Several Christian organizations, including the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), recently had their requests for clergy visas denied, inhibiting them from carrying out projects that benefit Israel. Several Jewish leaders came out in unequivocal support of the organizations.
Rabbi Tuly Weisz, the head of Israel365, called on the Israeli government to fix the visa issue and open the doors to more Israel-loving Christians.
“Rather than slamming the door in the face of our Christian friends and excluding them from Israel, Israel’s government should be finding new ways to open more doors for the non-proselytizing Christian friends of Israel. At a time when we are seeing a global decline in support for Israel, especially from the young generation of Jews and Christians, Israel needs to maintain a close relationship with its allies. We need to be doing everything we can to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones with our Christian friends.
“Most Knesset members have never interacted personally with Christian Zionists,” Rabbi Weisz said. “Tragically, their notions of Jewish-Christian relations come from many centuries of bad history. They are unaware that this has changed, and there are now many millions of Christians around the world who love and support us unconditionally. We shouldn’t be afraid of engaging with Christians.”
“On the contrary, Israel365 has been investing in building these relationships. Through these relationships, we’re able to change the way many people perceive Israel and the Jewish people. These relationships are precious to Israel.”
“We call on Israeli officials and Knesset members to revisit this visa issue and to find ways to encourage our non-proselytizing Christian friends of Israel. We need to bring even more people into this country to see how beautiful it is and how they can work with Israel and the Jewish people. In this way, we can emphasize our shared heritage and values. We have a common goal; to strengthen the connection between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel.”
Rabbi Eli Mischel, the Director of Education at Israel365, noted that the incident involving the ICEJ may have been misdirected anger from Orthodox Jews toward Christians in general.
“Israelis are understandably angry about Evangelical groups that proselytize Jews in Israel,” Rabbi Mischel said. “Christian groups that proselytize should be banned from the Jewish state. But Organizations like the Christian Embassy, which do so much good for Israel and do not proselytize, should be welcomed here. Christians are diverse, just like we are. We must be able to distinguish and respond with love and gratitude to those who are our friends.”
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki, the executive director of The Center for Jewish–Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC), explained the source of the problem.
“While denying visas to the volunteers and the staff of institutions like the ICEJ is unproductive, Christians should understand where this is coming from,” Rabbi Wolicki said. “The efforts to evangelize and to proselytize to Jews in Israel have become bolder and better funded over the last few years, and that’s causing a reaction in the Jewish community. There’s growing sensitivity to this issue among the Jews. I think this merits a renewed effort by Christian organizations that are sincerely standing alongside Israel. There needs to be a relationship based on mutual respect. Christian organizations need to be more forceful, publicly disavowing any intention to proselytize in Israel.
“At the same time, whoever it was in the Interior Ministry who was responsible for these decisions should understand that by taking these actions, by denying visas, they are actually helping other organizations that do proselytize. Denying these visas and acting against good-faith allies leads the bad-faith missionary organizations to appear as victims and to be under fire from the Jewish state. Through this masquerade, the bad faith missionary organizations who are not true allies are able to raise a lot more money.”
“In addition, these actions by an unelected government official cause huge public relations damage to the State of Israel among the Christian community. We need to be very careful about how we move forward in this relationship at this critical time.”
David Nekrutman, the Executive Director of The Isaiah Projects and an Orthodox Jewish theologian, emphasized that a single act by a bureaucrat endangered Israel’s Biblical role.
“A mid-level Ministry of Interior unelected bureaucrat who is in charge of these visas decided for some reason to violate a 2019 agreement worked out between the Ministry of Interior and the Christian Zionist organizations,” Nekrutman explained. “While I personally feel the 2019 agreement doesn’t provide full organizational functionality for these Christian Zionist entities, an agreement is an agreement. They help Holocaust survivors, Israelis living below the poverty line, aid with Aliya, and carry out other projects to build the State of Israel. No less important is their advocacy, promoting Israel around the world.”
“It is my hope that both the Minister of Interior and the Prime Minister will get involved and reverse what this bureaucrat did. My government shouldn’t act this way to Christian leaders who have given up so much to change the course of Jewish-Christian relations and advocate on our behalf. We are commanded to be ‘a light unto the nations.’ This bureaucrat is working to extinguish the light of the Jewish nation.”
Jonathan Feldstein, President of the Genesis 123 Foundation and the host of the Inspiration from Zion podcast, called for a solution from the government.
“This needs to be a governmental priority, not left to the whim of a clerk or even an individual government minister,” Feldstein said. “Unfortunately, we change ministers too often. This inconsistency in policy complicates the work of our Christian friends here in Israel. It also generates unnecessary negative backlash from the Christian world. I have spoken to many Christian leaders about this, and they are distressed. They are being flooded with phone calls and emails asking why Israel doesn’t want Christians and why Israel is making it so difficult for them to help us. Many Christians are beginning to question their dedication to Israel when it appears that they are unwelcome. This is a complication that is bad for everybody who loves Israel, Jew and Christian alike.”