Jews, Christians, and Israel: Some Recent Developments

As John Hagee regales AIPAC with his views on why Christians should back Israel, the Knesset considers a new anti-missionary bill. Y-Net reports:

A war on missionaries was declared Tuesday when Shas faction head MK Yakov Margi proposed a bill stating that Israel’s laws against proselytism should be aggravated.

Backed by six other faction members and in concordance with Shas’ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s instructions, Margi proposed the sentence for preaching conversion should be one year imprisonment.

…Currently, Israeli law deals with conversion on two levels. Firstly, anyone offering money or material products in exchange for conversion faces five years in prison or a monetary fine. The person on the accepting end of the offer also faces a certain punishment.

On the second level, regarding minors, anyone acting in favor of or conducting a conversion ceremony on a minor, faces six month in jail.

Israeli officialdom has also sought to discourage Jewish-Israelis from converting to Islam. Y-Net links to another report, which it published last year:

…In the past, the Religious Affairs and Interior Ministries made it very difficult for Jews to convert to Islam. “They are giving me the runaround, sending me back and forth from office to office. They made me see a psychiatrist, to ‘make sure I wasn’t brainwashed.’ They did everything so that I would despair and return to Judaism,” one convert related.

Shas argues that the proposed bill is not discriminatory as it also “applies to Jewish sects bringing Muslims from the Old City to convert to Judaism”. Margi is a big fan of banning things – last year he wrote an opinion piece against the proposed gay pride march in Jerusalem (“Social perversions should be kept in the dark, not put on display for all to see”). Ovadia Yosef, meanwhile, has featured on this blog before, and his many surprising statements have brought him international notoriety (that hurricane Katrina was caused by “blacks” failing to read the Torah is probably his best-known).

Margi’s call comes as the harassment of Jewish converts to Christianity continues. The Baptist Press reports:

BEER SHEVA, Israel (BP)–The arrest of a Messianic Jewish evangelist in Israel reflects the strife that often confronts Messianic Jews despite Israel’s guarantees of religious liberty and without any repercussion from law enforcement officials, the leader of a Messianic congregation told Baptist Press.

Messianic evangelist Eddie Beckford was arrested outside his business, the Chess and Bible Shop in Arad, after a mob of ultra-Orthodox Haradim Jews surrounded his van in the parking lot and beat him Feb. 25.

…Jim Sibley, director of the Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies at Criswell College in Dallas, told Baptist Press the word needs to get out about the harassment of Messianic Jews in Israel.

“It really is intolerable, and I think a lot more attention needs to be given to it,” Sibley said. “That’s the only way that the Israeli government is going to really do anything to protect the rights of believers.”

I covered the situation in Beersheeva in December 2005. The Messianic leader there, Howard Bass, is now taking legal action, although he warns that “It is not to be used in any way to foment or promote anti-Israel or anti-Jewish actions or reactions”.

As it happens, the JTA has just reported on conversions to Christianity among Ethiopian immigrants:

…Recent Ethiopian olim [immigrants] are easy prey for Christian missionaries. They come to Israel with little knowledge of Judaism; some have Christian roots. Most practiced some form of Christianity in Ethiopia before filing their aliyah petitions and moving to the Ethiopian cities of Gondar and Addis Ababa.

Some veteran Ethiopian Israeli leaders are warning that the ongoing Ethiopian aliyah is making matters worse, bringing to Israel many Christians who either are married to Ethiopians of Jewish origin or fraudulently claim to be related to Jews.

“Today the aliyah of the Falash Mura has turned into a business,” said Rabbi Yitzhak Zagay, an Ethiopian Israeli rabbi in Rehovot and director of the National Committee of Ethiopian Jews, formed recently to combat missionary activity.

…”This aliyah is causing irreversible damage to the State of Israel,” one Ethiopian Israeli leader in Jerusalem told JTA. “These people aren’t Jewish. It is tearing apart the Ethiopian and Israeli community…”

Similar complaints have long been made against Russian immigrants, who have been described by Shas as “hundreds of thousands of Gentiles flooding the land with pork, prostitution, impurity and filth” (a fringe of these immigrants has responded in kind, forming the neo-Nazi “White Israeli Union“). Of course, such mass migrations must particularly upsetting to Palestinian refugees, who have long been told that their return to Israel proper would undermine the Jewish character of Israel, and that therefore anyone who supports them must be anti-Semitic.

The consequences of mass immigration were the subject of a 1999 academic article by Ian Lustick, entitled “Israel as a non-Arab State”. Roger Owen briefly summarized the findings in Al-Ahram in 2000. Among them:

…First, no meaningful debate on the question of the Jewishness of the Russian immigrants can be carried on without raising the whole notion of the Right of Return and so, by extension, one of the main rationales for the Zionist project in the twentieth century. Second, given the demographic struggle between Israeli Jews and the Palestinians, the Jewish Israelis would be unhappy about any diminution in the numbers they claim for their side. This also makes sense if one considers that the non-Jewish Russians are just as likely to be anti-Palestinian as their Jewish compatriots.

Seen from this point of view, the construction of Russian Orthodox churches in the communities where there is a heavy concentration of Russian immigrants makes perfect sense. So too does the increasing unwillingness to question people’s religion and ethnic origins. According to Lustick, the 1995 census was the first in Israeli history not to ask questions about what is obviously becoming an increasingly contentious, but also increasingly blurred, situation regarding individual religious and ethnic identity.

Meanwhile, far away in the USA, the alliance of Israel and the Christian right continues to grow. The JTA reports on John Hagee’s recent speech at AIPAC:

…The popular TV preacher went straight for the heart, and if there were doubts that an evangelical could cast aside concerns about proselytizing and make his case based simply on love of Israel, they were quickly dispersed.

“What we have in common is far greater than the things that have separated us over the years,” Hagee said to applause.

“We must stop Iran’s nuclear threat, and stop it now, and stand boldly with Israel!” he said to even greater applause.

…”There will never be another Holocaust, not on our watch and never again!” Hagee continued.

Unless, of course, the Jews annoy God, which is why Hagee believes the Holocaust occurred. Although he had the good sense not say this at AIPAC, Max Blumenthal notes that Hagee’s book Jerusalem Countdown (which I blogged here) contains the following:

It was the disobedience and rebellion of the Jews, God’s chosen people, to their covenantal responsibility to serve only the one true God, Jehovah, that gave rise to the opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day…(pp. 92-93)

Hagee has also railed against international bankers and the “Illuminati” in ways that obviously recall anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. This video, which is also from Blumenthal’s page, consists of a Hagee sermon with some interesting images and music added. I’m sceptical that the video is an official Hagee production, but the words are his own, and the pictures do seem to fit. The resulting production borders on the camp.

(Some links from Christianity Today Weblog and Talk to Action)

4 Responses

  1. Richard,

    Great piece. I just wanted to mention – on the Hagee-“New World Order” video, this page is very suggestive. It gives a JHM Ministries product purchasing code. I’ll give them a call.

    Another thought – I don’t know if you’ve blogged this is not ( I imagine you have ) but if not, John Hagee’s new broadcast station in Jerusalem hasn’t gotten much attention so far.

    I’ve found some solid quotes – from back in ’88 – of Hagee saying he’d never try to convert Jews.

  2. […] who go on about the “Illuminati” have got a thing against Jews; just a few days ago I noted that Christian Zionist leader John Hagee also believes in the existence of the organisation and its […]

  3. […] Decker has led evangelisation work in Israel – an activity which some Israeli MKs now want to ban. […]

  4. […] is likely to be Russian Orthodox Christianity. The consequences of this population shift (as I’ve blogged before) were the subject of a 1999 academic article by Ian Lustick, entitled “Israel as a non-Arab […]

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