In the winter of 1996, when two Israeli politicians teamed together to propose legislation that would outlaw the possession and distribution of books which proclaim that Yeshua is the Messiah, it appeared that an all-out war to silence the believers in Israel had begun.
The bill seemed on one hand to be so ludicrous and primitive we had a difficult time imagining such legislation passing into Israel. Yet, on the other hand, we all understood how fanatical are the extreme Orthodox politicians who care nothing for democratic values and dream of a rabbinical theocracy in which they would rule Israel with an iron hand.
Their energies are intensely focused on disallowing the Israeli people from being exposed to any other religious values and beliefs except their own. Therefore, we knew we could not underestimate this crusade to destroy freedom of religion in Israel.
Out of this concern, the Israel Messianic Action Committee was formed, and all interested Messianic leaders in the land were invited to the regular planning meetings. The MAC committee initiated a campaign against the bill and all throughout the land the Messianic Jews, as well as pro-Israeli Christian groups, went into action.
BILL IS WEAKENED THROUGH STRENUOUS PROTEST
Baruch Maoz, (no relation to our organization) who headed up the MAC committee reported the following:
“God granted us more success than we thought likely in such a short time. Hundreds of thousands of believers and other friends of Israel from all over the world rallied to help us. They wrote letters of protest, called in to Israeli embassies, sent contributions and prayed. Senior politicians, both government and parliamentarian, spoke on our behalf to the Israeli government and to various members of the Knesset. Reporters wrote supportive articles and, here in Israel, support for the struggle gradually increased. We were able to meet with Knesset members, talk to the press and place important advertisements in the national newspapers.”
As a result, the government first denied that any bill such as the proposed amendment to the Penal Code 174c had any likelihood of being adopted. Faced with a torent of insistent protest, the government then began to explain that it opposed the bill when it was presented for the preliminary reading. When protests continued, Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote to an evangelical friend of Israel, assuring him that he would "strenuously oppose" the bill. We made that commitment public so that the Prime Minister could not backtrack, whereupon the ministry for Foreign Affairs began to quote the letter in response to protest which continued to arrive.
Next, Knesset Member Nissim Zvilli [one of the bill's sponsors] initiated a substantial modification of the wording of the bill, but we and our many friends overseas continued to protest. Finally, Mr. Zvilli withdrew from the bill, leaving an [ultra-Orthodox] Knesset Member as its sole presenter which greatly weakened its potential. The MAC will continue its pressure until this and any other such bills are completely revoked." (MAC Report, April 29, 1998)
PERSECUTION PROMOTES UNITY AMONG BELIEVERS
Whatever battles may lie ahead for the Messianic Jewish congregations in Israel, this bill brought together believers of many different persuasions and backgrounds. We worked together, praying and protesting against this proposed law, and watched God raise up worldwide support, including intense campaigning by Messianic Jewish organizations in the West.
One of the greatest accomplishments God has granted the MAC has been in forging relationships with the media which enabled it to place ads in the Israeli newspapers. Until this anti-democratic bill was proposed, no Israeli newspaper would carry advertising from Messianic Jews. But because our faith was turned into a political issue by the two Knesset members, the newspapers felt that they must allow us to have, if not "equal time", at least some time to be heard. After all, they are not anxious to see the Knesset pass laws restricting the publishing and distribution of any kind of printed materials.
MESSIANIC ADS REACH 1,000,000 READERS
Placing ads proclaiming Yeshua as the Messiah in Israeli newspapers is indeed a very great breakthrough in our nation. Ironically, the proposed law, instead or silencing the Messianic Jews, has now given us a great window (although, admittedly an expensive one) to let the nation of Israel know that Yeshua is the promised Messiah. The MAC is interested, therefore, in publishing a series of ads as funds are available.
Seeing the great significance of having access to the Israeli press, we wrote about this opportunity in our February newsletter, inviting our readers to place an ad in the Israeli newspapers. In response, $17,134.00 was contributed for advertisement!
This money was given to the MAC to cover the cost of the ad seen in this newsletter - an ad (on average, a quarter page) that was placed in the three largest Hebrew newspapers Yediot Aharonot, Ma'ariv, and Ha'Aretz, plus a Russian (Israeli) newspaper and the English edition of Ha 'Aretz which appears in the International Herald Tribune.
These ads appeared on April 29, the 50th Year Jubilee editions of all these newspapers which were printed for Israel's Independence Day. They reach well over 1,000,000 households. Actually there are no other Hebrew newspapers whose circulation is of any significance.
Only the Jerusalem Post refused to carry the ad, although they did carry an "anti-missionary" ad put out by extreme Orthodox activists on that same day. Interestingly enough, on May 5th, the Jerusalem Post carried a two-color, quarter page ad on the front page put out by the Public Committee for a Constitution for Israel. Its headline blared, STOP RELIGIOUS COERCION!
Because the ultra-Orthodox are also attacking the Reform and Conservative Judaism movements, there are a growing number of Israelis who are fighting for a constitution to ensure basic rights including religious freedom to this nation. But Israel has a long struggle ahead before she is blessed with a constitution - because of ultra-Orthodox opposition. Nevertheless, just as is true in other free countries, it is crucial that Israel's believers have the freedom to preach the Good News to all of Israel, to whosoever will!