Israel's fight against Christian missionaries

Tel Aviv, Israel - Evangelical Christians, often termed Christian Zionists in Israel, have become the strongest supporters of Israel outside the Jewish community. The number of Christian Zionist visitors to Israel grows every year, as does the number of Christian business partners.

With this positive support, however, there is sometimes a price tag - and that price is Jewish souls. Christian missionary efforts in Israel are substantially higher and it’s started to worry some Jewish business people. About one year ago, a small group of Jewish entrepreneurs got together and decided to take a stand. That stand became the group Gesher Tsar and a set of guidelines - mostly for Jews, but also for Christians - on how to work together.

One of Gesher Tsar’s founders is Deborah Cohen [name changed]. She said she came into contact with Christians as a tour guide during the second intifada, just under 10 years ago. She was enthralled by the outpouringof support and love these Christians showed, but quickly became perturbed by the inclination of some to proselytize Jews.

“It has come to the point where you cannot work with Christian groups without coming to the pitfall of Messianics,” Cohen said, noting that these Christians can’t understand why Jews refuse to accept them as Jewish.

“I am trying to walk this narrow bridge of being friends with Christians but getting them to understand we cannot be freinds if they ... try to proselytize me,” said Cohen. “We are working on this friendship because it is time to put an end to almost 2,000 years of persecution and because Israel needs this friendship.”

They cannot understand why we refuse to accept them as Jews. ... We are working on this friendship because it is time to put an end to almost 2,000 years of persecution and because Israel needs this friendship.”

Israel also, however, needs to preserve its Jewish identity. Israeli kids are less educated about the threat of Hebrew Christians than most Americans are, Cohen explained, most Israelis “don’t understand the Messianic thing,” and are at risk for being misled to thinking they are still practicing Judaism, when in fact they are acting as Christians.

Gesher Tsar’s guidelines, which Cohen’s group is trying to disseminate through the Ministry of Tourism and by word of mouth, include items like “relations with ... organizations or individuals who are engaged in activity that could be construed as proselytizing activity targeting Jews [and] organizations or individuals which identify themselves as Messianic Jewish [unless under certain conditions] ... should be seen as counterproductive,” that Jewish groups should not allow themselves to be associated with such groups nor should they provide a platform to any Christian who will advocate for the conversion of Jews to Christianity.

The guidelines, said Cohen are just now starting to catch on.

She said she would not be so worried about the missionaries, except that often “it starts as love and ends in the Crusades or the gas chambers,” and she does not like that Hebrew Christians consider themselves to be Jewish when, in fact, as many as 90 percent of them are not by Jewish law.

Cohen said there is now a distint danger that that the attempt to build friendships will boomerang into an attack on Israel by the very people we have been cultivating as friends, because in thier eyes, Jewish Israelis are unfairly persecuting the Messianics by not accepting them as Jewish.

“There are already organizations of Christians trying to get rights for Messianics in the Israeli court system, to have them recognized under the law of return, etc., etc., which is terrible,” she said. “This would mean the de-legitimization of being able to determine for ourselves who is a Jew and who is not a Jew, something people of every other religion have.”