Although proselytizing can be against the law in Israel, a brand-new evangelical channel dedicated to taking “the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of the Jewish people” had its official launch last week on cable television.
Shelanu (Hebrew for “Ours”) TV is the new Hebrew-language channel of God TV, an international Christian media network that broadcasts in some 200 countries around the world. God TV signed a seven-year contract with HOT, the Israeli cable television provider, to host the channel. More than 700,000 Israeli households subscribe to HOT, which controls nearly 50 percent of the multichannel market in the country.
In a video message announcing the launch, Ward Simpson, the CEO of God TV, said: “God TV has been given government permission to broadcast the gospel of Jesus Christ – Yeshua the Messiah – in Israel on cable TV in the Hebrew language. Never before, as far as we know in the history of the world, has this ever been done.”
HOT received a license to air the new channel from the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, the regulatory body that operates under the auspices of the Israeli Communications Ministry. But when contacted by Haaretz on Monday, the chairman of the council, Asher Biton, said he had not been aware that the new channel planned to engage in missionary activities, which are prohibited under the terms of its license. He said he had ordered an investigation into the matter, and if it emerged that the terms of the license had been violated or that there was an intention to violate them, he would close down the new channel.
“According to our regulations, it is fine to broadcast religious programming,” he said, “but it is forbidden to broadcast content that has the potential to influence viewers in an undue fashion, and most certainly young and impressionable viewers.”
He said that shutting down a channel “is not something we do every day,” and for that reason, he did not want to rush to conclusions.
Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for HOT said: “It [Shelanu TV] is an independent Christian channel, similar to other religious channels broadcast in Israel. It received a permit from the council and is broadcasting according to law.”
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When asked about the missionary nature of its activities, she said that “full information was provided to the council, and the channel is operating in accordance with the permit it received.”
Shelanu TV is broadcast on Channel 182 of HOT. The description provided to subscribers on their television screens says it is a “faith-based channel geared toward pro-Israel Christians.”
Shelanu TV is not the first Christian channel to broadcast in Israel. Other examples include Daystar and Middle East Television. It is the first, however, to broadcast in Hebrew and to openly flaunt its missionary activities.
In a statement on its website, God TV said that the new channel “aims to help Israeli viewers understand that Jesus is not a foreigner or imposter. Rather, He is Yeshua, the Messiah, born in Bethlehem.” It said that Shelanu TV will present new and original programming from messianic congregations in Israel and in addition “international Messianic voices will share powerful real-life testimonies of Israelis who have come to know Yeshua as Messiah.”
Under Israeli law, it is forbidden to proselytize to a person under 18 years of age without the consent of his or her parent. It is also forbidden to offer material benefits in the process of proselytizing. Evangelical organizations and institutions active in Israel are often quick to note that they have no intentions of pursuing such activities.
God TV was launched in the UK 25 years ago. Much of its programming targets young audiences.