by Judy Maltz
Fearful of losing its license to broadcast in Israel, an evangelical network insists that its missionary activities are not a violation of Israeli law.
In a video message posted over the weekend, God TV CEO Ward Simpson declared that the network has no intention of using its platform to convert Jews to Christianity, which could be considered a violation of its broadcasting license and of Israeli law.
He suggested, rather, that its goal was to persuade Jews in Israel to embrace Jesus as the messiah without renouncing their Judaism – that is to say, it hoped to turn them into Messianic Jews, also sometimes known as “Jews for Jesus.”
“Proselytizing in Israel is a very touchy subject,” said Simpson in a video posted on the God TV website on Friday. “You cannot try to convert Jews, you cannot try to make them become a Christian, which we aren’t anyway. … Those things you can’t do and we won’t do. We just teach and preach and share Christian content, and let the Lord do the rest. Our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters don’t convert. They continue to live the lives of Jews. They just believe Yeshua is the messiah, and they follow him.”
The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, the regulatory body that operates under the auspices of the Israeli Communications Ministry, is currently investigating whether God TV, which launched its new Israeli channel, Shelanu, two weeks ago, is in violation of the terms of its license. Its license stipulates that it cannot carry programs that wield “undue influence” on viewers. This would include proselytizing.
The council launched the investigation after it became aware of a video message posted by Simpson, in which he declared that the new channel aimed “to take the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of the Jewish people.”
The video message was taken down after the investigation was announced. Asher Biton, chairman of the council, told Haaretz that God TV had never shared its plans to use the cable channel for missionary activities. What the cable council had been told, he said, was that the channel would carry programming earmarked for pro-Israel, Christian audiences.
In the latest video message, Simpson said he regretted that “some of the language I used was offensive to some folks and maybe not in keeping with what we can and cannot say on the network.” He also apologized “for anything we might have said or done to create the appearance that we’re not going to follow the guidelines.”
He also promised “to follow all the rules and regulations that govern our TV license.”
At the same time, he refused to rule out missionizing. “The subject of preaching about Jesus is a touchy one, and we do understand that, and we have to be sensitive to it,” he said. “But that’s what we do, and that’s who we are. We’re Christians, and we’re called to go into the world and preach the gospel. That’s what we’re trained to do, and that’s what we’re doing.”
God TV is a huge international Christian network that broadcasts in some 200 countries around the world. It signed a seven-year contract with Hot, the Israeli cable television provider, to host Shelanu. More than 700,000 Israeli households subscribe to Hot, which controls nearly 50 percent of the multichannel market in the country.
Shelanu is broadcast on Hot’s Channel 182. The description provided to subscribers on television screens says it is a “faith-based channel geared toward pro-Israel Christians.” Some of its programs are translated or dubbed into Hebrew, while others are produced locally by the Israeli Messianic community
It is not the first Christian channel to broadcast in Israel. Other examples include Daystar and Middle East Television. Shelanu is the first, however, to broadcast in Hebrew and to openly flaunt its missionary activities.
In a letter sent several months ago to members of the Messianic community in Israel, God TV regional director Ron Cantor wrote: “This has never been done before. We have tried to fly below the radar, not because we are ashamed or seeking to hide anything, but because the Orthodox community will do anything to keep the message of Yeshua out of this country. Please pray.”