How can it be that a country that prides itself on cultivating religious diversity in the midst of a Jewish state has acted with such harshness against its very own Messianic Jews?
How can it be that a nation that is host to historic Christian churches, Islamic mosques, Bahai holy places, and even a Mormon university campus in Jerusalem found it necessary to shut down a TV channel where Jews shared their faith in Jesus?
The immediate answer would be, "That is not what happened. The channel in question, called Shelanu and under the auspices of GOD TV, lied on its broadcast application. These were Christian missionaries who got caught red-handed, and the government acted accordingly."
The only problem is that this all-too-convenient narrative is patently false.
It is true that an earlier application to the HOT cable networked stated that Shelanu would be broadcasting to a Christian audience. But a later application – the final one, which was completed 6 months before Shelanu began broadcasting earlier this year and the one which was officially approved – made clear that the network intended to reach the general Israeli viewership.
Ron Cantor, regional director for GOD TV in Israel, sent me a copy of the document in Hebrew. Under the category of "Characterization of the Channel," the application stated explicitly that, "The show is intended for the Israeli audience [l’kahal hatzofim be’yisrael]."
Nothing ambiguous. Nothing deceptive. Nothing illegal.
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A detailed article in Haaretz makes clear that, at no time did GOD TV or Shelanu seek to hide the purpose of the network or lie about its intended audience.
As for the contents of Shelanu, has a single article attacking the network actually reported on what the channel was airing? Have any of the politicians or religious leaders actually reviewed the shows?
The whole controversy over Shelanu erupted after a fundraising video by GOD TV’s CEO Ward Simpson found its way into Israel.
The video was intended for a Christian viewing audience and, by Simpson’s own admission, was worded poorly, because of which the video was immediately pulled and a public apology issued in Hebrew and English.
Further controversy ensued over Simpson’s subsequent claim that Shelanu did not intend to proselytize (in the sense of calling on Jews to convert to Christianity and abandon their heritage). Rather, the intent was for local Israeli Jews, some of them sabras, all of them citizens, to share their belief that Yeshua was the Messiah of Israel. (Israeli Arab Christians would be sharing their faith as well. A small portion of the overall content would come from outside the Holy Land.)
But this is actually besides the point. Under no definition does this activity constitute anything illegal. There is no solicitation of minors. There is no attempt to coerce or pressure. There are no monetary incentives offered.
Unfortunately, given the uproar over Simpson’s initial video and the intense pressure to pacify the opposition, Asher Biton, the outgoing Chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, voided the agreement with HOT, inviting GOD TV to reapply. But even that became impossible when the HOT network decided that Shelanu TV was too hot to handle. In other words, HOT will not reapply to the government on behalf Shelanu.
While GOD TV has the option of fighting this in court, feeling confident that they would win a victory there, Simpson has informed me that the network does not want to draw negative attention to Israel and has decided to stand down. Such is GOD TV’s commitment to the nation, which makes the unfair way they were treated even more egregious. (Shelanu will now devote its efforts to producing digital content.)
How, then, will the Israeli public feel about this when the facts come out?
Headlines have announced that, "Regulatory authorities say one of the world's largest Christian broadcasting networks failed to disclose true agenda." Another, slightly different, headline states, "Israel orders evangelical GOD TV off the air for alleged missionary content."
And, right on cue, counter-missionary rabbis are celebrating the decision, with one proclaiming, "Missionaries Shut Down! GOD TV Church Station Slammed Shut in Israel"” (So much for even an attempt to report honestly.)
The reality is that a small but vocal minority of political and religious leaders has strong-armed their way to ban a perfectly legal network from airing perfectly legal content.
This is contrary to the pluralistic spirit of the nation of Israel and a slap in the face to religious liberties. The decision should be challenged by all people of conscience, regardless of their own religious beliefs.
Michael L. Brown is the host of the nationally syndicated daily radio broadcast, The Line of Fire. He holds a Ph.D. from New York University Near Eastern Languages and Literatures; his latest book, "Christian Antisemitism: Confronting the Lies in Today’s Church," is forthcoming. He hosts a five-minute Q&A show called Ask Me Anything on GOD TV’s international channel. Twitter: @DrMichaelLBrown