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Jewish debate cause for concern for Christians in Israel?comments (4)

January 30, 2014

Jewish debate cause for concern for Christians in Israel?

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.


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Comments (4)

    Ralf 2/11/2014 12:14 AM

    Point of clarification, visitors are welcome to come to Israel, just like any other country.
    Visitors are welcome to preach at religious sites especially with tour groups.

    However missionising is neither welcome nor desirable. It is quite simply arrogant and insulting. While missionaries may feel they are fulfilling a religious calling to save souls, the State of Israel - the only Jewish country in the world, with no shortage of hostile elements - foreign and domestic - is off limits to missionaries. It's the one and only Jewish state and we appreciate you show some respect and refrain from exporting your beliefs.

  • Jonathan 2/11/2014 12:38 AM

    "To those who oppose Messianics, this fact alone means Barnett is no longer a Jew. For them, belief in Jesus eliminates ones ethnicity, self-identity, history, ancestry and culture"

    Incidentally I showed this to a partner in my firm who is jewish and it seems (according to him & the wikipedia search I did) you got some information wrong. According to Jews he said if your mother is Jewish then you are always Jewish in the eyes of Jewish law. No matter who you convert to or what you do Judaism still sees you as Jewish.

    This pokes some wholes in the implications you are alluring to. Not that your article doesn't shed light on a bad situation that happened there. But what you are inferring it means is based on untrue information. Some research would be nice next time.

  • Jay Gutfrund 2/11/2014 2:00 PM

    I was born in the U.S. to devout Roman Catholic parents. In my young adulthood I switched to Protestantism. Later on, following a long preparatory period, I converted to Orthodox Judaism, It was what had been missing all my life -- I had finally found my spiritual home and have never looked back nor regretted it for even an instant.

    I have since moved to Israel with my wife and our two children. One of the nice things here is that -- depending on where one lives -- a Jew can tune into at least one or more radio stations with kosher Jewish religious programming. Such a pleasant thing. While I of course support the idea of freedom of religion and appreciate the pro-Zionist sympathies of many conservative Christians, I don't miss the Christian missionary programming so commonly heard on the radio wherever one resides in the U.S.

    On the subject of Christian missionizing to Jews: contrary to what I was taught as a child, Torah Judaism is a rich and living belief system, inexhaustibly nourishing, whatever a particular Jew's spiritual level may be. In my opinion, the only Jew that could be successfully persuaded to "change teams", to leave Torah and mitzvot behind and put his faith in the Christian messiah, is a Jew who has not been properly schooled in his religion -- someone who isn't aware of the richness of his own spiritual heritage.

    Or perhaps someone who is a little lazy; no doubt Judaism, properly practiced, is more demanding in terms of time and effort than standard Christianity.

    I've been approached a few times by visiting Christian tourists who have attempted to missionize. All I can do is smile and shake my head. They have no idea what they're asking me to do. A Jewish heart can only be truly happy when practicing the religion of his forefathers.

    Christian missionaries in Israel should also take into account that by converting a Jew they are ripping that Jew away from his community, away from the Jewish majority in Israel. You are building a barrier between him and full, healthy integration into Jewish society. That's not a very nice thing to do.

    Given Jewish history and the many forcible attempts over the centuries to convert Jews, a Jewish convert to Christianity may not find his friends to be very understanding of his decision. You may gain a convert for a while, but your're leaving that convert in a much weaker position, emotionally and psychologically than that in which you found him. You're crippling him.

    The world is a big place; there are plenty of potential converts elsewhere. With all due respect, Jews were not meant to believe in the Christian messiah.

  • O'Pinyon 2/23/2014 9:22 PM

    "With all due respect, Jews were not meant to believe in the Christian messiah."
    I'm not sure what you mean by "the Christian messiah" but, thank God, there have always been Jews who believe in Yeshua, or there would be no Goyim like me who believe in Him, either.

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