Israeli bill criminalizing evangelism sparked by fear Jews will follow Jesus, Joel Rosenberg says
Scholar sees parallels to disciples' arrest Acts 4
A bill introduced in the Israeli Knesset to criminalize evangelism in the Holy Land points to the fear among Orthodox Jews that if Jewish people are presented with the Good News message, they will follow Jesus, a former consultant to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says.
Last week, Netanyahu announced that his government would not pass a bill that would criminalize Christian proselytization, a proposal that drew concern from American Evangelicals.
In a March 22 tweet posted in both English and Hebrew, Netanyahu expressed his opposition to the legislation proposed by members of the United Torah Judaism Party to punish Christian proselytization with one year in prison.
Joel C. Rosenberg, an author and communications strategist with dual U.S.-Israel citizenship who founded All Israel News, was the first to break the news of the bill's introduction to the English-speaking audience. He said Netanyahu's announcement is "a testament to how much the Prime Minister has worked to bolster ties to American Evangelicals." Christians around the world should be "grateful" for Netanyahu's vowed not to pass the bill, he said.
"He really does believe that the Evangelical Christians are a strategic ally and a friend of Israel and the Jewish people," Rosenberg, who served as a consultant for Netanyahu during the 1990s, told The Christian Post. "Otherwise, he would never have taken time out of his schedule to deal with this issue."
Rosenberg said several factors likely influenced Netanyahu's decision, including the domestic battle over judicial reform. Rosenberg said the debate is causing a "huge division in the country politically, socially, and religiously."
While Netanyahu may disagree with Evangelicals theologically, Rosenberg said the prime minister understands the value of religious freedom, which probably influenced his opposition to the bill.
"There are a lot of forest fires raging around him, and I think it was a ... move to put out a fire that was just getting started before it got out of control and created a new problem for him," he added.
Introduced by Knesset members Moshe Gafni, a long-serving lawmaker who has frequently proposed such legislation over the past couple of decades, and Yaakov Asher, the bill's language specifically referenced Christians who evangelize to "solicit conversion of religion."
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.
"Recently, the attempts of missionary groups, mainly Christians, to solicit conversion of religion have increased," the bill's English translation 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."
Since 1999, Gafni has proposed anti-missionary and other similar bills in one form or another at the start of every Knesset. Those bills have not gained enough support to advance as they are only supported by ultra-Orthodox factions in the Knesset.
According to Rosenberg, Gafni and other Orthodox officials are "concerned that if people hear about Jesus, Jewish people might follow Jesus."
"Rather than combat that with dialogue and debate, they decided to coerce [Christians] into being quiet," he said. "Which is ironic because that's the whole point of the bill. It should be illegal to coerce people into making a religious decision. And yet that's the whole essence of their bill!"
He also acknowledged the similarities between this latest attempt to stop the preaching of the Gospel to Acts 4, where Jesus' disciples were ordered "not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus."
"The dynamic here is very similar," he said. "The irony is in the first century, it was a Roman occupation, and the Romans didn't have any particular problem with people following Jesus ... and talking about Jesus."
"It didn't work then, and it won't work now," Rosenberg continued.
Israel already has legal measures to curb Christians from evangelizing to minors as well as jail time for anyone who offers financial incentives for Jews to convert to Christianity.
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."
Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com.