Messianic Jews say they are persecuted in Israel
‘Messianic Jews’ are Jewish people who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Messiah, Savior and Lord. They are sometimes referred to as “Fulfilled Jews” – a reference to the idea that they consider the Jewish prophecies regarding a promised Messiah to have been fulfilled in Jesus.
TEL AVIV, Israel — Safety pins and screws are still lodged in 15-year-old Ami Ortiz’s body three months after he opened a booby-trapped gift basket sent to his family. The explosion severed two toes, damaged his hearing and harmed a promising basketball career.
Police say they are still searching for the assailants. But to the Ortiz family the motive of the attackers is clear: The Ortizes are Jews who believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
Israel’s tiny community of Messianic Jews, a mixed group of 10,000 people who include the California-based Jews for Jesus, complains of threats, harassment and police indifference.
The March 20 bombing was the worst incident so far. In October, a mysterious fire damaged a Jerusalem church used by Messianic Jews, and last month ultra-Orthodox Jews torched a stack of Christian holy books distributed by missionaries.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry and two chief rabbis were quick to condemn the burning, but the Ortiz family says vigorous police action is needed.
“I believe that it will happen again, if not to us, then to other Messianic believers,” said Ami’s mother, Leah Ortiz, a 54-year-old native of South Orange, N.J.
Proselytizing is strongly discouraged in Israel, a state that was established for a people that suffered centuries of persecution for not accepting Jesus and has little tolerance for missionary work.
At the same time, Israel has warm relations with U.S. evangelical groups, which strongly support its cause, but these generally refrain from proselytizing inside Israel. Even the Mormon church, which has mission work at its core worldwide, agreed when it opened a campus in Jerusalem to refrain from missionary activity.
“Historically the core of Christianity … was ‘convert or die,’ so it was seen and is still seen as an assault on Jewish existence itself,” said Rabbi David Rosen, who oversees interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee. “When you are called to join another religion, you are being called on to betray your people.”
Rabbi Sholom Dov Lifschitz, head of the ultra-Orthodox Yad Leahim organization that campaigns against missionary activity in Israel, says Messianic Jews give him “great pain.”
Many Messianic Jews say they recognize the sensitivities involved and do not distribute religious material or conduct high-profile campaigns. But Aharon noted a recent “Jews for Jesus” campaign with signs on buses that equated two similar Hebrew words _ “Jesus” and “salvation.” Public outrage quickly forced the bus company to remove the signs.
Lawyer Dan Yakir of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel says the law allows missionaries to preach provided they don’t offer gifts or money or go after minors.
“It is their right according to freedom of religion to maintain their religious lifestyle and disseminate their beliefs, including through literature,” he said.
Calev Myers, a lawyer who represents Messianic Jews, said he has fought 200 legal cases in the past two years. Most involve authorities’ attempts to close down houses of worship, revoke the citizenship of believers or refuse to register their children as Israelis. In one case, Israel has accused a German religion student of missionary activity and has tried _ so far unsuccessfully _ to deport her.
In incidents of violence, police are reluctant to press charges, Myers said.
– Source: Laurie Copans, Messianic Jews say they are persecuted in Israel, AP, via the Washington Post, June 21, 2008
Interestingly, Israel Today — in an article subtitled as “Series of attacks and acts of discrimination cause groundswell of sympathy for Messianics among average Israelis” — writes:
What has become clear from these cases is that Israelis are mostly ignorant about Messianic Jews, and the violent acts carried out by anti-missionary groups do not represent the public at large. If anything, these incidents have brought sympathy.
– Source: Nicole Jansezian, Messianic Jews make headlines, Israel Today, June 23, 2008 [Full text available only to Israel Today subscribers]
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – An American lawyer is pressing Israel to move ahead with the investigation into the bomb attack on the home of Messianic pastor. The pastor’s son was seriously injured in March, when he opened a gift basket that had been rigged with explosives.
“Justice has to be served,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington-based conservative civil liberties law firm.
“This was an attempted murder because of religious belief,” Sekulow told Cybercast News Service in a telephone interview. Sekulow, who is currently visiting Israel, said he and other lawyers want to make sure that there is no “trend” of religious persecution developing here.
– Source: Julie Stahl, Americans Press Israel to Find Culprits in Attack on Pastor’s Home, CNSnews, June 23, 2008