Israeli Town Cancels ‘Baptism’ by Jehovah’s Witnesses

Fears that successful anti-missionary effort could set precedent in targeting Christian events around Israel

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The central Israel town of Raanana last week canceled a planned Jehovah’s Witnesses event after ultra-Orthodox activists insisted the gathering was to include a “mass baptism” of Jews.

The official schedule for the event, which was to be held last Saturday at the MetroWest Sports Center, included only seminars and made no mention of a baptism.

But that didn’t stop the anti-missionary organization Yad L’Achim from issuing an urgent warning that “buses all over the country would bring innocent Jews to be baptized on the Sabbath at the Raanana municipal sports center.”

Pressure from the group and Orthodox members of the Raanana City Council eventually resulted in the municipal government requesting that the Jehovah’s Witnesses move their event. When the Jehovah’s Witnesses declined, city hall canceled the event.

Raanana city officials later insisted that the cancellation had been ordered out of concern for public safety, noting that ultra-Orthodox groups had planned to protest – perhaps violently – outside the arena.

But representatives for the Jehovah’s Witnesses accused the city of impinging on their freedom of religion. There was some concern by other groups that Yad L’Achim could use this victory to shut down Christian “missionary” events in other parts of the country.

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