Accused of proselytism, an evangelical TV channel withdrawn from the air in Israel

Distributed in Israel by the HOT group to its 700,000 subscribers, the local antenna of the GodTV channel “Shelanu” (“Le nôtre”, in Hebrew) is ordered to suspend its broadcasting within seven days, after a decision by the agency Israeli broadcasting. This arbitration follows a complaint from the Jewish association Yad Leahim, which fights against proselytism, and the mobilization of Israeli deputies.

An evangelical chain in Israel

“The channel is trying to present evangelical content to the Jews, contrary to its original commitment which targeted Christian viewers”, justified Asher Bitton, president of the Council of broadcasting in May 2020. According to him, the chain was sanctioned for proposing contents different from what it had announced to obtain its license of diffusion in the country. The presence of a Christian television channel is not a first in Israel, which has around 2% of Christians, but its proselytizing nature aimed at the Jewish majority is violently criticized by religious and political authorities.

→ READ. In Israel, an evangelical TV channel in the crosshairs of the authorities

The minister of communications, David Amsalem, had regretted only a few weeks after the launch of the channel, the slow reaction of his services, saying that he “Would not authorize any missionary chain to operate in Israel, at any time and under any circumstances”. The channel is not banned forever in Israel and could apply for a new license, however, submit a description “Truthful and detailed” of its programming, said the Council in a press release.

In a video, dated March 18 at the launch of the channel, GodTV CEO Ward Simpson announced the vocation “Prophetic” of the new channel for “To bring Jesus Christ to the Jews (…) in their mother tongue”. In another message, the channel said it wanted to help Israeli viewers understand that “Jesus is not a stranger or an impostor. Rather, He is Yeshua, the messiah, born in Bethlehem “.

An evangelical Zionist movement

At the opening of the investigation in mid-June, Ward Simpson had reacted expressing his “ trust in the Israeli authorities “, appearing, like “ million Christians around the world “, as “A faithful ally and friend of Israel”.

The GodTV group, which explicitly claims to be a “Pro Israeli platform”, is part of an evangelical movement very attached to Israel. Some American evangelicals form a powerful lobby and support, defending a Christian Zionism, claiming an effective influence on American policy in favor of Israel.

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But these pro-Israel evangelicals are also proselytizing Christians and are present in many countries in Asia, South America and the Middle East. “Shelanu TV” presented itself as a particular variation of this project of systematic dissemination of the Gospel, « this journal [télévisé] will be a powerful tool in the hands of communities [juives] defenseless messianics to strengthen them and allow them to join their own ”, declared the president of the chain during a donation campaign.

The stake of the Messianic Jews

In a video now deleted, but cited in a newspaper article Haaretz May 10, Sampson responded to accusations of proselytism as follows: “Our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters do not convert. They continue to live their lives as Jews. They only believe that Yeshua is the messiah and they follow him ”.

Messianic Judaism mainly developed in the United States in the middle of the 20th century. This Jewish movement recognizes in Jesus the messiah and his divinity, without assuming the Christian identity. However, they are no longer recognized as Jewish by the official Orthodox rabbinical authorities. The main movement, of American origin, “Jews for Jesus” is closely linked to the evangelical movements, of which they share many codes and cultural elements, including strong support for the Zionist project and for Israel.

These messianic movements are very controversial in the Jewish world because perceived as a conversion threatening the Jewish identity. The channel, broadcasting programs in Hebrew with the intervention of Messianic rabbis, such as Kirt Schneider, was seen as a threat to the Orthodox Jewish movements and their political supporters in Israel.

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Israeli laws strictly frame proselytism. They authorize freedom of belief, but according to provisions of the Criminal Code, it is prohibited to grant a material advantage to a person to change his religion or to try to convert minors.

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