Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein 
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein Courtesy of IFCJ

Plans to build a huge outreach center for evangelical Christian tourists visiting Jerusalem – among the most touted construction projects on the Holy City’s landscape in recent years – have been scrapped, the developers told Haaretz newspaper on Wednesday.

The $60 million, seven-story facility was being financed by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and was also to function as its global headquarters. Billed as a home away from home for Christian tourists visiting the Holy Land, the building was meant to include an exhibition center where Christians could learn about the Jewish roots of their religion.

The project was the brainchild of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the organization (also known in Israel as Hakeren Leyedidut), who died in February at 67. Eckstein had envisioned the center as a place where Christian tourists could be trained to become “ambassadors” for Israel abroad and, more specifically, help combat the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. He also saw it as a way to bring more Christian tourists to the country and provide those interested with volunteering opportunities.

Yael Eckstein, his daughter who replaced him as president of the group, told Haaretz the decision to cancel the project reflected the organization’s desire to remain focused on its “humanitarian mission” – fighting poverty, promoting aliyah (immigration) and enhancing Israel’s security.

“Investing in tourism and fighting BDS are not part of that,” she said, adding that the decision to cancel the project had been approved in recent days by the organization’s board.

“We still believe there’s a need for this type of building, but it is not something for us to do,” Eckstein said.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the project was held in late 2017. A shell of the structure exists at the site in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiyot about a block away from the U.S. Embassy. The roof of the building was meant to overlook the Temple Mount, and the site was chosen because it is equidistant between the Western Wall revered by Jews and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. The building – with three floors underground and four above – was expected to be completed by 2022.

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