An Israeli Christian leader last week expressed concern that the election of
Ariel Sharon as prime minister and the establishment of a Likud-led coalition could result in the passage
of new anti-missionary legislation, which he said would be an infringement of human rights.
Rev. Charles Kopp, head of the United Christian Council in Israel, was referring to a bill introduced by
MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) before the present Knesset recess, which would prohibit
missionary activity and the dissemination of missionary material, such as soliciting to change one's
religion by means of mail, fax, E-mail, or other instruments of communication. The bill passed a
preliminary reading in the Knesset on December 6 by a vote of 23 to nine, with the support of the
religious parties, the Likud, the National Union, and even some Shinui MK's, while Labor and Meretz
MK's opposed it.
Kopp said that if Sharon formed a coalition, he would have to rely very heavily on the Orthodox parties,
making it very probable that legislation of this sort would be passed. When asked about the ties that
had existed between evangelical Christian groups and Likud-led governments in the past, Kopp said it
was unlikely that there would such ties in the future.
"[Former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu] had more American experience. He understood the
great affection many evangelical Christians have for Israel," Kopp said.
The bill has been the subject of an E-mail alert sent out by the World Evangelical Fellowship's
Religious Liberty Commission to its supporters following a report to that body by the Messianic
Action Committee in Israel, in which the MAC said the bill was aimed at the local messianic
Christian community. The term "messianic" is often used to refer to those of a Jewish background
who believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
Kopp said that the passage of the bill would mean that "just one form of expression" would be
banned, while others would be allowed. He said that people are expected to use their good sense
to make their own decisions and he warned that if this form of expression is banned now, other
forms of expression could be outlawed in the future.
The WEF called upon its supporters around the world to express "alarm at such undemocratic
repressions through massive fax and mail campaigns," noting that such calls have received
large-scale response in the past.
"It is not an exaggeration to state that tens of thousands of communications have flooded
Israeli governmental offices that were targeted, and such efforts against us have been thwarted,"
the group said in an E-mail message to its supporters.
In response, Rabbi David Rosen, director of the Israel office of the Anti-Defamation League, said
such a bill is both counterproductive and damaging to the country's image. On the other hand,
he noted, both Labor and Likud governments have opposed such legislation and will continue to
do so . . ."