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Messianic believers threatened but encouraged

May 1998

Antagonism towards Messianic groups in Israel has been increasing since the introduction of a bill in the Jewish parliament to outlaw ‘missionary material’. Opposition from ultra-orthodox Jews is thought to be the source of a number of incidents over the past few months in which Messianic believers have had their property damaged and threats made against them.

However, leaders of Messianic (Christian) groups are encouraged by the scale of worldwide support for their case that the proposed legislation would not only hinder legitimate missionary activity but be a positive barrier to freedom of information. It would amount to religious censorship and undermine the freedom of Jewish society. The prime minister’s office has received some 12,000 letters of protest from all over the world concerning the proposed enactment. The Israeli press has recognized this as an indication of the possible impact that the legislation would have on Israel’s overseas moral appeal. In addition, tens of thousands of letters have been received by Cabinet Ministers and Knesset members. Israeli politicians have been dumbfounded by the massive protest, and report that almost all of the letters have expressed goodwill and friendship toward Israel.

Increased tension and the charged atmosphere have led to several worrying incidents. On 13 November the home of an elderly Messianic couple in Hadera was broken into. Furniture was extensively vandalized, some property stolen, and stickers and graffiti with hate messages against ‘the missionaries’ were left on the walls. The couple concerned are pensioners, members of the Beit Asaph congregation in Netanya. They now feel very exposed, living alone and in danger of repeated attack.

In Tiberias, a public meeting on the Lido Beach grounds was opposed by the Yad Le’Achim organization (funded by the government), who threatened to use their influence to bring economic pressure to bear on the owner of the facility if the performance was allowed to take place in Russian. Consequently, the owner of the property had the gate to his premises guarded by his employees accompanied by representatives of Yad Le’Achim. All who sought entrance were asked to identify themselves. Hebrew and Russian speakers were turned away at the instructions of the Yad Le’Achim representatives. Only the English performance was allowed, and even then many were not permitted to attend.

In Jerusalem, Holiday Inn yielded to similar threats from the orthodox and, three days before a Messianic conference was to take place, unilaterally cancelled the reservations. When the conference moved to the National Auditorium, similar threats were made, this time to no avail, and the conference was held.

In Nazareth, an Ethiopian pastor has been repeatedly threatened with murder. He has been informed that money was offered to anyone who would kill him and friends have warned him never to leave his home unaccompanied. Requests from him and his family (four children) to be granted residence in a different governmental housing scheme have been obstructed, putting the whole family in danger.

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