Netanyahu halts bill against Christian proselytizing while Jews in Israel are increasingly targeted

“Any attempts to curb evangelizing in the Jewish state, via legislation, is met with international pressure and cries of church persecution and violations of religious freedom.”

By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would prevent the passage of a proposal by a powerful ally in his governing coalition to punish Christian proselytizing with jail time.

The proposal had raised an uproar with evangelical Christians — one of Israel’s strongest and most influential supporters in the United States.

The bill was introduced in January by a pair of ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmakers, including Moshe Gafni, who heads the parliament’s Finance Committee. It says soliciting someone to convert their faith should be punishable by one year in prison and solicitation to convert a minor would be punishable with a two-year sentence.

“Recently, the attempts of missionary groups, mainly Christians, to solicit conversion of religion have increased,” it said.

The bill was never advanced, but it drew widespread attention in the American evangelical world last week after All Israel News, an evangelical news site, reported on it.

Netanyahu responded with an announcement on Twitter, saying, “We will not advance any law against the Christian community.”

Gafni said he had introduced the bill as a procedural matter, as he has done in the past, and there were no plans to advance it.

Read  Democratic congressman's accusation of genocide against Israel sparks antisemitic vandalism

Evangelical Christians, particularly in the United States, are among the strongest backers of Israel, viewing it as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, with some seeing it as the harbinger of a second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of days.

Israel has long welcomed evangelicals’ political and financial support, and it has largely shrugged off concerns about any hidden religious agenda. But most Jews view any effort to convert them to Christianity as deeply offensive, a legacy of centuries of persecution and forced conversion at the hands of Christian rulers.

Aggressive missionary activity targeting Jews in Israel has become rampant in recent years.

Ellen Horowitz is the former content and research director for an Israeli organization exploring the challenges and complexities of Israel’s alliances with fundamentalist, evangelical and messianic Christian groups.

“In my many years of researching the Israel-Evangelical relationship, I find that ‘to the Jew first’ still motivates evangelical churches and their proxy messianic congregations and projects in Israel. Both covert and overt missionary activity runs rampant and largely unchecked in Israel,” Horowitz told World Israel News.

“Any attempts to curb evangelizing in the Jewish state, via legislation, is met with international pressure and cries of church persecution and violations of religious freedom,” she said.

Read  Israeli minister accuses Qatar of fueling terror after Qatar claimed Netanyahu sabotaging hostage deal

Joel Rosenberg, founder and chairman of The Joshua Fund and editor in chief of All Israel News, welcomed Netanyahu’s announcement, which comes at a time of domestic turmoil in Israel over his plan to overhaul the country’s legal system and rising tensions with the Biden administration over settlement activities in Judea and Samaria.

“Netanyahu is a longtime and proven friend to the global Christian community and his action today — amidst all the other issues on his plate — is further proof,” Rosenberg, an activist in bringing Jews to Christianity, said.