Proselytizing in Israel- Free speech?

As some of the readers of my blog may know, I was born in Israel and I am a dual citizen ( American and Israeli). I have not visited Israel since my finding out about the church. Indeed, I have not been there in more than two years. However, I was curious where the closest branch would be to me. I got an e-mail back with that information, but also with information about policies to be followed in Israel

Also, here are some policies that we observe in Israel.

Policy Regarding Visitors to LDS Church Services in Israel

In keeping with commitments made to the government of Israel, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should not invite others to attend LDS Church services who hold Israeli passports or who are permanent residents of Israel, the West Bank or Gaza.

What Can be Said in Response to Questions Regarding the Church, Its Doctrines and Personal Religious Beliefs

In an agreement with the State of Israel, the Church gave assurances that no efforts would be made by it or its members to induce, encourage or lead individuals in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to take an interest in the Church or its doctrines. This agreement applies to all Church members, whether permanent residents, expatriates living the in area, or individuals on short term visits, including tourists. It applies to discussions or other efforts that might be construed to be proselytizing with anyone who is not a member of the Church, whether a resident, expatriate living in the area, tourist or other short term visitor. A simple answer to questions regarding Church doctrines or practices is: “By agreement with the Government of Israel, we do not discuss the Church’s doctrines or personal religious beliefs.” If asked specifically, it is appropriate to indicate that “Mormons” are Christians. Tourists who are members of the Church should not invite non-members to attend Church services.

I knew that Proselytizing was not done in Israel in any formal capacity (i.e. I knew that we did not have a “palestine mission.”) What I did not realize was to what extent personal contact even with friends or relatives was curtailed. I am not permitted to speak about the church or its doctrines aside from in the vaguest sense of saying that we are Christian. I can not invite relatives to attend church with me, or encourage them to read a Book of Mormon. This was very disturbing to me. I wonder, how a country can claim to be an enlightened free speech haven and still hold such starkly unfree policies in regard to freedom of religion.

Indeed, while Israel has shown some blatant disregard towards its critics and while extreme nationalist parties have proposed laws that would dramatically curtail criticism, Israel is generally regarded as a “free” country in regard to its press and general speech freedoms. Religious proselytizing in particular has been an area of much controversy as there have been cases of citizenship denied or individuals deported due to accusations of being involved in ministries.

Of course, a lot of the restrictions are due to special agreements between the church and the government rather than national law. Thus, missionary work is only technically illegal if material inducement is involved. Indeed, some Christian ministries openly boast about their missionary activities, others suggest that Messianic Jewish ministries but not gentile ministries may be permitted. It is a bit unclear based on the status quo of the law if such things as passing out a Book of Mormon or our DVDS would be considered illegal. Also, there have been accusations of widespread persecution against messianic jews and others living in Israel. Thus, even if the de jura law does not outlaw all of these activities, they are de facto both discouraged and actively punished. Indeed, the history of these anti-proselytizing laws show a clear pattern of bias against christian ministries. The law currently on the books, for instance, was passed on Christmas day 1977.

As an Israeli, I am very disappointed by the status quo. Indeed, for members of many faiths, such as my own but even more so Jehovah’s Witnesses, proselytizing is such an essential part of ones religious practice. To claim to have religious freedom but to ban or restrict such a vital part of what ones faith encourages one to do seems to me a bit absurd. I hope and pray for the day when Israel will truly be opened up for a free religious market place of ideas, and when the gospel will flourish throughout the land.

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One thought on “Proselytizing in Israel- Free speech?

  1. Pingback: Proselytizing in Israel- Free speech? « Symphonyofdissent

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