Jewish debate cause for concern for Christians in Israel?comments (4)
January 30, 2014
As Barry Barnett’s plane lifted off from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport in December 2013, he sat torn with emotion.
During the prior two weeks the British citizen had been harassed, arrested, interrogated, locked in jail and deported from a country that he had loved deeply since childhood.
Born to a German Jewish woman, Barnett — who believes his faith in Jesus completes his Jewish identity — had been in Israel for about a month and was happy to be returning to the safety and comfort of his London home. At the same time, he was sad at the thought that he might never see Israel again.
A worker with Jews for Jesus U.K., the 50-year-old Barnett was arrested Nov. 20, 2013, near Beer Sheva in southern Israel by immigration enforcement officers while volunteering in an outreach to Israelis.
Barnett was held for four days and then told by authorities that telling others about his belief in Jesus was “illegal missionary work” because he was under a tourist visa. They released him on a $1,440 bond and ordered him to leave the country by Dec. 3, 2013.
If Barnett’s deportation order stands, it could set a legal precedent to limit missionary work or other forms of religious expression by foreign visitors.
Dan Sered, Israeli director for Jews for Jesus, said, “The global ethics code for tourism, which the state of Israel signed and even advertises on its own Ministry of Tourism Web page, states that tourism for the purpose of exchanging religious beliefs is not only valid but also should be encouraged.
“[Barnett’s case] is important because any Christian who comes to Israel could be deported for simply expressing his faith,” he said. “For example, there are pastors who come to Israel with tour groups and preach at different religious sites. Now Israel is saying that these pastors are going against their received B2 visa and they are doing something wrong. This might hurt tourism to Israel, not to mention that as the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel should be an example of religious freedom and freedom of speech.”
When Barnett was in his 20s, he lived in Ashkelon, Israel, where he studied Hebrew and did community service activities with children. His British father is Jewish. His mother is a “Kinder,” one of the adult survivors of a group of some 10,000 children of Jewish parents who were rescued from Europe in 1939 to save them from Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
Barnett started to believe that Jesus is the Messiah after a difficult divorce led him to seek God more deeply. His search eventually led him to read a copy of the New Testament, and he started to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
To those who oppose Messianics, this fact alone means Barnett is no longer a Jew. For them, belief in Jesus eliminates one’s ethnicity, self-identity, history, ancestry and culture.
Most Israelis aren’t this extreme and treat Messianics with tolerance or view them as a curiosity. But the leaders and adherents of hard-core Orthodox sects in Israel tend to view Messianic believers as either cult victims or traitors.
“Throughout history, Jewish people have been told that if you convert to Christianity, you are leaving Judaism … but that is not true at all,” Barnett said. “It is not a conversion, but it is a completion … of being a Jew.
“The question isn’t, ‘Can you be a Jew and believe in Yeshua?’ The question is, ‘Is Jesus the Son of God, the Savior of the world?’”
The Israeli court system has historically been a bastion of protection for Messianic Jews. It has come to the defense of Messianic Jews against the Ministry of Interior and against quasi-governmental religious organizations that wield considerable power in Israeli society. There are approximately 20,000 Messianic Jews living in Israel, according to the U.S. State Department.
According to a 2011 report of the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel, there are 7.9 million people living in Israel, of which, 76 percent are Jews and 2 percent are Christians.