US report: Rise in violence against Messianic Jews and Christians

The report puts blame for the "tensions" on "certain Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities."

(photo credit:)
(photo credit: )
Violence against Christian evangelical and Messianic Jewish communities in Israel increased significantly during the period between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008, according to the US State Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. The report, released last week, put blame for the "tensions" on "certain Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities." But except in one case, the report, which noted numerous incidents of discrimination or violence against Christian or Messianic Jewish communities or individuals, failed to prove that the perpetrators were Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox. According to the US State Department, Jehovah's Witnesses representatives reported a significant increase in assaults and other crimes against their members over the past 12-month period. Violent incidents were up from one to two a month in early 2007 to eight to nine a month in early 2008. On October 23, 2007, suspected arsonists set fire to the Narkiss Street Baptist Church in Jerusalem. The pastor of a Russian Messianic Jewish congregation that meets in the church said that Yad L'Achim , a haredi anti-missionary organization, had threatened him and his congregation over the few years leading up to the attack. Yad L'Achim denied any connection to the attack. Rabbi Shalom Lifshitz, chairman of Yad L'Achim, said that his organization's legal advisor has sent a letter to the State Department warning that legal action will be taken unless Yad L'Achim's name is removed from the report. "If we have any connection with the incident, why is that no one has indicted us yet?" he said. "We are totally opposed to the use of any violence. It is counterproductive to our goal of fighting missionary activities." In a particularly violent incident that place on Purim (March 20) 15-year-old Ami Ortiz, a dual American-Israeli citizen and the son of a Messianic Jewish pastor, was seriously wounded when a bomb exploded in his home in Ariel. The bomb was concealed in a Purim gift basket placed on the doorstep of the boy's home. Christians close to the case said that the primary suspect was Jewish but police said they had not ruled out the possibility that the assailant was a Palestinian. Ortiz's father David was active as a missionary among Palestinians near Ariel. On May 15, in another religiously motivated incident, residents of the Tel Aviv suburb of Or Yehuda publicly burned hundreds of Christian Bibles distributed in the community by missionaries. Immediately after the incident, Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon, who represents Shas, told reporters that the burning fulfilled the religious commandment to "purge the evil from your midst." However, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post Tuesday, Aharon denounced the burning of the New Testament. "I condemn the burning of books that are holy to any religion, no matter which one it is," said Aharon. "We were only against the way Christian missionaries exploited the economic distress of Ethiopians and other poor citizens of Or Yehuda to proselytize." Aharon said that police have not detained anyone involved in the Bible-burning incident. "Everyone involved has expressed regret and we see the matter as closed," he said. Calev Myers, head of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ), a legal advocacy group for religious rights that represents mostly evangelical Christians and Messianic Jews, said that Israeli authorities are not doing enough to fight violence directed against these groups. "Months after the bombing incident in Ariel against Ami the police still have no clue who is responsible," said Myers. In response, a spokesman for the Judea and Samaria Police, which is responsible for investigating the bombing, said that "no stones are being left unturned. "All relevant police departments are continuing to thoroughly investigate the incident," said the spokesman. "However, due to the nature of the crime, the success of the investigation depends on secrecy." The State Department also mentioned claims by the JIJ that the Interior Ministry refused to process immigration applications from persons entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return if it was determined such persons held Christian or Messianic Jewish religious beliefs. In a landmark decision dealing with 12 Messianic Jews who are eligible under the Law of Return for automatic Israeli citizenship but who are not Jewish according to Halacha because their mothers are not Jewish, the High Court ruled on April 16 of this year that the state could not deny them citizenship. In its ruling, the court said that individuals who are not halachicly Jewish are still eligible to immigrate to Israel, even if they embraced a faith other than Judaism. In contrast, the Supreme Court had already ruled that someone whose mother is Jewish is disqualified from Israeli citizenship if he or she embraces another faith. Nevertheless, according to JIJ's Myers, five months after the court ruling was handed, down the 12 petitioners have still not received citizenship. Cohen, one of the 12 Messianic Jews who petitioned the Supreme Court and won, said that the Interior Ministry has so far ignored the ruling. He preferred to use only a last name out of concern that a high profile might hurt chances of receiving citizenship. "None of us have received citizenship so far," said Cohen. "We were told two months ago that in one month's time we would receive our citizenship. But so far nothing has happened. "In the meantime I cannot work and I have to pay full tuition at university, which makes it difficult for me to make ends meet." Cohen, who affirmed faith in Messianic Judaism, identifies as a Zionist. "I see myself as a Zionist. Why else would I give up a good job, family, friends, an incredible education and come here to be reduced to nothing?" he said. "I believe in the State of Israel and I want to raise my family here and I can't imagine myself elsewhere." The Interior Ministry's spokesperson said in response that "The Interior Ministry abides by Supreme Court decisions," and that Messianic Jews, like members of any other religion, are entitled to Israeli citizenship due to their familial relations with a Jew. However, the spokesperson refused to comment on the delay in providing citizenship to the 12 petitioners.