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Arlene Bridges Samuels
In Essentials, Unity

Will Interior Ministry’s Christian Visa Denial Risk a Benefit Loss for Israel?

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The commitment of Christian advocates runs deep for beautiful Israel. For me, a patriotic American, Israel is my spiritual homeland. Regarding the Interior Ministries’recent denial of visas, I hope my perspective as a long time Christian advocate for Israel offers a practical perspective.

In the past, although frictions are not unusual over issuing visas to Christian organizations and clergy, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) and Israel’s Ministry of Interior have quietly settled those issues behind the scenes. However, the Interior Ministry’s recent surprising move to deny essential visas to ICEJ—a prominent international Christian organization home based in Israel—is now out in the open.

ICEJ’s Vice President and senior spokesman, David Parsons, explained that the Interior Ministry refused to issue visas during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s concerned because the rejections have now expanded into three years. Parsons comments, “We finally had to go public, and they are saying now we are not a religious organization.”

Since its founding in 1980, ICEJ has been registered as a religious organization. The hopes are that an upcoming hearing will expose a bureaucratic mistake, followed by a possible reversal. Israeli law clearly confirms that the decisions of the Ministry of Interior require that granting or denying visas must be based on correct, reasonable facts without bias.

Parsons described the results if the decision is not reversed: “We are slowly being squeezed out of existence by the Interior Ministry. We cannot continue our vital work to build global Christian support for Israel under these strict new rules.” At this writing, no explanation is forthcoming yet to ICEJ. Moshe Arbel, interior minister in the Knesset, would do well to seriously reconsider several deeply troubling consequences of its damaging decision. Arbel must pay attention to the relational damage toward dedicated Christian staff and 600 million evangelicals worldwide who financially support a range of respected Christian ministries and media in the Holy Land.

Using the concept of return on investment (ROI), the Shas religious party’s ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Arbel might consider an evaluation of the economic and humanitarian benefits to Israel from ICEJ and numerous other respected Christian organizations in Israel. These organizations do not ask Israel for money- they donate! One fact to note is explained in an article written by American Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman. He explores the concept, “Is It Permissible to Accept Charity from Christians?” He estimates that American Christians donate “hundreds of millions of dollars to both Christian and Jewish charities in Israel.”

Here is what Rabbi Arbel would discover about ICEJ-as an example of other respected Christian organizations-if he examined their more than four decades of commitment to Israelis:

In 1980, ICEJ drove a stake in the ground through prayer and established a Christian embassy. The Knesset had officially declared Israel’s sovereignty over all of Jerusalem on July 30, 1980, enacting Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel. Abandoning biblical history and Israel’s sovereign decision-making rights, nations (including the U.S.) reacted by relocating their embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The minimally funded founders of ICEJ, who met in a small, cramped Jerusalem office, made the decision to stand with Israel IN Jerusalem—Israel’s eternal capital.

Now in its 43rd year, ICEJ has offices in 93 countries, and an immeasurable humanitarian imprint on the ground in Israel. Israel’s citizens—Jews, Arabs, Druze, Ethiopians, and more—benefit from ICEJ staff and volunteers in numerous outreaches throughout Israel. Aiding women in crisis, distributing food, and improving children’s homes, ICEJ’s merciful work with Holocaust survivors is also essential in the waning days of their lives.

Sadly, a quarter of Israel’s 165,000 Holocaust survivors live in poverty. Ninety percent of survivors are above 80 years old. Illness and loneliness are rampant. ICEJ provides food and friendship with in-person visits—especially to those living alone. In 2009 ICEJ—partnering with a local Jewish charity—founded the Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors, which provides assisted living and a loving staff. ICEJ has also established an emergency call line for Holocaust survivors in crisis.

Another lifesaving achievement implemented by ICEJ, with the financial commitment of churches and individuals worldwide, is the placement of more than 150 portable bomb shelters manufactured in Israel that protect Israeli civilians under fire from Gaza terrorists. ICEJ’s efforts have also resulted in more than 160,000 Jews making Aliyah to their ancestral homeland from all over the world. ICEJ works closely with the Jewish Agency for Israel and many other organizations in this massive effort.

Isaiah 49:22 NIV captures the spirit of Aliyah—“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I will beckon to the nations, I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their hips.”

I daresay Rabbi Moshe Arbel would not want to slow down the arrival of Jews to their homeland based on God’s promises in Isaiah 49:22. But with visas presently denied, the number of staff and volunteers is reduced—and Israelis go wanting without the love and help that Christians provide. How will the Ministry of Interior overcome such a shortfall?

Additionally, the Christian media presence inside and outside Israel is an important factor that Interior Minister Arbel hopefully will consider. As a Christian journalist, I have attended several Christian Media Summits hosted by Israel’s Government Press Office. At both summits, in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s keynotes, he praised Evangelicals and Christian media in glowing terms. He described Christian media as “Ambassadors of truth—you’re not merely the greatest ambassadors that Israel has around the world—you’re champions of truth.”

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ICEJ is among respected Christian media worldwide that report news, educational resources, and truths about Israel. It also hosts tours, and annually implements the biggest tourist event in Israel, the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Upwards of 5,000 evangelicals worldwide travel to Israel each year for weeklong celebrations. Their presence is not only an economic boon; it is an outflow of encouragement to Jewish families lining Jerusalem’s streets during Israel’s Parade of Nations. This year’s celebration is September 29-October 6 with its theme King of All the Earth.

ICEJ—and many other fine Christian ministries in Israel, worldwide Christian media, and Evangelicals—are what I call “information armies of facts.” We stand as a bulwark—with God’s help, strength, and wisdom—to oppose the poisonous propaganda of Israel’s enemies.

May Rabbi Moshe Arbel and Israel’s Interior Ministry view us all as friends who will continue to exert prayers and actions on behalf of Israel’s diverse population.

About the Author
Arlene Bridges Samuels is a pioneer in pro-Israel Christian advocacy for more than two decades in positions with Israel Always and Earl Cox, Israel's Goodwill Ambassador to Christians and Jews, SE Region Outreach Director at American Israel Public Affairs Committee, (AIPAC) and International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA's project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Since 2020, she is the weekley featured columnist at The Christian Broadcasting Network Israel, and frequent Guest Columnist for Allisrael News and The Jerusalem Connection Report. Arlene co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited. Traveling to Israel since 1990, by invitation she attends the GPO Christian Media Summit and serves on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina.