A proposed bill has been introduced by members of the Netanyahu governmental coalition which would criminalize anyone for speaking to Israelis about the Christian faith. The bill, sponsored by ultra-orthodox lawmakers, Moshe Gafni and Ya’acov Asher, both from the United Torah Judaism party, would attach jail time, as a punitive measure, for anyone who speaks about their biblical faith if it is deemed to be of a Christian nature. This would include conversation, mailings or online posting.
The reasoning behind the move is to prevent “conversion” of a Jew to another faith. But let’s take the word conversion out of it and call it what it is – religious censorship.
Essentially, it is the forbidding of the right of free speech, especially if asked by someone who sincerely wants to know why a person believes a certain way. It is the act of shutting down the conversation before it has a chance to even start, and why? Because someone has deemed that people are too stupid, too naïve or too vulnerable to listen to what is being said and figure out for themselves if it’s true or not. Consequently, those people must be protected by pre-empting and hijacking speech in order to not fall prey to a persuasive argument.
Oddly enough, the bill only pertains to religious speech of a certain type. Ironically, it fails to recognize that political speech, sales pitches or any other kind of persuasive speech could just as easily sway a person’s thinking, causing them to change their mind and come around to the speaker’s viewpoint. No, in this case, the message behind this bill is that nothing, absolutely nothing is more dangerous than sharing one’s biblical faith, not necessarily to convince someone else that it’s true, but, perhaps, only to answer a question that was posed to them.
In truth, the bill, if it were comprehensive and honest, would also make it punishable to even ask the question, “Why do you believe as you do?” Because such a question would be the catalyst for breaking the law if one would dare to answer it. The absurd result would be going to prison for answering a question.
As troubling as that sounds, the whole argument of there being a “weaker population,” which is more vulnerable, necessitating protection by way of a bill, which criminalizes religious speech, is nothing more than a pathetic claim which smacks of trying to control what people say and what people hear.
It is, yet, another attempt at controling people! Here’s the bottom line. Everyone has the right to ask someone what they believe, listen to their answer and then figure out, for themselves, if it makes sense. If, to them, it does, they also have the right to choose to believe it. That’s called freedom – a concept which Gafni and Asher seem to think is too dangerous to allow.
While another aspect of the bill addresses the distribution of incentives, such as giving money or other goods, in exchange for adopting a faith, this, too, is problematic, and here’s why. There are many religious organizations and congregations, within the State of Israel, which run soup kitchens and offer humanitarian help that includes food, clothing and goods. They have chosen to do so, simply to bless others but not to create an incentive to convert. How do we know that? Because part of their biblical faith encourages them to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and help the poor.
However, here’s where such a law could become extremely untenable. If lawmakers believe that the sole motivation for such humanitarian assistance is only driven by the desire to convert Jews to another religion, then those efforts will be shut down. Such an act would then infringe upon the sincerely-held beliefs of those very people who feel that they are living out the biblical commandments of assisting those in need and being a source of help and mercy to fellow humans. It could be interpreted as legislating the practical demonstration of one’s faith. In other words, a lawmaker would have the power to limit how far you observe the commandments of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
It is actually full-on interference into someone’s personal religious convictions and putting the brakes on their ability to obey a higher order. Can such a thing be acceptable in what is supposed to be a democratic and free society?
What about the internal dilemma of conscience, placed on an individual of faith who believes that they answer only to God and not to politicians? And has anyone stopped to consider how such a law would be received by the millions of Christians who love Israel, many of them making an annual pilgrimage to the land of the Bible?
These are issues which, clearly, have not been thought out as it pertains to the much wider public, with whom we share the universe. Israel does not exist in a vacuum, and while some lawmakers may be concerned about the “vulnerable” Israeli population, they might begin by giving their people more credit for having enough common sense and intellect to figure out what is real and what isn’t as well as what they choose or don’t choose for themselves.
The passage of such a bill would have disastrous consequences upon the State of Israel. It would assure that even Christian tourists dare not speak to any Israeli about their faith during their visits, lest they, too, find themselves behind bars. It would incite fear and shame, causing certain people to lose their free speech and free enactment of their God-given rights to live out their faith per what is commanded, and it would censor and shut down a subject to which people, who live in a free society, have the right to be exposed.
Israel, and the Netanyahu government, must decide if it wants to clamp down on religious freedom in such a way that it is willing to censor one particular faith, because, in this bill, it only singles out the Christian faith and not the sharing of the tenets of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or any other faith. So, let’s call it what it really is – an anti-Christian bill which persecutes one faith and anyone who dares to answer an inquiry about that faith.
Is this the path that Israel really wants to take? Because, if so, it could seriously impact on Christian tourism, not to mention a very undesirable image which could make the Jewish homeland a pariah state rather than its intended destiny of being a light to the nations!
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.