Communications Minister David Amsalem threatened Tuesday to take a new Hebrew-language evangelical channel off the air if it turned out to be proselytizing.
On Monday, Haaretz reported that Shelanu TV had received a license to broadcast in Israel despite having stated publicly that it intends “to take the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of the Jewish people.”
Under the terms of its license, Shelanu (Hebrew for "Ours") is prohibited from broadcasting content that wields “undue influence” on viewers. This would include proselytizing.
“We won’t allow any missionary channel to operate in the State of Israel – not at any time and not under any circumstances,” Amsalem, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said in a statement.
He noted that the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, which awarded the license, is a sovereign body and would make the final decision on whether to pull the plug on the new channel.
“But as soon as I heard about the incident, I asked the council’s chairman to launch a comprehensive investigation to determine that no channel is violating the terms of its license, and if indeed this channel is engaged in missionary activities, it will be taken down immediately,” Amsalem said.
Under Israeli law, it is forbidden to proselytize to a person under 18 without the consent of a parent. It is also forbidden to offer material benefits in the process of proselytizing.
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Shelanu is the Israeli affiliate of God TV, an international Christian media network that broadcasts in some 200 countries around the world. God TV focuses much of its programming on young audiences.
The network signed a seven-year contract with Hot, an Israeli cable television company, to host the channel. More than 700,000 Israeli households subscribe to Hot, which controls nearly half the multichannel market in the country. The new channel was officially launched last week to coincide with Israeli Independence Day.
In a video message announcing the launch, Ward Simpson, the CEO of God TV, said the network “has been given government permission to broadcast the gospel of Jesus Christ – Yeshuah 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.”
That video was suddenly removed from the God TV website on Tuesday. Ron Kantor, the network’s regional director, did not respond to a request for an explanation.
In an email, however, he said his company had been approached by Hot, not the reverse. “I immediately asked them, ‘Can we broadcast in Hebrew?’ And the answer was an emphatic yes,” he said.
“I was quite stunned myself. That began a year-long process of finding funding, agreeing on and signing contracts and yes, getting approval from the regulatory body to broadcast as Messianic Jewish Israelis in Hebrew.”
Kantor said there had “not been one moment” in which God TV was “not honest” with Hot or with the regulatory commission about the nature of the new channel.
“We are not ashamed of who we are and what we believe,” wrote Kantor, who moved to Israel from the United States 17 years ago and is married to an Israeli. “We were told many times that laws have changed and there was no issue with our programming. Certainly if we were doing something sneaky, we would not have announced it to the world.”
He said he doubted that officials at the Communications Ministry had even watched the new channel. “I do not believe that HOT or Shelanu TV has broken any rules,” he wrote.
Asked to comment on his assertion that Hot knew all along about the nature of this new channel, a spokeswoman for the cable service provider said: “Shelanu TV is an independent religious channel, similar to other channels broadcast in Israel. It received a license from the council and is broadcasting lawfully. The company [God TV] is cooperating with the relevant officials at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council and will operate in accordance with the decision of the council.”
Shelanu TV is broadcast on Hot’s Channel 182. The description provided to subscribers on their television screens calls it 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. Shelanu is the first, however, to broadcast in Hebrew and to openly flaunt its missionary activities.