Evangelical Christian groups frustrated with difficulties obtaining visas in Israel

“We are confident that we can work this out,” said David Parsons, vice president and senior international spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

By Etgar Lefkovits, JNS

A crisis over the issuance of visas to members of evangelical organizations based in Israel is expected to be resolved next week following the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office, officials said Wednesday.

The issue stems from the refusal of mid-level bureaucrats at the Interior Ministry to issue visas to members of evangelical groups based in Israel, which threatens to impair the work of the staunchly pro-Israel Christian Zionist ministries that goes back decades and won them accolades from the Jewish State.

The Prime Minister’s Office intervened after a prominent evangelical organization based in Jerusalem went public with its frustrations over the hurdles it was facing in obtaining long-term visas for staff members from officials at the Population and Immigration Authority within the Interior Ministry.

The issue was compounded by oft-changing leadership at the ministry during a time of governmental instability due to the COVID-19 crisis and five national elections in 43 months.

“We are confident that we can work this out,” David Parsons, vice president and senior international spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, the largest evangelical organization in Israel, said in an interview with JNS. “We just regret that we needed to go to the media to get their attention after waiting over three years for this promised review.”

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Clergy visas

Israel issues highly coveted clergy visas primarily to officials with mainstream Christian organizations and to the head ministers of the various evangelical organizations based in Israel. The long-term staffers and volunteers in such ministries are dependent on receiving clergy, work or volunteer visas.

Over the last three years, however, ministry officials balked at issuing new visas to these groups and imposed strict financial conditions on applicants, endangering the functioning of such organizations by reducing their Jerusalem-based staff.

After the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office, negotiations are underway to resolve the issue as early as next week, officials said. One long-term proposal would see a “special Christian worker” visa category created for the evangelical staff, although that plan would need the approval of a Knesset subcommittee that is currently in months-long summer recess.

“The needle is finally moving,” Parsons said.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the talks underway to resolve the issue.

‘Greatest friends’

Founded in 1980 to promote Christian support for Israel, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is the largest global pro-Israel evangelical organization, with branch offices in over 90 nations and outreach in more than 170 nations worldwide. Over the last four decades, the group, which has about 40 local staff members, has assisted more than 180,000 Jews in making aliyah, provided more than 250 bomb shelters to vulnerable Israeli communities near the Gaza and Lebanon borders, and cared for hundreds of Holocaust survivors.

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The embassy is most widely known for hosting the annual autumn celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, which draws thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world to Jerusalem in the single biggest tourism event of the year.

“We want Christians from abroad to experience Israel,” Parsons said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the hundreds of millions of evangelical Christian supporters around the globe “the greatest friends” of the State of Israel.

Offensive missionary activity

A difficult issue, however, has been the aggressive missionary activity carried out by some Christian Zionist groups.

In December 2020, for example, an anti-missionary NGO dedicated to promoting “good relations,” called on the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) to investigate and put an end to their partnership with Return Ministries, a Canadian Christian group they say has an openly missionary agenda.

More recently, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King, among others, was outraged by the fact that an openly missionizing Christian group was providing free dental care with references from the city’s municipality.

According to its website, “HaTikva Dental operates as the first and only Messianic non-profit dental clinics in Israel. As the only organization in the country providing excellent full-service, heavily subsidized treatment to the needy, local welfare departments continue to refer patients to us, while understanding our open statement of faith.”

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“We believe really, really strongly that we are in a unique season biblically for the Jewish people to be open to the Gospel,” said Evan Levine, executive director of the HaTikva Project.

World Israel News contributed to this report.