How Israelis Feels About Jewish Believers
There has been much talk over the last few years about the state of religious freedom in Israel. Some have accused the government and Israelis in general of being hostile toward those who believe in Jesus as their Messiah. This perception is magnified by violent acts against some believers and what Israelis refer to as “messianic congregations.” The attacks have accelerated recently and are becoming a matter of increased concern.
Last November, a large group of protesters (estimated by police to number approximately one thousand) surrounded an assembly that was meeting for regular worship services. They were reacting to a false rumor that members of the congregation had kidnapped 150 children in order to perform forced baptisms. Fortunately, police intervened and dispersed the crowd. This preposterous accusation is reminiscent of the one leveled against Jewish people in medieval times. They were charged with kidnapping Gentile children to use them in sacrificial ceremonies.
In another incident, a group of high school boys attacked the home of an American immigrant couple whom they suspected of missionary activity.
And in still another case, the apartment of Swiss Christians was torched by men who objected to their living in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem.
In Nazareth, a believer who used his car to transport people to worship services had the windshield of the car smashed and the air let out of its tires.
Reflections of a Larger Struggle
It must be understood that all of these incidents were perpetrated by members of ultra-Orthodox religious factions who are adamantly opposed to any manifestation or propagation of the Christian faith. This is true of attitudes toward Jewish believers, as well as Gentiles who wish to share their faith in Christ.
Their hostility is not confined to Christians. It is also being vented against nonreligious Jews. Indeed, some of the most violent acts have been committed against secular fellow-citizens who” in the view of the ultra Orthodox, violate the Sabbath and other regulations imposed by their sect. In other words, these people are attempting to regulate the lives of every citizen of Israel and impose their religious restrictions on the government. And, because of their role in the fragile coalitions that have marked Israeli governments since the state was reborn, they often have their way. Concessions have been made that give the state an appearance of being much more attached to ultra-conservative religious extremism than is actually true.
Recently, for example, the current government (under Benjamin Netanyahu) has spoken forcefully against such religious intolerance and reiterated Israel’s fundamental commitment to religious freedom and the rights of every Israeli to practice and propagate his or her faith. Meanwhile, ultra-Orthodox elements in the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) have submitted a succession of “Private Members” bills, which are opposed to any form of what they deem to be “missionary activity.” This will continue to occur. It does not mean, however, that the government or members of the Knesset with less stringent views on the matter of religious freedom support their position. As a nation, Israelis are guaranteed, by law, freedom of religion.
Giving Israel a Bad Rap
Regrettably, some Christians in the West have taken a cue from anti-Semitic critics of Israel and painted the entire nation with a brush dipped in ultra-Orthodox fanaticism. Such attitudes are extremely unfortunate. While speaking out against those who use coercive methods to suppress other religions, Christians committed to freedom of worship and witness should be an encouragement to those within Israel and its government who share their views on the matter of religious freedom. Above all, Christians must be aware of the sensitivities in dealing with a people who are basically committed to a Jewish state. Some who rail against Christians propagating their faith argue that Israel, as a Jewish nation, must be committed to Judaism as the only acceptable religion.
Evangelical, pro-Zionist believers have long been regarded by Israel to be among their best friends on the planet. It will be a serious setback to that relationship if unsubstantiated allegations strain the union.
All believers in Jesus—in or out of Israel—should remember the words of the Apostle Paul as they relate to Jewish and Christian positions on Jesus as Israel’s Messiah:
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Rom. 11:28–29).
Seeing the Other Side
Those who are willing to take a look at the other side of the coin will be encouraged by a recent poll that I believe is much nearer the mark when it comes to general attitudes among Israelis toward believers in Jesus.
The poll, taken in November 1998, was from a sampling of more than 500 people from representative areas within Israel. For starters, 70% of those polled expressed the opinion that Jewish believers in Jesus, being loyal to the State of Israel, deserve to be citizens with equal rights.
Of across-the-board religious people polled, 87% agreed that it is the role of a democratic society to protect the rights of religious minorities.
Of those polled, it was found that a majority—57%—oppose any laws that seek to abolish the right of Jewish believers to disseminate their faith. A significant 62% declared that they would support the right of free expression and dissemination of ideas by Israel’s minorities if a national referendum were taken on the issue.
In short, the findings illustrate that, in spite of all allegations to the contrary, Israel is an open society that allows all of its citizens to live according to their faith and conscience. Indeed, some 80% of those polled agreed that in a democracy, the individual has the right to live according to his or her own faith and conscience, even if his or her beliefs are in opposition to the opinion of another.
A Final Word
I, for one, believe that the day will come when objective Israelis will see in their brethren who happen to believe in the Jewish Jesus as their Messiah an asset rather than a liability. After all, these people serve without question in the army, offer their lives to preserve the nation, pay their taxes, respect the laws of the state, do not engage in acts of terrorism, are loyal to their country, and respect the religious rights of others. It seems, based on the results of the poll quoted, that Israelis in general tend to agree that Jewish believers are legitimate, productive citizens.
As for those of us who are staunch supporters of Israel and its people, may we experience a new sense of commitment to be an encouragement to the leaders of the state and to those who share our faith, and to challenge those who do not, with a genuine exhibition of the legitimacy of what we believe. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to the chosen people—may we be eager to demonstrate it.
(NOTE: For further information on this subject, order Mr. McQuaid’s book, The Zion Connection.)