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Politicians bid to criminalise speaking about Jesus in Israel

by Premier Journalist

Two members of Israel’s parliament, known as the Knesset, have introduced a bill that would outlaw telling people about Jesus in the Jewish state, and jail everyone who does.

The authors of the legislation Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Asher are ultra-Orthodox members. They are important figures inside the 64-seat governing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

If approved, the punishment for having spiritual conversations with Israelis of any religion would be one-year imprisonment if with an adult, but two years if with someone under 18.

David Parsons is senior spokesman and Vice President of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. He told Premier’s News Hour that this is not the first time Gafni has proposed such a ban.

“He's made a habit every year, every time he gets re-elected in the Knesset to introduce a bill like this. And it never goes anywhere.

“He introduced one back when Netanyahu was prime minister for a couple of years in the late 1990s, because a book translated into Hebrew that was preaching the gospel through the book, was mailed to a million Israeli homes, and there was no way to collect them and throw them away. So he was alarmed and Moshe Gafni introduced a bill that actually would have banned the New Testament in Israel and criminalised possession of the New Testament. That bill got shot down.”

Parsons says that although the bill is concerning, it’s unlikely to go anywhere.

“We don't know if the judicial reforms weaken the Israeli courts enough, the courts would normally defend freedom of speech and defend religious freedom for all. If the Knesset is going to do it, they're going to defend it and declare this law void.

“But if the courts weaken enough now through this whole process, then that's a possibility. It's sort of a new Netanyahu right now, how much leverage do these parties have over him to not only stay in power, but to help shield him from some of this personal liability he’s facing, but we're a long way from this.”

The 2023 Israeli judicial reform is a proposed series of changes to Israel’s judicial system and the country’s balance of power in a bid to curb the courts influence over law-making and public policy, granting the government more control.

This particular bill would be put off until after the nation celebrates its 75th anniversary, according to Parsons, and would only be brought up again if other judicial reforms had weakened the court.

“Moshe Gafni, has a particular axe to grind. He wants to stop the gospel here. But I don’t think there is a lot of support for it.

“There's all sorts of problems with the wording of it - it does not specify Christian or gospel, it just says religious materials to try and get someone to convert. If you go on the internet, there's all sorts of stuff - Jews trying to convince Christians you need to be over here in Judaism. And I don't see how they can enforce this - it's about material or speech to try and get someone to change religion from the Moshe Gafni perspective, for whom the ultimate missionary material is the New Testament. So possessing a New Testament in Hebrew in Israel, are you going to go to jail? I don't think the majority of Israel and the majority of the Knesset is going to go that far.

“I think this is one guy grinding his axe.”

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