CHRISTIANS UNDER ATTACK
So-called "leaders" of the Christian evangelical movement have agreed to give up spreading the Gospel of Christ in the Holy Land in order to avoid being jailed under a proposed Israeli law aimed at stamping out Christian missionary work in Israel.
By Michael Collins Piper
Anti-Christian forces led by a wide-ranging group of high-ranking Israeli officials won a major victory on March 30. Representatives of 50 different international Christian evangelical groups entered into what was described as an "unprecedented" joint statement promising not to carry out Christian missionary work in Israel.
In return, Israeli lawmaker Nissim Zvili said that he would drop his sponsorship of a proposed measure before the Israeli parliament (widely supported among various political factions in Israel) that would outlaw any effort to teach or propagate Christian doctrine in Israel. Under Zvili's highly popular proposal, any Christian missionary found guilty of violating the law would be sent to prison for one year. Zvili hailed the Christian surrender, saying: "This is better than a law. This is a very big accomplishment."
The Christian groups that surrendered to Israeli pressure, and thereby abandoned their long-standing practice of proselytizing the Christian faith, issued a statement saying that they rejoice in the presence of the Jewish people in this country of their ancestors and agreed to avoid activities which alienate Jews in Israel from their tradition and community.
In response to the surrender by the Christian groups in the face of the anti-Christian legislation, one American Christian evangelist, Rev. Dale Crowley Jr., expressed great shock and dismay. Crowley said that those groups that endorsed the agreement have, in Crowley's direct terms, "Betrayed our Lord." Crowley says that purveying the Gospel of Christ to nonbelievers is integral to the Christian faith and stems from the biblical great commission directing Christians to share their faith.
Crowley notes that two newspapers with prominent circulation in the pro-Israel community, Washington Jewish Week and the New York City-based Forward, have "quite notably", in his words, not reported on this Israeli victory over Christian evangelism. Crowley said that he has been prodding Washington Jewish Week to publish the story but that, thus far, the influential publication has not done so.
"The Israelis want to keep this information under wraps," Crowley said, "and the Christian groups that entered into this outrageous betrayal of their faith are ashamed of themselves, as they certainly should be."
According to Crowley, the complete joint statement issued by the Christian groups has been virtually impossible to obtain, despite the fact that some 50 different groups have affixed their names to the statement. Also, says Crowley, the actual names of the 50 different groups that are signatories to the agreement are also out of reach. When the names of those groups are finally made public, says Crowley, Christians should cease supporting those groups since they have effectively betrayed their Biblical commission to spread the gospel by abandoning their missionary work in the land where Christ lived and carried out his work.
VERY REAL PROBLEMS
At the time the anti-Christian bill was first introduced in the Israeli parliament, even Rev. David Allen Lewis, president of the pro-Israel group, Christians United for Israel, admitted that there were some very real problems with the legislation. "This bill means great hardship for Zionist evangelicals like myself," said Lewis, who worried that the action would revive the argument of those who question Christian support for Israel, saying, "How can you support the Jewish nation when they are against Christianity?"
When I contacted the offices of Christian evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, both of whom are loud advocates of pro-Israel policy (despite the anti-Christian stance of the Israeli leadership), neither would comment on the anti-Christian legislation. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) another vocal supporter of Israel (and ally of the so-called "Christian Right" in the United States), likewise refused to provide me any comment on the anti-Christian offensive in Israel.
Although Israel today is torn asunder by vast feuding among various political and religious factions even within the Jewish community as a whole, the anti-Christian proposal by Israeli lawmaker Zvili had wide-ranging support throughout the Israeli population.
Longtime Republican Party and conservative movement leader John Lofton, previously a pro-Israel zealot but now an unabashed Christian who is not afraid to criticize Israeli excesses, has been watching the anti-Christian offensive in Israel.
Lofton recently reported in his Lofton Report that Clarence Wagner, director of the evangelical foundation Bridges for Peace, was the architect of this agreement, which, in Lofton's words, "denies our Lord." Lofton says that "Wagner and his cowardly crew have chosen to obey men rather than God" and that "they have chosen to be ashamed of the Gospel even though," says Lofton, quoting Romans 1:16, "it is the power or God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."
John Alpher of the American Jewish Committee's Israel/Middle East Office has hailed the sell-out as "a dynamic Christian commitment to the vitality of Israel and Judaism." His colleague, Rabbi A. James Rudin, the AJC's "director of interreligious affairs," said that the agreement is "a strong refutation of those Christians who sadly still target Jews as possible converts to Christianity." Rudin says that he hopes the statement will be "a model for others to emulate throughout the world."
Lofton had strong words in response to the AJC's comments: "For openers, no Christian would ever agree not to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, apart from Christ, there is no "vitality" for anybody, including Israel and Judaism. As for those Christians who "sadly" target Jews for conversion to Christianity, well, the Lord Himself was one of those "Christians." Lofton concluded: "God forbid that this Christ-hating agreement should ever be emulated, or become a model, for anybody."
Virtually the only national news publication in America to report on the Israeli war on Christianity was us on March 17, 1997. We published a special eight-page report entitled Israel Declares War on Christianity and told the story of the anti-Christian legislation. The special report featured a ground-breaking essay by the aforementioned Christian evangelist, Dale Crowley, Jr., in which Crowley refuted the popular political theory that the present day geographic entity known as Israel is not the "Israel" that is referred to in the Bible.
Another essay by Crowley, appearing in the same report, concluded that America's heritage is, in fact, based on Christian teachings and that the term "Judeo-Christian" has no rational or actual applicability to the reality of American history or tradition.
Knesset Bill aimed at Messianic Jews
Considered the most hated people in the world
By Kaye Corbett
Copyright 1998 WorldNetDaily.com
JERUSALEM -- The most persecuted nation in world history, Israel, could
become the persecutors of the most hated people -- Messianic Jews -- if
a Knesset bill is passed within the next 48 hours.
Bill 174C -- The Prohibition of Persuasion to a Change of Religion -- and its amendments, now known as the Pinchasi legislation, will reach "crunch time" tomorrow. Since May 20, 1998, it has been in limbo, buried in the committee rooms, but under Israeli law, a bill must be reported out of committee within six months.
A written explanation from Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Hanan Poray (National Religious Party) apparently is the only alternative for any delay.
Messianic Action Committee (MAC) chairman, Paul Liberman, explained Wednesday night that when the bill comes up for a decision is anyone's guess. "That's why we have to keep phoning up the Knesset every day to find out what's happening with it."
Poray's assistant told MAC that the first of three votes in the plenary (Knesset) session outside of committee had been scheduled. Afterwards, a second vote usually follows in three to five weeks, which is usually adopted. The third vote is generally only to approve technical changes.
When the story first broke in February 1997 in the Philadelphia-based Messianic Times, the world's only international Messianic Jewish newspaper founded by Zev Isaacs, the bill was adamant in stating that Messianic Jews (Believers in Yeshua -- Jesus) could be put behind bars for a year.
Prior to that, Israel had only adopted a so-called anti-bribery law, which forbids "a person from offering enticement or inducement for material gain to change another's religion."
The brushfire that erupted began with noted television evangelist Morris Cerullo sending more than a million unsolicited books, entitled, "Ha Shalom" (The Peace) to Israeli households in fall 1996. It ignited a powder keg of resentment towards the Believers in the Land.
Hundreds of Orthodox Jews demonstrated against the books by burning them in bonfires and blowing the shofar in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's home.
Such opposition escalated and in February 1997 it became a four-alarm blaze as two members of the Knesset, Moshe Gafni of the four-member Torah Judaism Party and Nissim Zvili of the powerful 34-seat Labour Party introduced the bill that would make the printing and distribution of Messianic materials, not only illegal, but a criminal act.
A headline in a daily Hebrew newspaper's Jerusalem weekend section blared: "The Inquisition Is Already Here," while an Israeli reporter appeared shocked by the complete disregard for freedom of speech in Israel. He also questioned the reason the late Lubavitcher Rabbi Schneerson of New York City had been declared King and Messiah, but any mention of Yeshua as the Messiah was forbidden.
On April 1, 1998, MK Zvili withdrew his support for his own "anti-Messianic" bill. However, MK Gafni wasn't discouraged by such a defection. He was soon joined by MK Rafael Pinchasi of the 10-member Shas Party, who had proposed a new wording to replace that of Zvili-Gafni that proscribes any form of "preaching" to persuade one to change his religion. Of course, "preaching" includes the distribution of literature that has conversion as its goal.
The Pinchasi legislation has been the most radical, for the "crime" would carry a three-year prison sentence and a $12,500 fine.
Such outrageous and controversial legislation began rumblings even within North American evangelical Christian churches and a world-wide letter-writing campaign and a $350,000 Israel-only newspaper advertising campaign, sponsored by MAC, had the desired result.
By summer 1998, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after first promising Christian church leaders of his assistance, turned about face and bowed to the Orthodox.
"Netanyahu has, within Israel, favored the new (Pinchasi) bill, but internationally sung a different song," MAC chairman Liberman explained.
In the next 48 hours, those fencesitters will have to stand up and be counted or sit down and examine their collective backbone.
While Christian organizations have believed the legislation was directed toward their work in Israel, in actuality, the Israeli-born Jews that believe that Yeshua is the Messiah are the main targets of discrimination.
Forcefully stating Jews have been at the center of unjust treatment and irrational hatred through the generations, Liberman claims "there is a danger that the persecuted can now become the persecutors."
He cited that Jews of Sephardic or Mediterranean descent sometimes suffer from lower wages and, possibly, because of their darker complexions.
"Almost a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union have been absorbed but find themselves feeling that they are thought of by a portion of the population as the 'dirty Russians,' Liberman explained. "Many thousands of Ethiopians find themselves as 'non-Jews.'"
As believers in the New Testament, the MAC chairman continued by saying, "we're at the bottom rung of the ladder -- although small in numbers, we are treated as a threat to national existence."
An estimated 6,000 Messianic believers -- about 800 actually born within Israel -- should be recognized as a phenomenon, rather than a movement, for there are only 53 congregations and about 70 independent home groups.
Despite being only one-tenth of one percent of Israel's population of more than 6 million, Messianic Jews are considered a subversive threat.
There are hundreds of horror stories against this most hated people, from job threats to torching of their synagogues. But the most formidable threat yet may be the Pinchasi Bill.
In a message dated 1/16/2003 11:55:50 AM Eastern Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org
Subj: Christians relieved by halt
Date: 1/16/2003 11:55:50 AM Eastern Standard Time
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Christians relieved by halt to Nazareth mosque
Increasingly 'crowded out' of religion's birthplace by Arab-Israeli conflict
By Mary Jo Anderson
© 2002 WorldNetDaily.com
Israel's decision yesterday to halt construction of a large mosque in Nazareth that has been under construction right next to one of the most revered of all Christian shrines is good news to the relatively few remaining Christian residents of the Holy Land, who see themselves increasingly squeezed by the escalating Arab-Israeli conflict.
An Islamic coalition had planned to construct a mosque in the plaza designated for the use of the Basilica of the Annunciation. The basilica, first built in the fourth century by Helena, the Emperor Constantine’s mother, stands on the site where Christians believe the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary with the news that she would give birth to the Son of God.
Until yesterday's decision, the Israeli government was widely regarded as having ignored protests from the Christian residents of Nazareth and supported the Muslim plan to erect a mosque – despite the 11 other mosques in Nazareth, a town of 70,000 Muslim and Christian Arab residents.
Though the government had issued no building permits, the mosque's foundation has already been completed and concrete pillars have been erected.
Local Muslim leader Salman Abu Ahmed called the decision to halt the mosque's construction a "declaration of war" on Israel's large Muslim minority, according to an Associated Press report. "It is an irresponsible decision. If (the government) insists on its position we will not hesitate to continue building."
The Vatican and various Western Christian groups had asked the Israeli government to reexamine the plans for the mosque. In November, the Vatican had said construction of the mosque would "put this holy place in a permanent state of siege," and Pope John Paul II reportedly threatened to cancel a planned visit to the Holy Land over the issue.
The Christians' plight has deteriorated so gravely in the last three years that Pope John Paul II held a meeting in Rome in mid-December on “The Future of Christians in the Holy Land.” The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, will hold a conference in Jerusalem on Jan. 21, also addressing the future of Christians in the Holy Land. Sabbah was born in Nazareth.
Dire plight of Christians
Documented reports of Muslim attacks on pilgrims and Christian residents have aggravated an already edgy tourist economy. The Israeli consulate in New York confirmed for WorldNetDaily that hotels in Nazareth have closed due to fears of violence, among them the new Marriot and Renaissance built to house an anticipated surge of visitors for the Jubilee year, 2000. Many Christian families of Nazareth depend on the pilgrim trade for their livelihood.
Conditions in Nazareth are just one example, say Christian organizations, of the dire plight of Christians throughout the Holy Land. Robert Younes, secretary of the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation, told WND that it is urgent that Americans assist in efforts to ensure a Christian presence in the land of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. "Jerusalem is the mother Church, it is where Christianity was born. It is unthinkable that there could be a Jerusalem without a Christian presence," he said.
The Foundation has secured support for its programs in numerous American communities, from First Presbyterian Church of Houston to St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.
“We have been warmly received by Cardinal Maida of Detroit (30,000 Arab Christians live in the Detroit area) who committed to pay tuition for 350 Christian children in the schools of the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem,” Younes reports. The Archdiocese of Atlanta and Atlanta’s Peachtree Presbyterian Church will foster another 200 students. “Our goal is to make it possible for Christian families to remain in the Holy Land when conditions are so dire that emigration is a temptation,” said Younes.
Christians are located in smaller villages and towns where the population is a mixed community of Muslims and Christians such as Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Ramallah as well as in Jerusalem. Most Christians in Israel (including the Palestinian territories) are Arab Christians of various traditions: primarily Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican. Vatican statistics from the year 2000 list 117,000 Catholics in Israel and the Palestinian territories who, with other Christians, constitute just 3 percent of the total population of the Holy Land.
The Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation believes that Muslim-Christian relations are cordial for the most part. Younes contends that the Nazareth situation was caused by members of the Israeli Likud party who came to Nazareth to seek votes from Arab citizens in the national elections. Their vote-buying strategy was to promise a mosque in the plaza, a prominent location. The purpose, theorizes Younes, might have been to buy votes and to set Christians and Muslims against each other so that they will not band together to oppose the new Jewish settlements being built all around the old city of Nazareth. “Soon Nazareth will be enclosed” by Jewish settlements, said Younes.
Other Christians working to support Holy Land Christian families also blamed Israeli intrigue for the mosque dispute. A Lebanese Christian who fled Beirut in the 1980s says he is “no partisan of Muslims,” who persecuted his family. “What began as vote buying by one party has been continued by another. The Jewish government wanted the mosque as a public relations coup. There are so few Christians in Israel that it costs the Jews nothing to be seen as granting a favor to Muslims as the expense of a handful of Christians.”
But after yesterday's decision, lawyer and author Rafael Israeli, who has written on the mosque dispute, noted that Sharon, already unpopular with Arabs, had little to lose. "Sharon knows he will not get the Arab vote anyway," he said, according to the Associated Press.
“It is easy to understand how such a small number of Christians are trapped between the hostilities of the Palestinians and the Jews,” a spokesman for the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in New York told WND. “Christians are being crowded out” by growing Jewish and Muslim settlements, an economic crisis and violence. The Vatican has signed agreements with both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to ensure the juridical rights of Catholics. Rights that are of paramount concern are rights of access to holy sites and the freedom to worship without threat.
The recent intifada resulted in Israeli military measures that have blocked access to most of the holy sites for Christian and Muslim residents, though some tourists are still admitted. Such prohibitions by the Israeli government have renewed calls for designating Jerusalem an international city under the jurisdiction of an international governing body that would guarantee access to the holy sites for people of all faiths.
That plan is rejected by most Jews, says Rabbi Gerald Meister of Brooklyn’s Ocean Parkway Jewish Center. Rabbi Meister serves as a consultant on Christian-Israeli affairs for the Israeli Consulate in New York. “The call for the internationalization of Jerusalem is the Vatican’s plan.” Meister bristles that Michel Sabbah and those who call for the internationalization of Jerusalem are “no friend of Israel. Jerusalem has always been the historical capital of Israel, why should we allow it to be under international control?”
Of course, Jerusalem was not the capital of Israel for more than 1800 years, from 70 A.D. until 1948 when the Jewish state was reestablished with Tel Aviv as its capital. Conceding the historical point, Meister countered, “Yes, but Jerusalem is the theological capital of the Jewish nation. And most Christians would agree with that.”
Brother David Carroll of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association based in New York, whose organization will participate in the “Future of Christians in the Holy Land” conference on the 21st made a rueful point concerning the history of the Near East and the Holy Land. “ Jerusalem is a sacred city for all three faiths, but it is Christians who have lived there longest and continuously. The ancient sees of Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus – when the Jews were driven out by the Romans in 70 A.D., Christians returned.”
“There are Christian families in the Holy Land that can trace their
lineage back 1800 years – to the Syro-Phonecian woman of the Gospels. They
were here when Muslim armies conquered the land and when the Crusaders
came. The Islamic Palestinians have no greater claim than Christians, for
until the 1800s they were Bedouin tribes whose nomadic lives crossed over
borders and did not settle nor build a definitive culture like the Egyptians
or the Syrians. How tragic if Christians were are not enabled to remain
in the land of Christ.”