A Messianic Jewish congregation of about 350 people in Israel has won a restraining order against members of an anti-evangelism organization that it says has for years harassed the congregation and even damaged its property.
Pastor Israel Pochtar of Congregation Beit Hallel based in Ashdod, said in a statement that the congregation has faced “a targeted persecution campaign” lead by the Orthodox Jewish anti-missionary organization Yad Le’Achim.
The campaign, he said, began in 2011 when a mass demonstration was organized and busloads of protesters demonstrated outside the church. Pochtar said some rabbis even encouraged “further actions against us.”
“It has been nine years of systematic oppression, harassment and outright persecutions on many levels, fuelled by a hate-campaign led by Yad Le-Achim where they have called time and time again for actions against us, declaring their goal is to stop our work completely and drive us out of the city,” the pastor explained.
“Their systematic and targeted harassment has filtered down to many areas affecting directly our congregation and ministry.”
According to Pochtar, a judge recently determined that “Yad Le-Achim and anyone on their behalf is not allowed to come within 100 meters (328 feet) of our building.”
Pochtar said they've been inundated by activists who gather at church’s property on a weekly basis to intimidate worshipers. These protesters have filmed congregants as they walked into services, intimidated children and blocked the entrance, which has led confrontations.
“We’ve had police called many times, and it has been complicated to get them to protect our rights, until now when we finally have the course resolution,” he wrote. “They have vandalized our property, causing us great financial damages. They were caught on camera doing that and yet the authorities didn’t do anything to protect us.”
Pochtar said protesters are also now forbidden from filming or photographing people who attend services. Additionally, he said protesters are required to obtain permits from city hall and the police before they can organize a demonstration outside the church.
“This is such a significant victory and breakthrough for not only Beit Hallel Congregation, but for all local believers in Israel,” Pochtar wrote. “It is so crucial to stand against injustice, especially when you know your rights and the law is on your side. We have to ‘prepare our horses for battle,’ so we can see God’s victory in the lives of all local Israeli believers who face religious oppression every day simply for their faith in Yeshua.”
Ludmila Zakharchuk, a lawyer for Congregation Beit Hallel, confirmed the court order to Kehila, a news organization that covers the Messianic Christian community.
“We won the court case just a few days ago,” Zakharchuk was quoted as saying. “They harassed us for so long. We filed dozens of complaints with the police and nothing happened so eventually we went to court.”
The court order comes as Messianic believers, those who believe in Christ as Messiah but hold to traditional Jewish traditions, have faced opposition to their outward expressions of faith from activists and groups like Yad Le-Achim.
Yad Le-Achim is said to be responsible for waging a six-month campaign urging Israeli media authorities to shut down GOD TV’s new Hebrew-language channel Shelanu, which sought to broadcast Messianic Jews sharing their faith in Christ.
The Israeli government announced on Sunday that it ordered Shelanu to stop broadcasting because of allegations the network hid a missionary agenda when it applied for a television license. Yad Le-Achim praised the decision as a “huge victory for Yad L’Achim.”
Pochtar said that Yad L’Achim members have also used their influence to exert pressure on his congregation from within city hall.
“[T]hey have been able to get our permit to operate our humanitarian work from our new building revoked,” Pochtar said. “Hundreds of families in need have suffered as a result of that, our work had to be restructured so that we are able to continue operating our humanitarian outreach despite the obstacles.”
Pochtar said that Yad Le-Achim also used its influence with the local Ministry of Interior Affairs in Ashdod to question the residency and citizenship status of several of the families that attend Beit Hallel.
“[O]ne of them is our Associate Pastor Eitan and his wife, Yulia, who has been denied any kind of status and almost deported, despite Eitan having citizenship,” Pochtar explained. “They’ve had to seek legal advice from a lawyer to help their case; something that is out of reach for most people.”
“All the avenues they have used in order to hurt, oppose, hinder and outright stop us and our work has been arbitrary and systematic,” Pochtar added. “They have not made it a secret and publicly called the entire Orthodox community to join forces with them in order to ‘cleanse the city’ from our presence, using “any means possible…’”