Christian Embassy in Jerusalem denied visas for clergy

I will bring them to My sacred mount And let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices Shall be welcome on My mizbayach; For My House shall be called A house of prayer for all peoples.”




(the israel bible)

August 23, 2023

4 min read

Several Christian organizations in Israel had their requests for clergy visas denied, inhibiting them from carrying out projects that benefit Israel. They fear that this is a product of elements in the new right-wing government. Behind this is a rising fear, mostly unfounded, among religious Jews that the Christian organizations’ love of Israel is based on a desire to proselytize and convert Jews to Christianity. 

Haaretz reported on Thursday that “Israel’s Interior Ministry has stopped issuing clergy visas to evangelical Christian organizations based in Israel, in a sudden and unexplained policy change they say threatens their future operations.”

This policy change seemed to be behind the Ministry of the Interior rejecting a request by the  International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) for clergy visas. The ICEJ was informed that the requests had been rejected on the grounds that it no longer qualifies as a religious institution. 

“This denial comes despite the fact that we are in both name and nature a Christian organization, are duly registered as a ‘Christian association’ and have been receiving clergy visas from the Ministry of the Interior for decades,”  David Parsons, vice president and senior spokesperson of the ICEJ, told Haaretz.

According to Parsons, the change in policy came without warning. He blames this change on several factors, including “improper supervision” in the Ministry of the Interior during the pandemic. The ministry stopped issuing work and clergy visas to ICEJ’s international staffers during the global pandemic and since the formation of Israel’s new government, has ceased issuing clergy visas altogether.

According to the immigration law firm Kan-Tor & Acco, “A-3 Religious visas (Clergy) are granted to non-Israeli nationals who intend to serve in an acknowledged religious establishment in Israel and permit global religious figures to carry out their religious duties.”

The A-3 visa is valid for a year and requires annual renewal. Its maximum duration stretches to five years, with potential for extension.

The law firm’s website noted the situation, specifically addressing the issue the ICEJ faced. 

“The Ministry of Interior has recently reported delays or in some cases did not issue religious visas for clerics from evangelical Christian groups operating in Israel, marking a significant shift in the nation’s policies,” it wrote. “It is not yet clear if this is a policy alteration that began with the establishment of the current Israeli administration. The Population and Immigration Authority noted that this matter has previously been discussed and will soon be reviewed by its director-general.”

Parsons believes the rejection of the ICEJ’s request comes from a “mid-level bureaucrat” within Israel’s Interior Ministry. He also blamed elements in the new government which are critical of Christians.

“We are slowly being squeezed out of existence by the interior ministry,” Parsons said. “We cannot continue our vital work to build global Christian support for Israel under these strict new rules.”

Juergen Buehler, president of the Christian Embassy, told All Israel News that his team hasn’t been told why the Interior Ministry has made this policy change towards ICEJ and other Evangelical groups. 

“The situation we face at the moment with the Ministry of Interior is unprecedented,” Buehler said. “It has made us unable to operate effectively in our mission to stand and support the State of Israel.”

“In particular, our television and media department is affected by the new visa policy which is even more difficult to understand. This is the main arm of the Christian Embassy for ‘hasbara’ [a Hebrew expression meaning public relations], telling good news about Israel and fighting anti-Semitism,” Buehler added.

“So, we are clueless and disappointed in this new change of policy in the Ministry of Interior and, of course, we hope this will be reversed to the previous mode of operation as soon as possible.”

ICEJ has helped Israel enormously. The organization has been active in Israel since 1980 with branches in over 90 countries, keeping its embassy in Israel when most countries moved their embassies to Tel Aviv. The ICEJ has played a significant role in assisting Jews to immigrate to Israel. The group has provided more than 250 bomb shelters, cared for hundreds of Holocaust survivors and invested $25 million a year in various humanitarian projects in the country.

The Baptist Convention of Israel and Christian Friends of Israel have also encountered problems obtaining A-3 visas in recent months. Lacking A-3 visas, workers for the religious organizations must obtain volunteer visas which are far more limited. Volunteer visa holders are restricted to traveling alone, without dependents. Additionally, the terms of the visas mandate a departure from the country for a minimum of six months every two years.

Calev Myers, an attorney representing ICEJ, said that the ICEJ plans to appeal the decision. If the appeals are denied, he warned that they would take the case to court.

“These organizations cannot continue to function without at least 10-15 permanent staff members,” Myers told the Jerusalem Post. “These are very large organizations with 40 to 60 employees, most temporary or volunteers. But to build an organization, you have to have stable leadership. You cannot have people who come and go every year.”

Tensions between Orthodox Israeli Jews and Christians have been rising due to that the Christians are here to proselytize Jews. In March, a law was proposed in the Knesset by the United Torah Judaism alliance that would have criminalized missionizing in Israel. 

It is important to emphasize that the ICEJ has never been involved in any attempts to proselytize in Israel.

Incidents of anti-Christian activity in Jerusalem have become so prevalent that the Israeli branch of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) penned a letter on Wednesday to Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion. 

Carol Nuriel, the CEO of the ADL in Israel, wrote that “In light of the continued attacks against Christians in Jerusalem by a minority of Jewish individuals, I am writing to convey the deep concerns of the League.” She stressed the role of leaders in curbing such sentiments, stating, “As a Jewish leader, it’s imperative that you condemn this anti-Christian sentiment, just as we would expect other leaders to denounce antisemitism wherever it’s found.”

“Our collective vision is for Jerusalem to be an inclusive city… I implore you… to make it abundantly clear that there is no room for hatred against Christians in our sacred city.”

In the first three weeks of July, 17 discriminatory acts against Christians were reported across Israel, as reported by independent researcher and activist Yisca Harani. They included spitting, verbal abuse, vandalism, and stone-throwing.

Freedom of religion is mandated by Israeli law. Classified as free speech, proselytizing is currently legal in the country and missionaries of all religious groups are allowed to proselytize all citizens; however, a 1977 law prohibits any person from offering material benefits as an inducement to conversion. It is also illegal to convert persons under 18 years of age unless one parent is an adherent of the religious group seeking to convert the minor. The law, which had been unsuccessfully proposed many times in the past, did not pass. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article may have been misunderstood to mean that the ICEJ proselytizes. The ICEJ is not involved in proselytizing in Israel.

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