God TV says threat of closure to Shelanu TV ‘religious discrimination’

Evangelical media group accused of seeking to proselytize Jews in Israel says the threat to cancel cable contract is unprecedented and could violate Israel’s freedom of religion laws.

Man Watching TV (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Man Watching TV
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
God TV, the Christian Evangelical media group that has been accused of seeking to proselytize in Israel through its new cable TV station, has slammed the efforts to shut it down and insisted its license was fairly awarded as a religious broadcasting channel.
The group's Hebrew language channel Shelanu TV began broadcasting in Israel on the Hot cable network at the end of April after it received a license from the Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting.
God TV, which reaches some 300 million homes around the world, is dedicated to preaching the Christian gospel and the task of the “Great Commission,” a doctrine in Christian theology to gain disciples for Christianity and to preach the religion.
Following exposure of the kind of content broadcast on God TV, including comments by channel CEO Ward Simpson about the importance of bringing people to embrace Christianity as well as a strong reaction by then-communications minister David Amsallem, the council threatened to suspend Shelanu TV’s license, pending a review by the council of Hot’s contract with the channel.
That review process is currently underway, and Shelanu TV submitted their response last week; a decision by the council is yet to be made.
Proselytizing – seeking to convert people to another religion – is not illegal in Israel, although the law prevents proselytizing to minors without their parents' presence or consent, as well as promising any monetary or material compensation for converting to another religion.
The council noted in issuing its suspension threat to Shelanu TV that while religious television broadcasting by religions other than Judaism is permitted, and noting that there are several Christian and Muslim channels currently available on cable TV, it said that its policies preclude “unfair influence on viewers.”
Content which might seek to proselytize Jews and target them for conversion could fall under this category of “unfair influence,” although it is unclear if this policy could be upheld in court, bearing in mind Israel’s freedom of expression and freedom of religious practice statutes.
Shelanu TV said that the threat to suspend its license was unprecedented, and that carrying out such a suspension “could constitute blatant discrimination on the basis of religion,” accusing the council of seeking to cancel the license regardless of the merits of the cable station's case.
"The letter of warning as well as [council chairman Ronen] Abramzon’s opinion are worded in a way it can be understood that a decision has already been made; the arrow has already hit, and now there is only the purpose of drawing the target around it,” said Shelanu TV’s representatives.
The company said that opposition to the channel arose “because of a poorly worded fundraising video,” by Simpson in which he said “There are nine million people in Israel who need to hear the gospel of Jesus… now they have an opportunity to hear that Yeshua [Jesus] is here for them, he is their answer, their savior, their deliverer.”
Simpson subsequently apologized for this video and removed it from the Internet, saying that, in his “excitement and zeal to present this great news of approval, there were things said that could have and should have been said differently,” adding that “I do understand why it was offensive.”
He said that “God TV and Shelanu TV have no intention of trying to convert Jews to a different religion and abhor using any form of coercion. We understand the anti-proselytizing laws in Israel and honor them.”
In comments made to The Jerusalem Post in May, Simpson repeated that God TV was not seeking to convert Jews but was “calling on the Jewish community to reexamine the claim that Yeshua [Jesus] is the Messiah.”
He also argued that so-called “Messianic Jews” who believe in Jesus, and for whom God TV says Shelanu TV is intended, continue to live as Jews – and that therefore, being Jewish and believing in Jesus are not incompatible.
Asked, however, if there is any theological difference between what a Christian believes and what a Messianic Jew believes, Simpson said the question had “no simple short answer,” but that Messianic Jews had a strong tradition of Jewish belief.
“We trace our faith all the way back to the original Jewish apostles without any of the additions that the institutional church added throughout the centuries,” said Simpson, although he said that this was not his “full explanation.”