An evangelical broadcaster with a contract to air Christian programs in Israel is now at risk of being shut down.
The reason? Some accuse the channel of trying to get Jews to become Christians.
The channel, called “GOD TV,” has put both Israel and its evangelical Christian supporters in a difficult position. It has also shown tensions between the two groups that have long been ignored.
American evangelical Christians are strong supporters of Israel. They see Israel as a predictor of the second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of time.
Israel has long accepted evangelicals’ political and financial support. The religious group’s importance in the United States has risen during the presidency of Donald Trump. Israel usually does not worry about any possible hidden goal the group has to convert Jewish people.
Most Jews see any effort to convert them to Christianity as deeply offensive. They compare such efforts to the thousands of years of persecution by Christian rulers. Because of this, most evangelicals rarely try to convert Jews.
“GOD TV” is an international Christian broadcaster. In March, it signed a seven-year agreement with HOT, Israel’s main cable provider. It described itself as making shows for Christians and began airing programs about three weeks ago.
“GOD TV” is known as “Shelanu” in Israel. It broadcasts in the Hebrew language, even though most Christians in Israel speak Arabic.
Ahead of the channel’s launch, “GOD TV” head Ward Simpson made a video announcement. In it, critics say, he spoke of the channel’s real goal: to convert Jews to Christianity.
Simpson said God was letting him take Christianity into the home of Jews. “They’ll watch secretly, they’ll watch quietly,” he said. “God is removing the blindness from their eyes.”
That video has since been taken down.
In a later video, Simpson admitted that “GOD TV” was under investigation by Israeli officials. He apologized for any offensive words and said "GOD TV" would follow all the rules.
Israel’s Communications Ministry said it was investigating a problem with the permission to broadcast that "GOD TV" received in March. HOT said it was not responsible for the broadcasts and has been completely open with Israeli officials during the investigation.
Freedom of religion is an important part of Israeli law. Proselytizing – or trying to get people to join a religion or cause – is permitted as long as the efforts do not involve money or people under the age of 18.
"GOD TV" was founded in Britain in 1995. It has grown into a 24-hour network with offices in several countries. It claims to reach 300 million homes worldwide.
Simpson has denied trying to convert Jews to Christianity. But he also said Jews who accept Jesus as the messiah can continue to practice their faith. He was talking about Messianic Jews, popularly known as “Jews for Jesus.”
All major Jewish groups reject Messianic Jews. Israel considers them to be converts to another religion.
“There’s no such thing really as the Messianic movement,” said Rabbi Tovia Singer. He leads an organization that works to stop missionary activity aimed at Jews.
Singer said Simpson’s willingness to speak openly about conversion demonstrates the growing influence of evangelical Christians in both Israel and the United States.
Simpson said "GOD TV" has no plans to go off the air in Israel.
“We love Israel,” he said.
I’m Susan Shand.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
evangelical – adj. being in agreement with the Christian gospel as it is presented in the New Testament
convert – v. to change from one religion, belief, political party, etc., to another
persecution – n. to treat (someone) cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs
cable – adj. a long wires that delivers television programming in to the home, rather than over the airwaves
proselytize – v. to try to persuade people to join a religion, cause, or group
missionary - adj. a person who is sent to a foreign country to do religious work
messiah - n. In Judaism, it is a king who will be sent by God to save the Jews. In Christianity, it refers to Jesus Christ.