Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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8 Kislev 5760 - November 17, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Police Not Protecting New Immigrants' from Missionaries

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Charges that hundreds of Christian missionaries are exploiting the difficult social and economic situation of new immigrants, and that the police are not doing enough to protect them, were voiced by Adi Eldar, chairman of the Union of Local Authorities.

Eldar made his charges in a letter to Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami. A spokesman for Ben-Ami said that the minister has not yet had time to consider the issue.

Eldar told Yated that the social welfare departments of many local authorities have forwarded complaints to the Union of Local Authorities about extensive missionary activity among new arrivals. This activity often has a terribly destructive effect on family life, and many young people are referred to social workers for help after encounters with missionaries.

He claims that there are hundreds of active missionaries, including local chapters of Witnesses, and various sects of Jews for J., in addition to some that were sent over by religious organizations based in Europe and the United States. Many are paid fantastic salaries, he said.

Eldar said that their activity was concentrated in localities in which there were many new immigrants, such as Upper Nazareth, Karmiel, Haifa, Jerusalem, Ashdod and Beersheba.

"Police must use every means available to prevent open missionary activity in small towns," he said, stressing that this was not just a religious problem, but a social and cultural threat as well.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisroel Lau said that the law which forbade anyone from encouraging another to change their religion for material gain was not being enforced. Lau said that he had received reports from social workers who told him that missionaries did exploit the situation of new immigrants, the unemployed and others who were badly off.

The chief rabbi was speaking following a ceremony marking the opening of a course for communal workers to provide religious services for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The course includes 30 participants, 22 men and eight women.

The chief rabbi stressed that the issue of missionary activity abroad was one which should concern not just the rabbis, but all levels of society.

Interior Minister Natan Sharansky, who also participated in the ceremony, said missionary activity could be countered by strengthening the connection of the immigrants to Judaism. It was specifically activities such as the course for training religious functionaries to work with immigrants which would most effectively counter the missionaries, according to Sharansky.

At a recent meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee on missionary activity in Israel, a representative of the police said that the U.S. administration has been keeping a close eye on anti-missionary activity in Israel, and this has severely hindered police from dealing with the problem in an effective manner.

The police representative also pointed out that the law forbids missionaries from granting benefits to those they seek to convert and it also forbids converting of a minor or pressuring a minor to convert. All other activities, however, are legal, and as a result no action can be taken against them.

The chairman of the committee, MK David Azoulai (Shas), asked the police representative to give precise information on the number of cases filed against missionaries, and how many indictments were issued.

The police representative said that during the past few years, only a few complaints were filed. However, this contention was directly challenged by United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Meir Porush, who presented documents proving that in 1999, scores of complaints were filed yet they were not dealt with by police.

UTJ MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni mentioned that in the previous Knesset he, together with former Labor MK Nissim Zvilli, proposed a law for preventing the distribution of missionary material. Soon after, the Knesset was swamped by thousands of letters from America from people against passage of the law.

The meeting was also attended by the Lev L'Achim's representatives. Rabbi Moshe Lachover, one of the heads of the anti-missionary department, disclosed a secret report of the FBI warning about a dangerous missionary group. He said that some of the members of this group have already arrived in Israel, and some intend to arrive in 2000. "They appear decent and established, but are really insane," Rabbi Lachover warned.

Lev L'Achim's anti-missionary department welcomed the attention focused on the problem by Eldar's letter. They said that it is important to keep up pressure on the police and on the State Prosecutor to act in this matter.

In a recent parliamentary exchange, Justice Minister Beilin said that the Attorney General had indeed confirmed that there are regulations which tie the hands of the police, and prevent opening investigations against those involved in illegal missionary activity. Previously, it required authorization from the Attorney General to act against them. However, due to the efforts of Lev L'Achim's attorney, David Glass, the regulations were changed, so that the approval of a district attorney is now sufficient to open an investigation.

In view of the ever-increasing missionary activity, especially in the run up to the Christian millennium, Beilin was asked why that the entire restriction is not canceled.

Beilin replied: "The regulation is rooted in the special sensitivity involved in the enforcing criminal law in such cases, and with the many difficulties its implementation involves, but it doesn't prevent the opening of an investigation and the issuing of an indictment against a lawbreaker."

Legal experts were stunned by the minister's statement which, stripped of its legal doubletalk, essentially divested the law of it content and granted de facto permission for the missionaries to violate the law publicly.

Beilin was then asked how it is possible to halt a missionary who is in the midst of distributing missionary propaganda to young people, which is a violation of the existing law. Does one have to wait until the police ask the district attorney for authorization and only then they can open an investigation?

Beilin ignored the question. Instead, he pointed out other crimes that cannot be investigated without a permit from the district attorney.

"Investigations of judges and investigations of the Prime Minister cannot be conducted without such approval," he said. The implication was that he had just given a missionary who is trying to persuade Jews to convert the same status as is granted to judges and a presiding Prime Minster.

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