Recently, I reported exciting news about a series of Hebrew-language testimonies promoting faith in Jesus by Messianic Jews on the front page of the popular “Walla! News,” one of Israel’s largest news corporations (see link to the article).
With sadness, I must now report that the video series about Jesus has been cancelled, and all references to Jesus and Messianic Jews have been removed from the site.
“Walla!” had taken a bold and calculated risk broadcasting a Messianic campaign that promotes interest in Jesus to their massive Israeli audience. We expected that there would be serious resistance to the unprecedented promotional by Messianic Jews on mainstream Israeli media. Eitan Bar, one of the Messianic Jews who had been interviewed for the series, told us that, “Messianics in Israel can expect strong reactions. We know that there will be unyielding opposition.” He was right.
According to Erez Soref, president of the Israel College of the Bible and one of the project’s initiators, here’s what happened:
“’Walla! News’ received intense threats from some within the Ultra-Orthodox community, which banded together threatening to sue the company because of the exposure ‘Walla! News’ provided to the name of Yeshua and to Messianic Jews. ‘Walla! News’ received additional threats from Ultra-Orthodox representatives, threatening a major consumer boycott … ‘Walla! News’ decided to remove the interviews from the site on Friday, the 25th of December.”
The Orthodox Jewish community in Israel was extremely upset about the promotional videos which they called, “A surprise move by a major Israeli media source providing significant official Israeli sanction to a missionary organization.” Others called the campaign to highlight Jesus on mainstream Israeli media, “Shameful behavior of the internet site that gives the Christian (sic Messianic) sect a platform to spread their agenda intended to harm Judaism.”
Advertising missionary activity (which in Israel means Messianic Jews or anyone preaching about Jesus) is prohibited in Israel. A Israeli Broadcasting Association rule states that advertising must not be broadcast if it “includes advertising for missionary activities or cults.” This law, it should be noted, which was written in 1993, applies only to commercials and sponsorship on radio or television. Promotional campaigns about Jesus on the internet are still legal.
Avi Alcalay, chief editor for “Walla! News,” explained in an official response to the Messianic promotional that, “Advertising is permitted by the law, and we are a liberal media company with the largest number of internet surfers in Israel. We will always bring the widest range of opinions to our audience.”
Nicely put Mr. Alcalay, but threats of financial loss due to boycotts and legal fees still keep Jesus off the air. Soref claims that, “Just as the first Messianic Jews refused to keep silent about their Messiah two thousand years ago, we do not intend to slow our pace or to silence the public discussion about Yeshua just because of persecution.”
As long as Israeli media companies remain unwilling, or unable, to endure the financial losses, boycotts and threats that Messianic Jewish promotional campaigns still stir up, it is unlikely that Jesus in Messianic promotionals will be making headlines in Israel anytime soon. That is until, as we expect, he soon appears on the Mount of Olives. Now that is going to be news!