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GOD TV Dispute Has Israel Talking About Messianic Jews

God TV

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on May 22, 2020, in cooperation with the Associated Press. I contributed some additional reporting.

The Messianic movement, which emerged in its modern form in the 1970s, incorporates Jewish symbols and practices—including referring to Jesus by his Hebrew name, Yeshua—but is widely seen as a form of Christianity. All major Jewish denominations reject it, and Israel considers Messianic Jews to be converts to another faith.

Messianic Jews in Israel push back against the accusations.

“In Israel and in Jewish circles, conversion is a loaded word. It is understood as leaving something to become something else,” said Lisa Loden, co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine.

“Messianic Jews avoid the term, and maintain that they remain fully Jewish when accepting Yeshua as Messiah and Lord,” she said. “But the average Jewish Israeli does not distinguish between Jews who believe in Jesus and Christians.”

Both sides in the conflict are sincere, suggests Mitch Glaser, president of New York City-based Chosen People Ministries.

“GOD TV is attempting to honestly state what they are doing,” he said. “The religious Jewish people opposed to its Hebrew programming are trying to protect secular Jewish people from becoming converts, and therefore ‘lost’ to the Jewish community.”

Many Messianic Jews, however, are rejoicing at the opportunity to demonstrate their sincerity (of still belonging to the Jewish community) to their fellow Israeli citizens. Shelanu has stated 70 percent of its content will be locally produced.

And on a popular website for the community, some are even praising the “amazing free publicity.”

“If the show was produced by a US or European Christian organization, the argument is very strong that the aim is conversion,” said Jaime Cowen, an Israeli lawyer and former president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.

“The reality is that Jews believe all kinds of different things and are subject to all kinds of programming that pushes various views.

“This is a huge open door—as long as the government doesn’t shut it down.”

But this is exactly what one Christian Zionist has petitioned Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to do, fearing that the GOD TV backlash will threaten Jewish-evangelical cooperation…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events Religion

How Palestine Divides Messianic Jews

Messianic Jews
(Oded Balilty, AP)

This article was first published in the May print edition of Christianity Today.

Among Christians in America, Israel can be viewed as a fulfillment of prophecy, a democratic ally in a region of chaos, or an occupier oppressing stateless Palestinians. How to choose?

Given that 2 out of 3 US evangelicals have a positive perception of Israel, according to LifeWay Research, perhaps a better question is: How should evangelicals identify with the issues Israel faces?

Fortunately, there is a useful interpreter. “If the Christian community wants to understand Israel from a believing perspective,” said Jamie Cowen, an Israeli lawyer and a believer in Jesus, “going through Messianic Jews is best.”

However, the complexity of Israel divides even Messianic Jews in attitude toward Palestine, as illustrated by debate this year over an interview provocatively summarized as supporting ethnic cleansing.

“The only rights the Palestinians have are squatter’s rights,” Paul Liberman, executive director of the Alliance for Israel Advocacy (AIA), told The Intercept.

He described how the lobbying arm of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) was pushing for a shift of US funding from UN–administered Palestinian aid ($364 million in 2017) to an Israeli-led effort offering money to relocate from the West Bank. The goal: eventual annexation of the territory in a one-state solution with fewer Palestinian citizens, maintaining Israel as a Jewish state.

First adopted by the MJAA in 2015, the idea reverberated within Messianic Jewish circles once TheIntercept highlighted efforts to harness evangelical influence in Congress and the White House.

“It is not a removal. It is an opportunity for a much better life,” said Joel Chernoff, CEO of the MJAA. “But the demographic issue is real.”

About 700,000 Jews and 1.5 million Arabs live in Judea and Samaria—the favored name in Israel for the West Bank. Chernoff desires more Jewish settlements there. And he believes many Palestinians already want to escape the territory’s corrupt Palestinian Authority. (A 2017 MJAA poll found half of residents were discussing a move abroad and were open to resettlement in exchange for about $5,000.)

The “ethnic cleansing” headline was a smear tactic by liberal and anti-Israel media, Chernoff said. The issue is not controversial among the MJAA’s 3,000 dues-paying members, 12,000 supporters, or 155 affiliated synagogues. But it is controversial to other Messianic Jews.

“There is not a consensus this is a good proposal,” said Monique Brumbach, executive director of the 75-member Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC). “The Scriptures promised the land to the Jewish people. But there will always be other people within it.”

Nearly all Messianic Jews believe modern-day Israel is the fulfillment of biblical promises…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

Under the Law: Israeli Christians Worry About Secondary Status in Jewish Nation-State

Israel Nation State
Judaism and Christianity symbols on the Jerusalem old city gate – MyHolyShop

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 31, 2018.

In a legislative act both obvious and inflammatory, this month Israel cemented its nature as a Jewish state.

By a narrow vote in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, the law entitled “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” was adopted to serve alongside over a dozen other “basic laws” that serve as Israel’s de facto constitution.

A key clause states that national self-determination is “unique” to Jews. Other provisions formally establish the nation’s flag, emblem, and anthem. Jerusalem is confirmed as the complete and united capital. The Sabbath and Jewish festivals are declared official days of rest.

But two other clauses have raised considerable concern. Jewish settlement is a “national value” to be promoted. And Arabic is downgraded from an official language to one with “special status.”

“This law outlines that Israel’s democratic values are secondary for non-Jews,” said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical living in Nazareth. “It sends a clear message that my language is not welcome and consequently, neither is my cultural and ethnic identity.”

Her fears are echoed by an Israeli lawyer.

“While the idea of the law is straightforward—it’s hard to argue that Israel isn’t a Jewish state—the actual provisions are controversial, discriminatory, and possibly racist,” said Jaime Cowen, former president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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In Shadow of Death, Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews Relapse on Reconciling

 

Embassy Gaza
AP, via Japan Times

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on May 21.

Hanna Maher’s wife is nine months pregnant, due any day now, with only four hours of daily electricity. Her two older boys scurry about in the dark, kept ignorant by parents about the dead at the border.

But it is hard to be ignorant in Gaza.

A Norwegian charity estimates 56 percent of children in the Palestinian territory suffer from traumatic nightmares. Suicide, rarely seen culturally, is a growing concern. Maher, an Egyptian-born Baptist pastor, says some at the border see death as the best option.

Two million people are squeezed into a coastal strip roughly the size of Philadelphia. Exit is severely restricted on one side by Israel. The waiting list into Egypt is 40,000 names long.

Unemployment is over 40 percent. Clean drinking water is hard to come by. And on May 14, as tens of thousands massed near a chain link fence demonstrating for their “Right to Return,” Israeli snipers picked off dozens.

“Monday was a hard day. But at least it is quiet now,” Maher said. “It has been bad for years. But conditions now are the worst I have seen.”

Maher went to Gaza in 2011, and married his local Palestinian wife a year later. His congregation is the strip’s only evangelical church, with about 60 regular members. Overall, Gaza’s Christian population is about 1,000, mostly Greek Orthodox; in the last 10 years, it has declined by a third.

Maher provides food aid to about 120 families. His marriage preparation classes are a crash course in how to nurture a family amid poverty.

And he says local Christians are critical of just about everyone…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.