Israel is considering shutting down an evangelical Christian television channel from its airwaves, saying it seeks to persuade Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, and that authorities were misled about its agenda.
God TV, a U.K.-registered evangelical Christian media company, had signed a seven-year contract with Israeli cable provider Hot to broadcast its new Hebrew language channel in Israel.
However, Israel’s communications ministry confirmed Wednesday that the country’s broadcasting regulator had ordered a hearing to decide whether it should revoke Hot’s licence to broadcast the channel Shelanu — which means “ours” in Hebrew.
“Our examination shows that this is a channel that seeks to appeal to Jews with the gospel of Jesus as opposed to the way the channel was presented in the first place as intended for the Christian population,” Asher Biton, chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, said in a statement.
In a recent message about Shelanu's launch, God TV CEO Ward Simpson said God had “supernaturally opened the door for us to take the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of his Jewish people.”
“It is historic, it is supernatural and it is prophetic,” he said in the video. “There are 9 million people in Israel who need to hear the gospel of Jesus.”
God TV described itself as “pro-Israel” and said it broadcasts to approximately 300 million homes around the globe.
The broadcaster said Wednesday that Shelanu managers had been “surprised” to learn that the council was considering terminating the two-week-old channel and said God TV had never seen the application made by Hot cable to the broadcasting council.
“We believe there is a serious threat to freedom of expression, in our pluralistic democratic society," said Avi Mizachi, a Shelanu board member.
A Hot spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
God TV said opposition to the channel had apparently arisen following a “poorly worded fundraising video," for which Simpson had expressed regret.
“For the past 25 years, God TV has been a friend and avid supporter of Israel,” Simpson said in a statement. “It is very disheartening to hear and read these misunderstandings and to be thought of as anything other than Israel’s champion.”
Many evangelical Christians are staunch supporters of Israel, feeling a religious connection with the Jewish people and the Holy Land.
In the United States, evangelical Christians are also an important part of President Donald Trump’s base. And their vocal commitment to Israel has often been cited as a motivating factor in his full-throated support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Since assuming office, Trump has moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights and drawn up a so-called Mideast peace plan that has been rejected by Palestinians as unworkable. The Trump administration has said it believes the plan meets both Israeli and Palestinian fundamental demands.
Michael Stephens, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said Israel has always been very concerned about missionary activity inside its borders.
Proselytizing “goes against what the state is there to do, which is to protect Jewish identity,” he said.
There has always been an “uncomfortable marriage” between Israel and evangelical Christian groups who support Israel but can also seek to convert Jews, Stephens said.
“Be Christian, fine; go visit the holy places, fine; support Israel. But do not go around trying to convert people, that’s always a red line,” he said.