Evangelical Broadcaster Accused of Proselytizing

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -

An evangelical broadcaster who boasted of miraculously securing a license in Israel now risks being taken off the air over suspicions of trying to convert Jews to Christianity.

The controversy has put both Israel and its evangelical Christian supporters in an awkward position, exposing tensions the two sides have long papered over.

Evangelical Christians, particularly in the United States, are among the strongest supporters of Israel, viewing it as their fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Israeli officials have welcomed evangelicals’ political and financial support, especially as their influence over the White House has risen during the Trump era, and it has largely shrugged off concerns about any hidden religious agenda.

But most Jews view any effort to convert them to Christianity as deeply offensive, a legacy of centuries of persecution and forced conversion at the hands of Christian rulers. In part because of those sensitivities, evangelical Christians rarely target Jews.

When an international Christian broadcaster reached a seven-year contract earlier this year with HOT, Israel’s main cable provider, it presented itself as producing content for Christians.

But in a video message that has since been taken down, CEO Ward Simpson suggested its real aim was to convince Jews to accept their religion. The channel, broadcasts in Hebrew even though most Christians in the Holy Land speak Arabic.

In a subsequent video, Simpson acknowledged that the channel was under investigation by Israeli authorities, saying that proselytizing in Israel is a “very touchy subject.” He apologized for any offensive remarks and said they would comply with all regulations.

The Communications Ministry said it was investigating a “discrepancy” between the application for the license that was granted in March, which said the channel was focused on the Christian community, and its actual content, which appears to “target Jews…”

HOT said in a statement that it was not responsible for the channel’s content and has been “fully transparent” with authorities.

At least one prominent evangelical supporter of Israel has criticized the channel for airing missionary content aimed at Jews, saying it encourages anti-Semitism.

“In recent decades, millions of Christians have felt the call to stand with the State of Israel and the Jewish people with no hidden agenda,” said Laurie Cardoza-Moore, a Tennessee-based evangelical who hosts a program called “Focus on Israel.”

“Any attempts to convert Jews or downgrade their religion will only sow undue hatred at a time when we should unite in the face of darkness,” Cardoza-Moore said.