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Israel's Anti Missionary Bill

Knesset Members Try To Revive Anti-Missionary Bill

JERUSALEM, Israel (NEWSROOM) -- Members of the Israeli Knesset are circulating the draft of a proposed bill that would criminalize missionary activity. Similar legislation was shelved in March due the retirement of its sponsor, Rabbi Raphael Pinchasi of the Orthodox Shas party.

The new proposal, led by Rabbi Porush of the National Religious Party, would mandate a five-year prison sentence to anyone convicted of trying to persuade an Israeli citizen to change his religion, whether directly or indirectly. The sentence would be double for anyone who tried to convert a minor or "needy person," used deceptive means, or was successful in converting a person to another religion. The law would apply even if the conversion took place outside of Israel.

The Knesset Internal Affairs Committee held a preliminary hearing on November 10 led by the committee's chairman, David Azoular of the Shas Party. Azoular said that the committee had gathered to find ways to deal with the "missionary menace threatening our people." The discussion centered on accusations that a long-established Messianic Jewish congregation, Grace and Truth, and other groups were using bribes to lure Jews into their fold. Messianic Jews believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.

A 1977 Israeli law forbids any attempt to persuade an individual to change his religion for the motive of "financial gain." Baruch Maoz, the leader of the Grace and Truth Congregation, attended the committee meeting. He insists that the bribery charges are unsubstantiated. "It apparently never occurred to those participating in the discussion that repeated failure to find evidence could actually mean that bribes were never offered," said Maoz, former chairman of the Messianic Action Committee, a group that has lobbied against previous anti-missionary bills.

Proponents of anti-missionary legislation also complained at the hearing that police have obstructed efforts to restrict missionary activity in Israel.

The Pinchasi Bill won the votes of then-Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his entire cabinet when it was introduced in May 1998. Porush, the sponsor of the current proposed bill, believes that it can pass the first of four votes -- the Preliminary Reading -- even without the support of the Barak government. Porush plans to solicit individual member votes outside of the religious parties.

Member of Knesset Rabbi Moshe Gafni, a co-sponsor of other anti-missionary bills, acknowledged at the committee hearing that the Israeli government had been flooded with letters and faxes from around the world opposing the previous legislation.

The proposed bill would confer a three-year sentence on anyone who solicits someone to their faith through advertising. A one-year sentence would be imposed upon anyone who receives or brings a minor or a needy person to the event of "another religion." "Another religion" is one that is not of the religious community to which the individual belongs according to Israeli law.

Minors or needy persons also would not be allowed into an educational institution, youth hostel, or club in Israel that is under the auspices of another religion.

( 1999,

(Post date: November 22, 1999)

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