Shalom from Tel Aviv,
This month we are participating, along with Messianic Jews throughout Israel, in a call for help from fellow believers throughout the world. The unthinkable could actually happen. A combination of political parties in Israel's Knesset may well pass a law to ban the free dissemination, or even possession of materials, proclaiming Yeshua as Messiah.
Last month, in this newsletter, we spoke of the possibility of such a law. Yet, in our own minds, we felt it was so utterly preposterous that it was only an aberration, a blimp on the screen of Israel's political idiocies.
However, the law has passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset by a vote of 21 to 7, and has been referred to committee for possible amendments before being resubmitted to the full Knesset. There it will need to pass three readings before becoming law. However, it could actually become a law in one day if steered cleverly through the Knesset.
At this juncture, all the followers of Messiah in Israel are alarmed. In this newsletter we are adapting material presented by the Israel Messianic Action Committee, representative of many indigenous congregations in Israel, and ask you to prayerfully consider what you may do to actively stand with the believers in Israel.
One reminder: This call is NOT to protest against our nation. It is a call to protest against a small but powerful group of politicians who find the modest Messianic minority fair game for their political maneuvering and who seek to deprive the Israeli people of their God-given right to have the freedom to make an informed choice concerning their religious beliefs.
AN URGENT CALL FOR PRAYER AND SOLIDARITY
This bill before the Knesset would render illegal the possession, production, reproduction, importation and distribution of literature or information which may serve to persuade another to change his religious views or affiliations.
The fact that most political parties in the Knesset would see themselves as having little to lose by supporting such a bill has made its passing into law a strong possibility, critics say. Religious parties would support it; right-wing parties could see it as a way to shore up their shaky conservative credentials; smaller parties would support it for the purposes of coalition benefits, and secular left-wing groups may not think it worth their while to oppose.
During the debate of the bill in the Knesset which could be seen on television, some lawmakers reportedly made statements suggesting they intend to enact further laws in the future which would outlaw all Messianic organizations and activity in Israel.
The bill has caused deep foreboding among both Jewish and Arab believers in Yeshua. Its terms are vague and wide-ranging. It does not specify what kind of material is referred to or what kind of "possession" would be illegal. "Distribution" of offending material could include personal letters and gifts. Even the word-of-mouth sharing of views could be affected. Police would have the right to search homes, confiscate literature and harass suspected believers. Offenders would face a year in jail.
Argued one critic: "...there is no way to define what literature may be defined as calling for a change in religious opinion. Do Peter's sermons in Acts not call for just such a change of opinion? Is the New Testament, then to be banned? Did not the Old Testament prophets challenge the accepted religious order of the day, calling for radical changes of religious opinion and practice? Should the Old Testament, then, be banned as well? How can the forbidden literature be defined?
"Such a bill, if made law, could render illegal almost all evangelical activity in Israel. It would subject the consciences of the citizens of Israel to the tyranny of a religiously-motivated censorship and rob them of an essential freedom, recognized by all free countries in the world. It could lay the grounds for a state-organized persecution of evangelical believers in the country ."
ISRAEL SIGNED THE DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Israel is signatory to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the right to "freedom of thought, conscience and religion..., to hold opinions without interference and to seek, retrieve and impart information and ideas through any media" (Articles 18-19). The proposed law is in direct contradiction to this declaration, and if passed, will radically transform Israeli society by instituting a state-sponsored religious censorship and denying freedom of religious expression, as is common in pariah nations such as Libya, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
The proposed law will not undermine the determination of Israeli followers of Jesus, both Jewish and Arab, to present the Gospel for their people's consideration. Nevertheless, this law, if enacted, could lead to the outlawing of almost every indigenous Israeli expression of faith in Messiah! The state could attempt to destroy the Messianic Jewish movement in Israel by jailing a number of her leaders.
A CALL FOR PRAYER AND PROTEST
We call upon the international Christian and Messianic Jewish communities to join us in our opposition to this law and to stand by the Messianic Jews in Israel as a legitimate Jewish expression of faith in our Messiah. We are asking churches, Messianic synagogues, congregations and individuals around the world to set aside time to pray that God would prevent the enactment of this undemocratic and immoral law.
We also urge you to support our efforts to prevent any consideration of this bill in Israel's Knesset. Please use the Letter of Protest found on page 5 either as a form letter or as a model for your own personal letter. Contact your congressman or representative parliamentarian; write to your head of government and call the Israeli Embassy in your country. Write to the people listed on page 4 or to anyone of influence in Israel of whom you may have heard of, and protest. '
TRANSLATION OF PROPOSED LAW
The Fourteenth Knesset: Proposed Law of the Knesste Members: Moshe Gafni, Nissim Zvili (P/950).
Proposed Penal Law (amendment-possession, printing, reproduction, dissemination, distribution and importation of publications to induce *[see translator’s footnote #1] religious conversion). 5757-1996.
1. After paragraph 174B to the Penal Law 5737-1977 [see translator’s footnote #2] would come: Prohibition of inducement for religious conversion 174C.
A) Whoever possesses contrary to the law or prints or reproduces or disseminates or distributes or imports tracts or publicizes things in which there is an inducement to religious conversion is punishable by one year imprisonment.
B) Any type of literature or publication in which there is inducement to religious conversion will be confiscated.
Explanatory Notes: The State of Israel, in the framework of the existing laws, opposes any missionary [see translator’s footnote #3] enticement to change religion, and regards with the utmost severity the enticement of minors to change religion. Lately, different missionary sects have begun trying to entice to conversion by means of materials sent through the mail and other publications that have been received contrary to the desires of the recipients.
The legislature has not addressed this serious phenomenon and therefore an amendment to the law is proposed.
*Translator's note # 1: The terms translated induce and inducement come from a root meaning to use [or "the use of”] appealing speech in order to influence one's opinion or to tempt, according to the Dictionary of Contemporary Hebrew, 1995, Ma'ariv Book Guild. Translator's note #2: Book of Laws, 1977, p. 322. Translator's note #3: The term missionary as used in this context does not only refer to recognized Christian ministers, but rather to any individual (i.e. Israeli) who engages in attempts to persuade others of his personal religious views (unless rabbinically acceptable.)
A CALL TO PROTECT FUNDAMENTAL DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES
Out of respect and deep concern for Israel and its citizens, we are calling on the nation's leaders to protect fundamental democratic principles which have come under attack. For a country which prides itself on being an island of true democracy in the Middle East, such a proposed law is unthinkable. It is a contradiction of everything that Israel claims to be and to stand for.
Proponents of this law have publicly slandered Jewish believers in Jesus as a cult, in order to justify depriving them of basic democratic freedoms. For nineteen hundred years Messianic Jews have existed. Today they are a small but valuable segment of Israeli society and loyal members of the Jewish nation. Messianic Jews serve in the army, work in many professions, pay taxes, and have virtually no crime within their community and are exemplarily law-abiding citizens.
This law, if enacted, will remove Israel from the family of enlightened, democratic nations and transfer her to the league of repressive, totalitarian regimes led by Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Though it does not challenge one's right to change one's religion, it does seek to deprive Israeli citizens of access to the information necessary to make a viable, informed choice.
GUIDELINES FOR RESPONSE TO THE PROPOSED LAW
Our first objective is to mobilize Christians worldwide to pray for the decisive rejection of the proposed law and the preservation and strengthening of Israel's democratic character and freedoms, for the sake of the believing community in the Land. We need your prayers first and foremost. Please be in prayer and encourage as many other believers and churches to do the same.
Secondly, our goal is to mobilize Christian public opinion on behalf of the believers in Israel and, through letters, the media, and any other legitimate means, to bring pressure to bear upon the Knesset and Government of Israel to reject unequivocally any consideration of the proposed law.
We need volumes of letters sent to your government representatives as well as to Israel's government and ambassadors. Write as many letters as you can and encourage others to do the same. A table can be set up in your congregation's foyer with information concerning the law and copies of the Letter of Protest for signing.
We need your immediate, active, vocal and visible support. If the response is weak, those Israel's politicians who care nothing about freedom of conscience or religion will take notice of that and feel freer to repress the believers in Yeshua here in the Land. Conversely, if your response is strong, Israel will certainly know that this law will not pass without serious and formidable international opposition.
CONCRETE ACTIONS AND SUMMARY GUIDELINES
Invite the press to cover your event and be prepared to issue clear, concise statements concerning the law, your opposition to it, and your solidarity with the believers in Israel. Any use of the media, any letter written, any high profile response can only help us make known the message of resistance to this reprehensible law and impede and prevent its implementation. Local pastors and Christian leaders who can use these materials to present our case to the press can have a powerful effect.
It is very important to convey your response respectfully, lest it be seen as anti-Semitic, but, nonetheless, in forceful terms of indignation. Let your response be clear and strong. The focus of any statement should be on the preservation of freedom of religious expression in Israel and the defense of minority rights. Do not put the emphasis on the right to "preach the gospel," as this would wave the proverbial red flag before the bull.
Please use your contacts to help us get this message out immediately. The wider the local, national and international networking, the better. Likewise, the more visible and vocal, the better! We need your help now.
LETTER OF PROTEST
Regarding Proposed Law: Prohibition of inducement for religious conversion:
To His Excellency, Mr. Benyamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel, and His Excellency Mr. Dan Tichon, Chairman of the Israeli Knesset, c/o the Israeli Embassy in_____ (FOR EXAMPLE).
We the undersigned are Christians and/or Messianic Jews from various backgrounds, denominations and regions. Many of us have visited Israel and we view your people and your country with sincere affection because of our faith in Jesus, our commitment to the Scriptures and our sympathy for a people that has suffered both religious and racial persecution for so long.
We were shocked to learn that a law has been proposed, and passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset, which would outlaw the production, importation and dissemination, and even the possession of certain religious materials and information in Israel; a law which imposes a penalty of one year’s imprisonment for its violation.
We are deeply concerned that Israel, the haven for all persecuted Jews, would even consider legislation that would effectively restrict freedom of religious expression, the fair and honest conveyance of information, and the freedom of any minority in Israel to serve God according to their religious convictions.
This proposed law is contrary to the provisions of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and even to Israel's own Basic Law - The Dignity of Man and His Freedom, which is intended to preserve and protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Israel's Declaration of Independence. The proposed law denies basic human freedoms and undermines Israel's claim to be a truly democratic country.
As friends of Israel, we are troubled by the thought that democracy in Israel could degenerate into a form of religious totalitarianism in which none but the accepted majority are allowed to speak their mind, address their nation and practice their faith without restriction or fear of reprisal. Indeed, already Israel's state religion receives massive government support through tax money taken from all Israel's working citizens including Messianic Jews. We firmly believe it is in Israel's greatest interest to maintain an open, democratic, and pluralistic society in which the rights of even the least desired minorities are scrupulously maintained and defended.
We stand in solidarity with our fellow believers in Israel, be they Messianic Jews, Christian Arabs or any other Evangelicals living in the Land. Any attempt to delegitimize Messianic Jews by branding them a cult is a denial of the essential unity of our common roots in the Bible and the God of Israel. Any restriction on their freedom of religious expression is an affront to all followers of Jesus and to all who love freedom everywhere.
We, who love the God of Israel and who pray for the peace of Jerusalem, call on your Knesset to set aside all such considered legislation. We urge the active intervention of your government to do all in its power to oppose and defeat the proposed law.
Signed (List names and addresses) __________________________
For large numbers of signatures, add pages with the following at the top of each page: We the undersigned have read the aforementioned Letter of Protest and wish to add our signatures to express our agreement with its contents. We oppose this proposed law! (List names and addresses.)
Back to Top
King Hussein Comes to the Grieving Families
Yesterday we watched King Hussein from Jordan as he came to visit the families of seven school girls shot dead by a Jordanian soldier. Our anguished nation was riveted to the television set watching this drama unfold. The king came to kneel before each of the grieving families who, according to Jewish custom, were sitting sheva on the floor for seven days. The king apologized over and over again for the killings, saying he felt as if his own children had died. It is the first time in modern history that a Moslem head of state came to apologize for killings that his people had committed against their Jewish neighbors.
The girls were on a school outing, visiting "Peace Island", a disputed area along the Jordan River that Israel had given back to Hussein as a gesture of good will between the two nations. A Jordanian soldier suddenly opened fire on the busload of girls while his comrades around him looked on and did nothing to stop him. As the girls lay wounded and dying, the Jordanian army refused to let Israeli military and medical personnel into the area. Some bled to death, although a Jordanian doctor saved the lives of two.
THE KING COULD NOT GIVE THEM BACK THEIR DAUGHTERS
The families were simple, God-fearing people, poor, all having fled in years past from Moslem nations in North Africa and the Middle East. They had settled in a "development" town, Bet Shemesh, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Now they sat in their unheated homes, covered with blankets, devastated with the murder of their daughters. In one family the parents are deaf mutes; their 13 year old daughter had been their ears and mouth. Now she was gone. When the King asked what he could do for them, each family said, "Just give us back our daughter."
Yet the parents, as they were gently interviewed by our journalists, first and foremost affirmed their faith in the God of Israel. "I believe in God. I don't know why this has happened. But I believe in God, and I believe that one day peace will come. We welcome this gesture of King Hussein."
As we watched these gentle, God-fearing people, our hearts cried out to God that the Good News would soon reach them. That they will know that God does care, and that He will bring peace. First of all, He will bring reconciliation between them and Himself through the gift of His Son who gave His life for this peace. Then God will send back to the world the Messiah as Prince of Peace.
We cannot rest nor be silent until our people hear the Word of the Lord. Though the enemies of God found in religious and political circles try to stop us from bringing the Light of the World back to our people, we, with all believers of our land, must surely forge ahead, stronger and more determined than ever.
We must walk in the Spirit, move in the Spirit, follow the directives of the Spirit. We are asking God to confirm His Word with signs and wonders so that all will know that Yeshua crucified is the same Risen Lord, Messiah of Israel, and Son of the God of Israel. It is He Who will heal our land!
We must, we will continue to labor-whatever the cost. We believe that you, our partners, will continue to work side by side with us through your prayers and your gifts. No matter with what strategy the enemy attacks the believers of this land; He will help us go on. We have confidence you will be with us!
"Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your words with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the Name of your holy servant Yeshua." Acts 4:29-30
Your fellow laborers in our Messiah,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram
Back to Top