New Israeli Bill Before the Knesset: Three Years in Jail for Preaching

  Monthly Report: 7/1/1998  



Shalom from Tel Aviv!

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet voted in favor of a bill proposing to make “preaching to change someone’s religion” a crime, punishable by three years in prison or a fine of 50,000 shekels ($13,700.) The bill will now go to Committee and then be submitted to the Plenum (the full legislative body) for three additional readings, which could take place within the space of one hour if the Knesset so wishes.1 (Jerusalem Post, May 21, 1998)

This bill was initiated by a member of the fanatical ultra-Orthodox Shas party and was brought to vote without speeches or discussion. However, the following information accompanied the bill:

“Whereas in the not so distant past, the very thought of everything related to missionizing was shocking and disturbing to all Jews, unfortunately there is now indifference to this serious phenomenon of an intensive destructive campaign among Jews.

“Therefore, a broad bill should be legislated which includes all activities involving proselytization or the ability to influence any person to change his religion. In this way people can preserve their traditions for future years according to the tradition of ‘eery person shall live according to his beliefs.’” (Ibid.)


Charles Kopp, chairman of the United Christian Council in Israel, stated that the move violated a commitment by Netanyahu last year when an earlier anti-missionary bill passed its first reading. “The prime minister broke his promise to U.S. Christians,” he said. “I’m sad the prime minister voted for it, which is absolutely contrary to his written commitment to Christian leaders that he would oppose such, legislation.” (Ibid., May 22,1998)

Kopp was referring to an earlier bill which would have made the publishing or distribution, or even the simple possession of any Gospel materials, punishable by three years in prison. (Ibid., May 21, 1998) As our readers well know, that bill met with a prolonged and fierce campaign spearheaded by the Israel Messianic Action Committee (MAC).

Messianic Jews, Christians and human rights parliamentarians around the world loudly protested this attempt to deny Israelis the basic freedom of religious beliefs and ideas. It caused such a furor among followers of the Messiah around the world that Netanyahu himself sent letters to a number of Christian friends abroad stating, "The government strenuously objects to this bill and will act to ensure that it does not pass." (Ibid. May 22, 1998)

Among many fervent supporters of Israel who had written to the prime minister was Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That first bill is now largely emasculated since the leftist Labor party partner, Zvilli, withdrew his sponsorship.

Now this new bill, more draconian than the first, has been submitted, and its passage would place Israel’s human rights standards alongside nations with totalitarian Moslem and Communist regimes.

Yet the facts are that, here in Israel, few of Israel’s Knesset members have the fortitude necessary to stand up for Israelis who believe in Yeshua. The only politicians willing to speak out for a minority like the Messianic Jews are those who embrace freedom of religion as a cardinal principle of human rights, and who are willing to face the brute force of Orthodox political powers. Those kinds of politicians in Israel are very few.

There are, here and there, faint solitary voices raised even within the traditional community. One response to the editor in the Jerusalem Post read:

“Whatever happened to the concept of free speech, one of the pillars of Western democracies everywhere?...(In) the fight against missionaries who most certainly do constitute a threat to the Jewish religion we cannot curtail freedom of speech, for this severely threatens the Western democratic foundations on which our country was built.”

“What then, should we do about the very real problem of missionaries? The only way to combat them as well as anyone else with whom we may disagree is through open and honest debate, not through anti-speech codes.” (June 1, 1998)


It should be noted that in the Israeli vernacular, a "missionary" is basically anyone who believes that Yeshua is the Messiah and shares his faith. Israeli Messianic Jews strongly maintain that we do not oppose Jewish religion and heritage. While Rabbis call their fellow Jews to return to Rabbinical Judaism, we are calling the Jews back to Biblical Judaism - the Judaism of God which centers on atonement for forgiveness of sin and the promise of the Messiah.

We are calling our people back to their Source - the God of Judaism, of which Moses and the prophets knew and spoke. Taking the Scriptures literally makes the enemies of the Gospel even angrier as they struggle to control the thoughts and beliefs of Israelis.

The Orthodox are steadily gaining strength in the Knesset, and with the significant clout which Orthodox parties now enjoy, plus massive governmental support, including that of Prime Minister Netanyahu, this bill has a good chance to be passed. Knesset Member Rabbi Pinchasi has already met with the Knesset Secretariat and requested that his bill be pushed through as quickly as possible.


On the 50th day after Passover (May 30), the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), on this 50th year, the year of Jubilee, Messianic congregations from all over Israel gathered for a day of celebration in the Rose Garden Park overlooking Israel's Knesset building, the same place where the above bill had passed its first reading just ten days before.

The day began with the blowing of seven rams horns. More than a thousand Messianic believers participated in music, praise, worship and testimonies all day long, as Israeli soldiers guarded our gathering.

We most likely have another extended battle against the evil forces whose goal is to keep the Israeli people from the priceless opportunity to hear for themselves the message of salvation and eternal life. The battle may be long and our faith tested, but there is no question as to who will win!


A week after Israel's Jubilee birthday celebrations, Israel sent her contestant to England for the yearly Eurovision song fest. This is an international musical contest where 33 European nations participate, each hoping to take the prize for the number one song of the year in front of 300,000,000 TV viewers. The Eurovision is quite a tradition in Europe, this being its 43rd year.

Israel has won the contest twice, once in 1978 with a kids' song, and then again in1979 with a piece called "Hallelujah," which expressed thanks for what has been, what is, and what will be. The nation then was ecstatic over winning, and took pride in the fact that the song was a wholesome expression of Israel's heritage.

Now 19 years later, Israel again won the contest over 32 other nations. The winner was a transsexual who calls herself Dana International. Born Yaron Cohen, (Cohen is the Hebrew word for priest and denotes that that person was born from the priestly tribe of Levi) this man underwent a sex change in London four years ago. She was discovered singing in a Tel Aviv drag show and was encouraged to enter the contest as Israel’s representative. Her song praises the place of women such as Mary, the mother of Yeshua, Queen Victoria and Aphrodite.


The media reported that the song (and the singer with her gay band) was greeted with rapturous applause from the packed auditorium in England and a standing ovation from Israeli fans. (Ibid.) Because of Dana’s stunning success, Israelis have suddenly accepted sex changes and the whole homosexual scene as never before. Each talk show host, journalist, politician or professor strains to be more broad-minded, progressive and understanding than the next.

The nation is elated! The Knesset feted Dana in a homecoming victory celebration. The prime minister and the mayor of Jerusalem warmly congratulated Dana, as did many Knesset members. Only the Orthodox were not pleased, but mounted little protest. Gays in Israel are thrilled. "It is the best thing to happen to the gay community here in 50 years. Dana got where she got without forgetting where she came from," said the editor of Israel's gay monthly magazine. (Ibid.)

Some Orthodox individuals protested that selecting Dana to represent their country in the year of its 50th anniversary "was sending a message of darkness." However, Moshe Gafni, the ultra-Orthodox Knesset member and now the lone sponsor of the bill to imprison believers in Yeshua for possessing Gospel literature, said concerning Dana, "It is not necessary to take a stand on every issue - and declined to comment on Dana International." (Ibid., May 11, 1998)

Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing...And they strengthen the hands of evildoers, So that no one has turned back from his wickedness. All of them have become to Me like Sodom, And her inhabitants like GOMORRAH. JEREMIAH 23:14

Each year, the winning nation becomes the hosting nation for the contest the following year. That means that, in the spring of 1999, Jerusalem will be hosting the Eurovision Song Fest with her star, Dana International, as reigning queen who will "crown" the new winner.

For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, Because their speech and their actions are against the Lord, To rebel against His glorious presence. The expression of their faces bears witness against them. And they display their sin like Sodom; They do not even conceal it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves. ISAIAH 3:8-9
It is tragically clear that Israel has led the European nations to wantonly accept an assault on God's creation - an abomination to the Lord. In a very real way, Israel is leading the way for Europe to accept immorality that, up until now, hasn't been publicly acceptable among the Gentiles.


Actually, at least part of the hoopla over Dana was a reaction, believe it or not, of secular Israelis towards religious coercion. It may not be a well-known fact outside of Israel, but Israel is moving towards two hostile and separate societies. This has begun to worry many political and social leaders who state that no country can survive for long as two distinct and antagonistic societies. Surely our nation will suffer the consequences.

This phenomenon is so serious that polls taken over the past few years show that "the religious-secular divide has even replaced the Arab-Israeli conflict as the greatest threat to Israel's long-term survival in the eyes of a majority of Israelis." (Ibid., Apri128, 1998) When there is such a divide, even a ludicrous incident can set off more erratic behavior.

One such event occurred on the very day of the 50th year Jubilee celebrations. The main event, called Jubilee Bells, was a grand performance of many Israeli artists with Netanyahu and Vice President Gore in attendance. The famous Batsheva Dance Company was supposed to perform a modem dance. They chose a piece using a traditional Passover song. Male dancers were dressed as Orthodox Jews who gradually stripped to their shorts.

When the Orthodox heard which dance the company had selected (it had already been performed 150 times in Israel), they demanded (and got their way) that the dance be struck from the program. Batsheva then refused to perform anything. For whatever reason, the Israeli public, usually passive towards the dictates of the Rabbis, exploded. They perceived the cancellation of that performance as one too many attacks on artistic freedom, and overnight freedom from religious coercion became a national struggle.


Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protect sensorship of the arts by political or religious coercion. "This is a struggle against coercion, aggression and censorship. . . We are brothers, united against the fanatic haredi (ultra-Orthodox) establishment that is coming down on us," said liberal Knesset Member, Yossi Sarid.
(Ibid., May 10, 1998)

Another Knesset member from the opposition Labor party said, "We don't want a cultural war, but a free culture; we don't want a religious war, but freedom from religion. After 50 years of giving up our rights, today there is a new understanding, and this crowd will open a new chapter with no intention of giving up.” (Ibid.)

In fact, this incident caused Tel Aviv Mayor Ronni Milo to resign from his office so that he could run for the next prime minister's election! His main platform will be, he says, to oppose religious coercion.


Ronni Milo has been a very popular mayor in Tel Aviv-not because he has been a great administrator, but because he has held strong against Orthodox encroachment. "He became a fighter for civil rights, freedom from religious coercion and peace with the Palestinians." (Ibid., May 5, 1998)

Said one Tel Aviv citizen, "The city is in shambles, there's never any parking, and the streets are dirty. But the feeling of freedom you get here, compared to places like Jerusalem for instance, is worth much more than all that. I agree with Milo's opposition to religious coercion..." (Ibid.)

Even the secular Iranian Moslem, Salaman Rushdie, who went into hiding many years because of the Khoumeni's sworn death threat against him in response to his alleged blasphemy of Mohammed, has joined the chorus of voices for religious freedom in Israel.

Rushdie declared, "If there is a situation in Israel where the freedom of expression is being hindered and you hear free opinions less and less but you hear more and more what the religious fanatics have to say, there is a cause for alarm. The state of Israel was founded to give Jews a safe place to live. He doesn’t have to be religious if he doesn’t want to. What I see happening in your country today is an attempt to force religion on the government and to change the premises by which it was founded freedom from any kind of prejudices. The vocal extremist minority is trying to force itself on the entire society.” (Yediot Aharonot, May 1998)


The realities of Israeli politics is thus: The prime minister’s coalition is currently shaky to the extreme with a majority of just one vote. If any of his coalition partners leave him, his government will fall. The price of the Orthodox parties staying in the coalition is Rabbinical domination of Israeli society.

Two groups fighting this religious coercion in Israel’s High Court of Justice are the Reform and Conservative movements now gaining numbers in Israel. They are demanding the right to officiate over conversions, marriages and funerals. The Orthodox adamantly refuses to give up any of their political power over these areas of Jewish life. This struggle is right now dominating the front page of the newspapers.

Netanyahu, pressured by the Orthodox, is trying to persuade the Reform and Conservative movements to withdraw their suit. Meanwhile the Orthodox are planning to pass a law stating that only Orthodox can oversee conversions to Judaism, thus overriding any decision the High Court might make in favor of the Reform and Conservative. (J.P., June 5, 1998) Three of Netanyahu's secular coalition factions intend to vote against the bill, even if it brings Netanyahu down. And the opposition party, Labor, is massing their forces to defeat the bill.


Astoundingly, the Arab members of the Knesset intend to vote for the bill, but for their own agenda. A-Sanaa (Democratic Arab Party) said: "I support the Orthodox definition of Judaism [in the conversion bill] because it restricts the definition of who's a Jew and limits aliya [Jewish immigration to Israel]. In the present situation every Jewish immigrant comes at the expense of the Arabs."

Leftist party leader Yossi Sarid said, "Clearly the religious establishment will not renounce its political monopoly. Therefore, the secular majority in the Knesset has no choice but to legislate me separation of state from religion."
With these chaotic winds blowing across Israel, we know that the Spirit of God hovers over this land, and He alone will determine the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people. All Israel shall be saved.

1The vote for Penal Code, Clause 174, Amendment "C" passed its first reading with 37 in favor of the bill, 28 opposed and 3 abstentions. According to Israeli law, bills cannot "die in committee." They must be brought for a vote to the Plenum within six months of being sent to committee, unless the chairman of the select committee is granted an extension, which can go on ad infinitum.




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