With such friends, you don’t need enemies

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Last month, Israel “pulled the plug on God TV.” the evangelical channel “spreading the gospel of Jezus” to the Jews.

God TV is an evangelical TV network that, according to its website, broadcasts worldwide to hundreds of millions of viewers. The programs are made by broadcasters who have an Anglican, Pentecostal, “Full Gospel,” or Messianic-Jewish background.   Messianic Jews are Jews who accept the figure of Jezus as the Messiah, just like ‘normal’ Christians. From a traditional-Jewish viewpoint, Jews who take this step commit no less than high treason. In Israel, the non-practicing Jewish majority of the country’s population also denounces this disgraceful phenomenon unequivocally.

The God TV saga would have stayed under the radar, were it not that the current president of God TV, Ward Simpson, a US-based used-car distributor, had made a cardinal mistake. He announced – in a segment that was posted on YouTube – that God TV would bring the gospel on the Israeli HOT cable network, in Hebrew, to almost nine million viewers. God TV removed the YouTube clip after shortly after. Still, the irreparable damage, from God TV’s perspective, had been done already.

Fortunately, Rabbi Tovia Singer, Fortunately, Rabbi Tovia Singer , founder of the Outreach Judaism organization, had seen and downloaded the a.m. broadcast segment and made it available on his website.  Outreach Judaism combats missionary activities against Jews worldwide. Singer consequently got the ball rolling with his one-man campaign against the licensing of the network on HOT.

Soon enough, the story made the front pages of Israel’s Hebrew and English dailies. The mounting public outcry consequently forced the minister of Communications to hand down the order to the relevant civil servants to revisit the licensing issue and ultimately revoke the license altogether.

In Israel, God TV is run by a few American-born Messianic Jews. They have close ties to the US administration and the political establishment in Israel, among them Prime minister Netanyahu’s office and party.

Without the public uproar, that same political establishment surely would have allowed God TV to go forward with its nauseating broadcasts, as not to alienate the American evangelical right, who will support Netanyahu’s politics, no matter what.  

The question, however, begs: how on earth did Messianic Jews ever gain a foothold in Israel? Where did they come from? A generation ago, there were barely 2,000 people in Israel who identified as Messianic-Jewish. But according to Singers’ conservative estimate, in 2020, these numbers have risen ten-fold.

Why did this significant growth occur?

Who allowed these things to spin out of control?

And who bears the responsibility for these almost unthinkable developments?

As strange and incredible as the answer to the latter question may sound: it’s the fault of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and of the Ministry of Interior, which is headed by a convicted criminal, minister Aryeh Der’i, of the Shas party. They jointly share the blame.

Here’s why.

In the decade following the fall of the Iron Curtain and shortly afterward the downfall of the Soviet Union, some 1.3 million immigrants arrived in Israel from the former Soviet states. Eligible to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, they were welcomed with open arms by the State of Israel.

Israel’s Law of Return allows anyone who can show he has a Jewish mother, father, or grandparent to immigrate. The – now ultra-orthodox controlled – Chief Rabbinate, however, will only define someone as Jewish if he or she an unequivocally prove that he or she was born to a Jewish mother. Unfortunately, close to a hundred thousand of these new immigrants were not able to come up with any of that proof.

“Well, they could request to be converted, couldn’t they? That is possible, isn’t it?”

They surely could, if only there were programs that were tailored to the needs of these completely secular people who have no or little knowledge about their historical Jewish heritage and roots, let alone about Jewish tradition and religion. But the ultra-orthodox controlled Chief Rabbinate dismantled the existing network of conversion schools in religious kibbutzim, town, and cities all over the country decades ago. And the chief rabbinate’s rigid and uncompromising stand that candidates for conversion are expected to commit to an orthodox religious lifestyle after their conversion, is too hard a sell to these new Israelis.

For the Messianic Jewish communities, the attitude of the rabbinate was grist on their mill. It made these non-halachic Jews a perfect target. Excluded and excommunicated en masse by the religious establishment, it is estimated that there is a quarter of a million new immigrants and their offspring who are not considered Jewish.

According to Singer, this group has since long been an easy target. This group welcomes these people with open arms, straight into the arms of Jesus. Singer surmises that the majority of the 20,000 members of the messianic communities consist of these immigrants from the Soviet Union and their offspring.

I am not surprised.

Two excommunicated groups that have found one another, with the compliments of the State of Israel and the Chief Rabbinate.

How sad.

God TV, thank G-d, is off the air in Israel.

Bye Bye Mr. Simpson.

With such friends, you don’t need any enemies.