Christians in Israel, known as Messianic believers, are finding their presence and message just about as welcome today as it was when Jesus first delivered it and was crucified for His efforts. And the persecution is coming from about the same direction: from the strict, legalistic children of Abraham who refuse to consider that Jesus is the Messiah described by their own prophets.
Actually, they are caught in a political crossfire between two other groups struggling for control of the nation. On the one hand is the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who want to put the whole culture under strict Pharisee-like traditions. The other faction, the secular Jews, are opposed to any religious influence in the government.
The Orthodox see the Christians as part of the threat against total control of the culture. Their primary attack has been to ramrod a bill through the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, making soulwinning illegal. They claim that the Christians are bribing young Israelis with material goods to convert to Christianity. This accusation stems from the help that the Messianic believers have been financing Jews to immigrate from Russia, Europe and Africa and providing them with food and clothing until they can get established in Israel.
One bill introduced in the Knesset several months ago called for a one-year prison term for possessing, printing, importing and distributing literature containing "an inducement to religious conversion." This bold attack on freedom of speech was finally defeated by an outcry by Christian and government leaders from around the world including the secularists in Israel itself. Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote letters to concerned Christian leaders in the U.S. assuring them that the bill would never become law.
Now a new bill is being tried that would provide 3 years in prison or $13,000 fine for "preaching to change someone's religion." This one appears to have broader support in the Knesset and is said to even have Netanyahu's blessing. The Orthodox appear to have gained enough political clout to bring down Netanyahu's government if he seriously opposes them.
Besides the legal attacks against their religious freedom, Messianic believers have suffered firebomb attacks on their places of worship and vandalism of their homes. Extremely jealous of their "Jewishness," the Orthodox believe that when a Jew accepts Christ as the Messiah, he has given up all identity with the Jewish culture and his Jewish family. In fact, many are disowned by their family as traitors.
The history of this perspective is a sad one. The Jews have been so relentlessly persecuted every where they have gone since they lost their home in Palestine 1900 years ago. And they see the "Christians" as the ones responsible for their troubles. For centuries, "Christian" Roman Catholics drove them into ghettos calling them "Christ killers." Many of the Crusaders, on their way to free Jerusalem from the Muslim "infidels," would plunder and rape any Jewish community that happened to be in their path.
Hitler bragged that his solution to the "Jewish problem" was only an extension of what Roman Catholicism had tried to do for centuries. Holocaust survivors are still smarting over the pope's silence, (and some believe) his complicity in Hitler's genocide.
All this fuels the fury of the Orthodox Jews who do not understand that the "Christians" who have been their tormentors, were really satanic counterfeits. Like the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day, they are blind to the love and compassion that the true Christians have for God's first chosen people. They, too, stop their ears to the glorious message that their Messiah has already come and died for them.
Christian missionaries in Israel need our prayers and support like never before. The religious Jews hate them, the secular Jews are indifferent, and the Muslim Arabs side with the Orthodox because the Christians are instrumental in bringing in more hated immigrants, making it more difficult to get back Palestine land which they believe is theirs.