrants from Ukraine, and before he leaves, he will oversee another flight. We thank Eli for creating the infrastructure and for his success in bringing hundreds of immigrants here in such a short time. Eli has a rich past in public service, and we are confident that he will want to continue to have influence in other positions in the future. We were sorry about his decision to leave The Fellowship, but we thank him for his help and wish him continued fruitful public action.”