Christians in T-Shirts Raise Missionary Fears in Israel

With Israel poised to invade Gaza, a group of Christians seeks a bit of the action:

Strumming guitars and banging bongos, Christian pilgrims journeyed to Israel’s dusty border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday to offer support to Israeli troops participating in the military action.

About 25 people, wearing white T-shirts that said “Your God is my God,” waved Israeli flags and sang religious songs.

…The group had planned to visit Israel long before this week’s invasion. But after the military operation was launched, the pilgrims decided to show their support. Members came from the U.S., Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, Sweden, France and Germany.

A “pilgrim” from Finland is interviewed, but the actual identity of the group is not given. It seems, though, that their trip to Gaza comes just after a less successful incursion into the ultra-Orthodox district of Jerusalem known as Mea Shearim:

Details of the incident are sketchy. It began shortly after 10 AM, when a group of tourists, apparently from Germany, walked into the religious neighborhood of Meah She’arim wearing orange shirts, emblazoned with the missionary slogan ‘Your G-d is my god, Your people is my people.” Some eyewitnesses reported seeing a missionary emblem on the back of the shirts.

A group of religious youths and men very quickly surrounded the group and started yelling at them to get out of the neighborhood. It was not clear whether the hareidim pushed them before or after an orange-shirted man kicked one of the hareidim.

An ultra-Orthodox protest followed.

Arutz-7 has received anecdotal evidence of increased missionary activity in downtown Jerusalem. Jerusalem-area tour guide Yoni Berg told Arutz-7,

“I’m in downtown fairly frequently, and I have seen them of late. Friends of mine who work there have also noted them. They wear shirts with the words ‘Your G-d is my god, Your people is my people’, and they pass out pamphlets that have Jewish themes but are designed to lead the misinformed to believe in Jesus.”

An article published on the website of the Caspari Center offers some further clues:

Yaakov Damkani…teaches his Christian helpers first to thank Israelis for the Bible, for God, for the New Testament, for the Messiah…They wear T-shirts quoting Ruth’s Amekh ami ve’elohaikh elohai (“Your people is my people and your God is my God”).

A second essay explains that

Yaakov Damkani, the son of traditional Persian Jewish immigrants, has been among the most aggressive and persistent Israeli evangelists. Yaakov has been a leader for the past decade in outdoor evangelism on Israeli city streets and parks and beaches, outside festivals of rock music, theatres and at major public events. In recent years he has extended his outreach to Goa in India where masses of young Israelis have been backpacking after military service in the heavy atmosphere of the contemporary drug culture…Damkani maintains a center in Jaffa from which, with the help of foreign volunteers and some locals, he continues his bold evangelistic sorties.

Of course, it could be that the group spotted in Mea Sherim and Gaza just so happen to have the same t-shirts as Damkani’s foreign volunteer helpers. However, Damkani’s website has Swedish, Finnish, and German translations.

UPDATE: Shades of Rashomon – Ha’aretz carries a report on the Mea Shearim incident in which some crucial details are different:

A group of 50 pro-Israel Christian tourists came under attack Wednesday from some 100 residents of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She’arim in Jerusalem.

The tourists arrived at Mea She’arim wearing orange T-shirts with the words “Love your neighbor as yourself” printed across them.

Name variations: Jacob Damkani, Yakov Damkani