Israel Approves Christian Missionary TV Channel, Sparking Uproar
JNS.org – A new evangelical Christian channel whose mission is to “take the message of Yeshua our Messiah to all of Israel 24/7, 365 days a year” began broadcasting in Israel in Hebrew last week, after signing a seven-year contract with Israeli cable provider HOT.
The Shelanu (Hebrew for “Ours”) TV channel is a branch of GOD TV, which broadcasts missionary programming in 200 countries around the world. The new deal will give the channel access to over 700,000 Israeli households.
GOD TV CEO Ward Simpson said in a video announcing the launch that his network had received permission from the Israeli government to “broadcast the gospel of Jesus Christ—Yeshua the Messiah—in Israel on cable TV in the Hebrew language. Never before, as far as we know in the history of the world, has this ever been done.”
Permission for the new station was granted by Israel’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, whose chairman, Asher Biton, told Israel’s Haaretz daily that his organization did not know the station would engage in missionary activity, which he said is prohibited under the terms of the license.
“According to our regulations, it is fine to broadcast religious programming,” he said, “but it is forbidden to broadcast content that has the potential to influence viewers in an undue fashion, and most certainly young and impressionable viewers.”
Under Israeli law, it is forbidden to entice converts by means of material benefits, and also to attempt to convince minors to change their religion.
If Shelanu is permitted to continue broadcasting in Israel, it will not be the first channel to carry Christian content. Daystar and Middle East Television also provide Christian programming. However, Shelanu would be the first to do so in Hebrew, and to openly push a missionary agenda.
Kehila.org, an organization working to promote Christianity as “Messianic Judaism” in Israel, quoted Simpson praising the new network as a “historic and unprecedented media opportunity” enabling missionaries to “take the message of Yeshua our Messiah to all of Israel 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Quoted by GOD TV in an article posted to its website in January, Asher Intrater of Revive Israel Ministries—an organization which runs Christian activities geared toward Hebrew speakers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—said, “As Messianic believers in the Land, we want to see all Israel saved. The media is one of the most powerful methods to achieve this. We’ve tried for years to make this happen. Now that a major media platform has opened to us, this is a special opportunity to reach our people.”
“When they realize Yeshua is one of us, that He is a native Israeli, all of a sudden the opposition goes away,” Intrater added. “Shelanu is not an import coming from outside. It’s us speaking from the inside, sharing to our people, heart to heart.”
On April 29, GOD TV posted an additional article to its website, quoting an unnamed station manager as saying, “We received the platform of HOT as a gift from GOD TV but now it is our obligation as believers to produce relevant and dynamic content that will grab the attention of the Israeli people and open their eyes to the truth of their Messiah, Yeshua.”
However, anti-missionary groups and government officials tracking the story have expressed outrage that the Israeli government allowed Shelanu to broadcast in the Jewish state, and have vowed to work to shut it down.
“It is the very nature of Christian missionaries to be deceptive in their tactics. I would assume this to be the case in their obtaining a license for such a channel,” said Shannon Nuszen, a former evangelical missionary who subsequently left the movement and converted to Judaism and pro-Israel work. “How this received government approval is beyond me, and hopefully [it was] a mistake that will be rectified immediately.”
Israeli Communications Minister David Amsalem issued a response and tweet in which he assured the public that “we will not allow any missionary channel to operate in Israel, at no time, and not under any circumstances.”
Though the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council is under his ministry’s authority, he said that “from the moment that I learned about this case, I turned immediately to the director of the commission, requesting a thorough investigation of the issue, and asked to make sure that no channel will break the parameters of its license, and that if indeed this channel does missionary work, it be removed immediately.”
Amsalem vowed not to allow “unfair influence” on Israeli viewers.
“On the face of it, this is a bungle, and as communications minister of the State of Israel, I will not allow an unfair influence of religious broadcasting on viewers in Israel,” he said.
Attempts to visit the Shelanu website Tuesday afternoon appeared to indicate that the site had been taken down or hidden. Videos of Simpson discussing Shelanu which had been uploaded to YouTube had been set to private.