The Israeli cable television provider Hot will not reapply for a license to broadcast an evangelical channel devoted to spreading the gospel of Jesus, a representative of the station said on Tuesday.
This decision represents the final nail in the coffin for plans by God TV, one of the largest Christian broadcasting networks in the world, to get Jews in the Holy Land to accept Jesus as their savior.
On Sunday, the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council notified Hot that it would be shutting down Shelanu – a new Hebrew-language channel set up by God TV in partnership with the Israeli messianic community – for not disclosing in its license application that its true agenda was proselytizing to Jews.
But the regulator said that the cable television provider was welcome to submit a new license application on behalf of Shelanu that provided a more honest depiction of the nature of its programming. Proselytizing, in certain circumstances, can be against the law in Israel.
Ron Cantor, the regional director of God TV in Israel, said on Tuesday he believed Hot had decided to waive the option of reapplying for a license because of the “tremendous pressure” to disassociate itself with Shelanu.
“We want to say thank you to Hot for sticking with us as long as they did,” he said in a statement. “Quite honestly, we expected them to drop us two months ago, when the controversy began. We hold no ill will against them. They were in a no-win situation and we are a small client.”
Hot did not respond to a request for comment.
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Cantor said that God TV was considering suing Asher Biton, the outgoing chairman of the council, for libel. He insisted that God TV never hid its agenda from the Israeli regulator and had made clear all along that its target audience was Jewish Israelis.
“We ask Mr. Biton to issue an apology and clarification that there was no stipulation that our content was only supposed to be for Christians,” Cantor said. “If he corrects the matter, we will take no legal action.”
Biton declined to comment on the matter.
Cantor said that Shelanu would continue to stream its programs on the internet. “As Israelis who love our country and know the laws, we will not be silenced,” he said. “We will continue, in a spirit of love, despite being persecuted by our own government, to be a voice against BDS and seek support from evangelicals all over the world for Israel,” he said, referring to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. “We will stand with Israel, even if our government does not stand with us.”
Ironically, Cantor noted, Shelanu was actually pleased that Hot was backing down. “We are happy that they put pressure on Hot to drop us, rather than to take the unprecedented, antidemocratic move of stripping the messianic Jewish and Christian Arab communities of their freedoms of speech and expression,” he said. “That would have set a horrible precedent for the only democracy in the Middle East.”
Shelanu is expected to be taken off the air by Thursday. The channel had been broadcasting in Israel since the end of April, in accordance with a seven-year deal it had signed with Hot. It is very rare for the council to take a channel off the air, and it is the first time a Christian channel broadcast in Israel is being shut down.
More than 700,000 Israeli households subscribe to Hot, which controls nearly 50 percent of the multichannel market in the country.
The controversy over God TV has raised questions in recent months about the true motives behind widespread evangelical support for Israel and whether there is a hidden agenda to convert Jews to Christianity.
Shelanu is not the first Christian channel to broadcast in Israel. Other examples include Daystar and Middle East Television. It is, however, the first to broadcast in Hebrew and to openly flaunt its missionary activities.
Biton already notified Hot a few weeks after Shelanu (Hebrew for “Ours,” as in “Jesus is all of ours”) began broadcasting that he was considering suspending the license, subject to a hearing. The announcement came after a fundraising video surfaced in which God TV CEO Ward Simpson said: “God has supernaturally opened the door for us to take the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of his Jewish people.”
The video message that had caused the storm was quickly taken down and God TV issued a clarification: The network had no intention of trying to convert Jews to Christianity, Simpson said in a new video message; it merely wanted them to accept Jesus as their messiah.
In his letter, Biton noted that in its application for a license for the new channel, Hot said the target audience was the Christian community in Israel, when in fact it was Jews. Even after Hot was put on notice, the letter said, the channel continued to broadcast programs about Christianity aimed specifically at Jews.