Israel won’t criminalize sharing the Gospel amid pushback to new bill, Netanyahu says

Prime Minister and Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu smiles as he enters an election night event for the Likud party on November 1, 2022, in Jerusalem, Israel.
Prime Minister and Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu smiles as he enters an election night event for the Likud party on November 1, 2022, in Jerusalem, Israel. | Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that his government will not pass a bill that would criminalize Christian evangelism, a proposal that drew concern from American Evangelicals. 

In a tweet posted Wednesday in both English and Hebrew, Netanyahu expressed his opposition to a bill proposed by members of the United Torah Judaism party to punish Christian proselytization with one year in prison.

"We will not advance any law against the Christian community," Netanyahu tweeted in response to concerns.

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The bill was introduced by two Knesset members Moshe Gafni, a long-serving lawmaker who has frequently proposed such legislation over the past couple of decades, and Yaakov Asher, according to a translation of the bill shared by All Israeli News

"Recently, the attempts of missionary groups, mainly Christians, to solicit conversion of religion have increased," the English translation of the bill states. "At times these attempts do not involve monetary promises or material gains and are therefore not illegal according to the current law, but the many negative repercussions, including psychological damages, warrant the intervention of the legislature."

The proposed legislation would have also prohibited the creation of Hebrew-language online videos that preached about Jesus out of concern that Jewish minors might watch them.

Joel C. Rosenberg, an American Evangelical bestselling author who also has dual Israeli citizenship, warned that the bill would create "a major new headache for Netanyahu's government by sparking a serious clash with Evangelical Christians in the United States and around the world who are among the biggest supporters of the State of Israel."

Israel already has legal measures to curb Christians from evangelizing to minors in the nation's Jewish majority and jail time for anyone who offers financial incentives for Jews to convert to Christianity.

Israel Today reports that Gafni has proposed similar bills in one form or another for 25 years, introducing anti-missionary bills at the start of every Knesset. Each time, those bills have failed to gain the minimal support needed to advance. Only ultra-Orthodox factions in Knesset have supported the bills. 

In June 2020, Israeli authorities removed the U.S.-based Evangelical Christian station GOD TV from the Israeli cable television provider HOT over claims that it was trying to evangelize Jews.

Asher Biton, chairman of Israel's Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, explained at the time that GOD TV, also known as Shelanu, "appeals to Jews with Christian content," violating an earlier agreement that the station would only engage in "targeting the Christian population."

Ron Cantor, Shelanu regional director in Israel, told the Messianic Jewish news site Kehila News at the time that the allegations against the station were "simply not true."

"From the first day we met with HOT, it was very clear what we wanted to broadcast: Messianic Jews sharing their faith in Yeshua in a variety of ways, from interviews, to music, to personal stories. And that's what we do to this day," said Cantor at the time.

"Our content providers are Israelis. Sabras. Serving in the Army. Paying their taxes. And we are people of integrity. If we really lied to get a license, of course we would have been caught. It does not make sense. It goes against everything we teach."

Last November, Netanyahu secured enough seats in the Knesset to be again elected prime minister, 16 months after losing the office to Naftali Bennett, who had held on to power with a slight majority.

The political coalition that brought Netanyahu back to power is recognized as being more right-leaning than the previous government, with Netanyahu's Likud Party allying with two smaller political parties known as Jewish Power and Religious Zionism.

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