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Carmiel Defections Raise Storm in Knesset

The departure from Israel in the last six months of 15 families and two individuals–51 persons in all–who had been living in the immigrant development town of Carmiel in Upper Galilee, raised a storm in the Knesset today. Absorption Minister Natan Peled said the rate of defections was not above normal and claimed that reports that Christian missionaries were exhorting the immigrants to leave were grossly exaggerated.

An investigation in Carmiel revealed that at least one missionary had suggested to the immigrants that they “better go to Canada.” Eight of the families in question went to Greece from where they are believed to have flown to Canada. The missionary was identified as a Jewish-born Carmelite monk, Daniel Ruffeisen (Brother Daniel), who converted to Christianity after World War II and made the headlines in the late 1950s when he demanded to be registered as Jewish by nationality and Christian by religion.

Brother Daniel denied that he was propagandizing the immigrants. He said some of the families confided to him that they planned to leave the country and that he took care of them.

Peled told the Knesset that over the past two years 627 families from the Soviet Union had been successfully absorbed in Carmiel and that it was not abnormal that 15 of them should have left. But five motions were placed on the agenda criticizing the government for the way it handles new immigrants. Eliezer Shostak of the Free Center faction claimed that absorption centers did not provide for immigrants’ needs. Avraham Katz of Gahal demanded an independent investigation of the Carmiel defections and proposed simpler conversion processes for mixed families.

Uri Avneri of the Haolam Hazeh faction, which he has re-named the “Israeli Radical Camp,” charged that mixed families were brought to Israel under false pretenses. Peled replied that only four of the 15 families who departed were mixed. Rabbi Kalman Kahane of the Poalei Agudat Israel accused the government of permitting missionary activity.

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