A few weeks ago we shared our concerns about Shelanu TV directly with the Christian evangelical world in a piece in the Christian Post. We explained why Jews – in Israel and outside of it – were upset about a new channel on the GOD TV network. Its press release – since reworded – announced, “Today we made history! For the first time ever, a Messianic television channel is broadcasting the Gospel across Israel in the Hebrew language.” Israel’s Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting has now suspended its license.
We wrote our essay because of our long and deep friendship with many in the Christian world, particularly its evangelicals. Even the most ardent Zionists among them had a hard time understanding why their democratic ally would restrict free religious expression. We told our Christian friends about the history behind the deep-seated Jewish revulsion to proselytizing Jews. It was important that our friends should realize that we – like they – have lines that we will not cross, even for friends. We explained that Israel does not prohibit proselytizing, but does ban missionizing to minors, which is certainly inevitable in TV broadcasts.
There are “We told you so” reactions in the Jewish community. Given the two-thousand- year history of church hostility and persecution, it is understandable that some Jews continue to see a hidden agenda of conversion in every Christian overture to us. We politely differ. We know better, after decades of experience with countless Christians who genuinely love and respect Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish State. But we will also be the first to sound the alarm when the support of some groups includes targeting Jewish souls. Jewish souls are not negotiable.
Ward Simpson, GOD TV’s CEO, protested that Shelanu wasn’t proselytizing. “The goal is not converting Jews to Christianity. It is helping them recognize Jesus as their Messiah without renouncing their Jewish identity or calling.”
Telling us that you can be fully Jewish while accepting Jesus as the Jewish savior just doesn’t work. With all due respect, Mr. Simpson, you don’t get to tell us about Judaism. Conversion to us means winning Jews over to a system of religious beliefs that are entirely incompatible with the essence of Judaism – like the divinity of Jesus. Messianics either can’t recognize this, or won’t admit it.
Meanwhile, Ron Cantor, Regional Director for GOD TV in Israel and Shelanu responded to us, ignoring our arguments and entirely reversed Simpson’s claims: “Shelanu TV provides an outlet of expression for thousands of Israeli Messianic Jews and Christian Arabs to express their faith in Yeshua.” So, friends, is Shelanu for the internal consumption of Israeli messianics and Christians, or for convincing Israeli Jews? Which is it?
Most instructive was a second response to our Christian Post essay, this time by the elder sage of the messianic movement, Dr. Michael Brown. His argument: “So my question is this: Do you see no difference between past Christian efforts to missionize Jews, which included forcing them to break all ties with their people, their culture, and their calendar, and Israeli Messianic Jews, who observe Shabbat and celebrate the Feasts and live in the Land, sharing their faith… simply encouraging our Jewish people… to reexamine the possibility that Yeshua is our Messiah?”
Actually, Dr. Brown, we don’t.
It is tragic that you don’t understand that we survived for two millennia in exile believing that our spiritual legacy – including our understanding of G-d’s Oneness and the nature of the Messiah – was more important than life itself. Your very question is an insult to our forebears over the centuries who refused to bend, neither to the threat of the auto-da-fe, nor to glib-tongued enticements of a richer material life.
Back to our evangelical friends. Many understood from the outset that Shelanu’s agenda was inappropriate. Others, however, were upset since “sharing the Good News” with everyone is a core part of evangelical belief. In our Christian Post op-ed, we offered that Israel’s regulations steer a middle course between the interests of Jews and Christians, as befits a state that is both Jewish and democratic. As we quoted Ward Simpson himself, “To exercise the right of free speech here [in Israel] without any regard for that history or the Jewish sensitivities against missionizing would be a callous misuse of that right.” Acting in the spirit of compromise is in the interests of all of us.
Evangelicals will hopefully remember that they have far more freedom in Israel than anywhere else in the Middle East, to not only practice their faith, but to shout it from the rooftops. (Alas, more freedom, it seems, than in some parts of the United States today.)
We believe that the vast majority of our Christian friends will understand. Those who do not, we fear, may never have been real friends to begin with.
Co-authored by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.