Update March 22: All Israel News reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted today, “We will not advance any law against the Christian community.” In addition, Moshe Gafni, one of the members who introduced the legislation, issued a statement that the legislation is not being promoted at this time.
“I am deeply grateful to the Prime Minister for his strong, clear unequivocal statement in defense of the Israeli Christian community and that he will not allow the bill by MK Gafni to move forward,” Joel C. Rosenberg said. “As I have written, Netanyahu is a longtime proven friend to the global Christian community, and this statement is further proof.”
Original article: Two ultra-Orthodox members of Israel’s Knesset have introduced legislation that would outlaw any efforts by people of one faith to persuade people of other faiths to consider changing their beliefs, according to a report by All Israel News.
Violations would be punishable by one year in prison if an evangelistic conversion takes place with an adult, or two years if with a minor.
The legislation targets not only personal conversations but any communication “directly, digitally, by mail, or online.”
In an English translation of the legislation’s explanatory notes, Knesset members Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Asher state:
“Recently, the attempts of missionary groups, mainly Christians, to solicit conversion of religion have increased.
“At times these attempts do not involve monetary promises or material gains and are therefore not illegal according to the current law, but the many negative repercussions, including psychological damages, warrant the intervention of the legislature.
“This is particularly in light of the fact that most of the attempts to bring people to convert their religion target the weaker classes who, due to their social-economic standing, are more easily open to persuasion attempts such as these.”
Former U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback provided the following comment to All Israel News:
“Free and democratic countries simply do not outlaw the free exchange of ideas and that includes religious beliefs and convictions. Article 18 of the Universal Charter of Human Rights—which Israel has signed onto—guarantees freedom of religion, including the right to decide your own faith beliefs.”
In the All Israel News report, editor-in-chief Joel C. Rosenberg notes that Gafni has introduced similar legislation repeatedly since 1999, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party have never allowed such legislation to advance or be approved in the past. In fact, “for three decades Netanyahu has actively and consistently courted and cultivated strong support for Israel among Evangelical Christians,” Rosenberg said.
But Netanyahu’s current coalition government is comprised of many Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox members, Rosenberg added, and “these members appear to believe that Netanyahu cannot afford to lose their votes if he hopes to remain prime minister and hopes to advance his other important policy priorities, including stopping the Iranian regime from building nuclear weapons, making peace with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, strengthening and expanding the Israeli economy (especially as the U.S. economy slows), and passing sweeping judicial reforms.”
Above: The Knesset Building in West Jerusalem.
Photo: Middle East/Alamy Stock Photo