A proposed "anti-missionary" law has galvanized the Israeli Messianic community and sparked complaints from evangelicals around the world. The law, introduced in Israel's Knesset on February 19 (CT, April 28, 1997), would make the "unjustified" printing, distribution, and possession of "missionary" material a crime, punishable by up to one year in prison.

The ad hoc Messianic Action Committee (MAC) formed within days of the bill's introduction. Baruch Maoz, committee spokesperson, says that "what is at stake here is not Messianic Judaism, but the freedom of speech. [Messianic Jews] have a duty of righteousness toward our own nation."

MAC's first meeting resulted in a quot;call to action" forwarded to evangelical leaders around the world. Their concerns struck a chord. "This campaign has had a far greater impact than we could have hoped for or imagined," says Maoz.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu heard concerns expressed about the law by religious and political leaders "on a number of occasions" during his April 8 visit to the United States, according to Maoz.

MAC also has cultivated ties among Israeli policymakers and human rights workers, according to Noam Hendren, pastor of Kfar Saba's Keren Yeshua congregation. "We have contacted both Members of Knesset (MKS) and people who have influence with the MKS," Hendren says.

"If this becomes a matter for public debate, it will be the person who can shout the loudest who will carry the day, and there are a lot of people out there who can shout louder than us," Hendren says.

There is evidence that lawmakers are listening. After a meeting with MAC members, Nissim Zvili, the bill's author, asked for suggestions on how to reword the legislation. Zvili says he has "no problem with Christianity."

RESPONSE TO MAILING: Zvili says the legislation is in response to a mass mailing of more than a million Hebrew-language tracts last summer.

San Diego-based television evangelist Morris Cerullo last fall mailed 1 million unsolicited copies of a Hebrew-language missionary tract titled HaShalom ("The Peace") to Israeli Jewish homes. The campaign infuriated Israeli Jewish leaders, especially because it originated from outside the country. Zvili says the bill is designed to limit organized activities by foreign evangelical organizations that target Jews for conversion to Christianity.

Several lawmakers criticized the Cerullo mass mailings. Orthodox rabbis warned postal workers not to deliver the pamphlets, some of which they gathered and burned in front of the Knesset building.

"These people are not coming against Jesus, they are coming against a perceived form of anti-Semitism," says pastor David Lazarus of Tel Aviv's Beit Emmanuel congregation. "Christianity in the past has used power to try to force their beliefs on the Jews, and that is what they are reacting to—not the gospel."

Lazarus cautions overseas evangelicals to be sensitive. "We don't want this issue to generate another bout of Israel-bashing," he says.

Discussion of the bill will resurface after the Knesset returns from recess May 19.

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