• ISRAEL \ Feb 28, 2001
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    Evangelical leader fears Sharon will pass anti-missionary laws
Evangelical leader fears Sharon will pass anti-missionary laws 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 . . ."