A conference held by a Messianic organization on Thursday night at the capital’s Old Train Station was disturbed by activists from the extremist Lehava organization who broke into the conference hall and began shouting.
Two of the activists were arrested by police for “attacking and disturbing public order,” but no one was injured. The police said approximately 10 Lehava activists took part in the protest; Lehava claimed 100 people participated in the demonstration.
According to a statement from Lehava, “dozens of Lehava activists forcibly broke into the missionary conference... and blocked the entrance.”
Lehava has gained notoriety as a radical organization which opposes interfaith marriages, especially Jewish women to Arab men, and what it describes as Christian missionary work, but which is frequently a misconstrued gathering of Christians in Israel.
Three activists were indicted in December 2014 for setting fire to the Jewish-Arab Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem, between the Arab Beit Safafa and Jewish Patt neighborhoods, on November 29, 2014. Lehava leader Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein was arrested after the incident but later released by the police.
According to its organizers, the Elav Conference was first staged in 2007 and is an annual event for youth and young adults “from all over Israel and around the world,” in which participants “seek the heart of God through worship, prayer, teaching and fellowship.”
A promotional video in Hebrew says that the gathering is designed for “Sons and daughters of God confident in their love of Him, seeking to know him and live a life of faith, victory, praise, prayer and of a deep relationship with Jesus.”
The same video in English substitutes the word “Jesus” with “God.”
The conference organizers were made aware of Lehava’s intention to protest at the event and posted a message on the event’s Facebook page saying “We want to gather the body of Messiah to stand in unity, Jews and Arabs, in Yeshua, and support what the Lord is doing in the Land. Come and join us starting at 6pm!” The Succat Hallel organization which runs the Elav conference is a Messianic Jewish organization which conducts a permanent prayer vigil, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through a roster of worshipers “to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and intercede for Israel and the nations.”
Messianic Jews, some of whom are Jews and some not, believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and that Jesus will return to Jerusalem and rule from a rebuilt Temple. Succat Hallel could not be contacted for comment.
Participants in the Elav Conference included local Messianic Jews from congregations in Israel, as well as Palestinians and Egyptians.
Organizations such as Lehava generally conflate such groups, along with Evangelicals, as being missionary organizations seeking to proselytize Jews and convert them to Christianity. Missionary work is not illegal in Israel as is often thought and even claimed by Israeli officials such as MK Moshe Gafni on Wednesday.
In the statement released by Lehava, the organization said that the staging of the conference was “crossing a redline and the police requested to distance them [Lehava activists] and not to enforce the law which prevents missionary [activities in the heart of Jerusalem.”
The two laws relating to missionary activity in the Israeli Penal Code of 1977 include a clause that prohibits offering material inducement to entice someone to convert, and a separate clause which prohibits missionary or proselytizing activity directed at minors without the permission of their parents.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post , Gopstein acknowledged that it did not appear that the Elav conference was breaking Israeli law, although he con - tended that there were minors at the event and that it could not be known for certain that they had received parental permission.
Asked as to the reason for the intemperate protest if the conference did not break the law, Gopstein said the Elav Conference contravened Jewish law and that it was therefore right and important to protest against it.
“They are appealing to Jews, the purpose here is missionary,” he said. “Unfortunately there are many churches in Jerusalem, but this was not one, and we protested their attempts to appeal to Jews and convert them.”
There has been increased activity of late against Evangelical organizations and missions to Israel as well as Messianic Jewish associations and others, by several organizations including Lehava.
An Evangelical conference in May was vigorously protested by such groups since it was held in the Pais Arena in Jerusalem, while another Evangelical gathering in October 2014 was also the subject of protests.
A veteran official of a well-established Evangelical organization in Israel said that groups such as Lehava and others “do not and cannot distinguish between Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals and others,” and that they disseminate rumors and “misinformation” including the claims that the government is negotiating to hand over authority over the site of David’s Tomb on Mount Zion to the Vatican.
Both the government and the Vatican have denied these claims.
“There is a growing agitation against us and Christians in general, based on misinformation but including a lot of incitement,” said the official who requested to remain anonymous.” Last month we saw a church burned,” he noted, in reference to the probable hate crime in which the Church of Loaves and Fishes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee was set ablaze and badly damaged.
Graffiti sprayed on a wall of the church read “False Gods will be destroyed.”
“We’re engaged in humanitarian work and pro-Israel activity, but we understand where we’re working and that we’re guests here and there is no evidence of missionary work taking place in recent times,” the Evangelical official said