Public pressure delays deportation off amilies.

Two Messianic Jewish families who have been given a reprieve from deportation by the Israeli government are hoping public pressure will allow them to stay permanently.

“To start deporting Jews who believe in Jesus would not be popular,” says Gary Beresford. “But we are willing to go to prison rather than leave.”

The families, including one from the United States, have convinced government officials to extend deadlines. The Knesset extended a deportation order by three months following a week of demonstrations outside the Israeli parliament in late February. Since late May, the Beresfords have been in no-man’s land—still living in Israel but without any legal claim as the Knesset prepares to debate a bill determining their residency rights. “We want a permanent status,” says Shirley Beresford. “Right now we’re in limbo, unable to get a work permit.”

The Beresfords, who are British citizens, first applied for Israeli citizenship in 1986. The Israeli High Court twice has ruled on their request for citizenship, first determining the Beresfords do not qualify as Jews under the country’s 1950 Law of Return, which defines a Jew as “a person born to a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism.” A 1970 amendment added “and who is not a member of another religion.” According to Beresford, the High Court originally ruled that because his family attended a Messianic congregation in Jerusalem that confessed Jesus as the Messiah he did not qualify as a Jew under the law. Beresford, 41, says he agreed to stop attending the congregation after the first ruling in order to remain in the country, but the court later disqualified him merely because he believed in Jesus.

Ground swell of support

The Beresfords ...

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