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