In the wake of recent changes in Israel’s coalition government, the time is ripe to pass legislation aimed at blocking missionary activity that is surging throughout the country, Yad L’Achim chairman Rav Shalom Dov Lifschitz said last week.
The decision by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to quit the Labor Party and form a small faction, thereby reducing the size of the government from 74 MKs to 66, gives the Chareidi parties more clout. Rav Lifschitz is calling on these parties to seize the moment to advance effective counter-missionary legislation.
Some four months ago, the Shas party tabled a bill that was dictated by Yad L’Achim. Its preamble explained that tough legislation is needed in light of the fact that thousands of missionaries are actively engaging in deceptive means to convert Jews out of their religion.
The bill, drafted by senior jurists, had the support of the justice minister, Prof. Yaakov Neeman, who personally urged the Yad L’Achim chairman to lobby for the law.
“To our great pain, embarrassment and humiliation, it was a Likud minister, of all people, who blocked the bill from advancing in the ministerial committee for legislation,” Rav Lifschitz wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who also chairs the Likud party. “Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar was acting under your direct instructions in stymieing the bill.
“My dear prime minister, how can you, as a Jewish prime minister in a Jewish state, take such a shocking step as to block an effort to prevent the continuing Christian campaign to convert Jews? In taking such action, you are aiding and abetting the missionaries.”
The strong letter evoked a response from the prime minister’s bureau. Less than 10 days later, an aide to the prime minister wrote to Rav Lifschitz that “the prime minister asked me to pass on your request for further action to the justice minister, Prof. Yaakov Neeman, and to the Cabinet secretary, Mr. Tzvi Hauser.”
A few days later, Hauser and Gilad Semama, an adviser to the justice minister and the secretary of the ministerial committee for legislation, sent letters defending the decision not to advance counter-missionary legislation. “There are already laws on the books that ban enticing Jews to convert out of their religion. The proposal that you are trying to advance is not in keeping with freedom of expression, which is a fundamental principle in Israeli law.”
The Yad L’Achim chairman sent back a furious response. “How can a Jew, especially one who holds such an important public role, relate to missionary activity as a matter of freedom of expression? If Iranian citizens, for example, came to our cities and distributed material that denied the Holocaust or that disavowed our right to this land, the law enforcement agencies would surely be swift and forceful in responding.
“That is the situation here, in which people, some of whom are not citizens of the state, distribute material raising questions about the right of Jews to live in their land with their beliefs.
“How did we reach such a situation in Israel in which we have to convince the higher-ups to act against those trying to convince Jews to convert?”
Rav Lifschitz included in his letter figures on missionary activity in Israel, citing the claim of the missionaries themselves that, “In the past 19 years, we have converted more Jews than in the past 19 centuries that preceded them.”
Now, in light of recent changes in the coalition, and the fact that the Chareidi parties hold the balance of power in the government, Rav Lifschitz is asking them to do everything in their power to advance an amendment to the missionary law that toughens it.
Noting the single-minded determination of the Yisrael Beiteinu party to pass anti-religious laws, Rav Lifschtiz added, “The time has arrived for the Chareidim to learn from this determination.
“If this law doesn’t pass, G-d forbid, the conversions will continue in full force and this will be on the shoulders of the Chareidi MKs!”