Regulators in the Middle East have booted an evangelical broadcaster off the air. The offense? Spreading Christian content to the country’s citizens. The abrupt dismissal didn’t happen in Iraq or Saudi Arabia. It occurred in one of evangelical America’s most loved locales: Israel.
Beliefs about the modern state of Israel and the Israel of the Bible differ widely. But all evangelical Christians believe salvation comes only through Jesus Christ and that the Bible commands the faithful to “tell all nations.” At the same time, Christians understand that many Jews strongly object to efforts to convert them to Christianity. For many evangelicals, these competing realities clash.
Despite this conflict, evangelical Christians are some of Israel’s biggest supporters. A 2013 Pew Research Study indicates that American evangelicals support the modern nation of Israel more strongly than American Jews do!
Recently, Israel’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council made it clear that so-called GOD TV was not welcome in Israel. Chairman Asher Biton gave the group seven days to stop broadcasting its “Shelanu” station. (“Shelanu” is Hebrew for “Ours.” It refers to the fact that Jesus, or Yeshua, was also a Hebrew.)
Council regulators say the channel hid its missionary agenda when it applied for a license. They say Shelanu called itself a “station targeting the Christian population.” Instead, Biton says, “The channel appeals to Jews with Christian content.” And that’s a big no-no.
GOD TV says its license is clear: It would broadcast in Hebrew—not the Arabic of most Holy Land Christians—to the Israeli public. Station representatives believe that fact made their intent obvious.
But in a video message, GOD TV CEO Ward Simpson suggested the real aim was to convince Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah. The message was later taken down, and Simpson apologized. He says if given another chance, GOD TV will comply with all regulations.
Ron Cantor, Shelanu’s Israeli spokesman, says the station will reapply for a license. The station’s management hopes the council will approve the request and prevent “a severe diplomatic incident with hundreds of millions of pro-Israel evangelical Christians worldwide.”
Freedom of religion is enshrined in Israeli law. Evangelizing is allowed as long as activities don’t target minors or involve economic pressure. The Shelanu station does neither. Still, the station is closed.
Israel welcomes evangelicals’ tourism, political clout, and financial support. But the current situation suggests that what it won’t tolerate is their Jesus.