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Anti-Messianic group in Israel persecutes at will, pastor says

JERUSALEM (BP)–Anti-Christian groups regularly vandalize billboards rented by the church Meno Kalisher leads. Opponents recently organized a campaign to spread false rumors about Kalisher’s moral integrity among his neighbors. Kalisher even believes his opponents have tapped believers’ telephones on occasion in order to monitor their conversations.

When help from law enforcement officials is sought, they refuse to get involved, thus giving tacit approval to religious persecution, Kalisher said.

This scenario might be expected in countries like Sudan, Saudi Arabia or China. But Kalisher pastors a congregation in Israel, a nation thought by many Americans to be free from religious persecution.

For Kalisher and the Jerusalem Assembly House of Redemption, the main source of persecution is a group known as Yad L’Achim (a Hebrew phrase meaning “Hand for the Brothers”). The congregation began two and a half years ago and has grown to about 250 in worship each weekend.

Yad L’Achim, which operates from a combination of private and government funds, sees its mission as preserving the spiritual purity of the Jewish people by fending off the advance of Christianity, Kalisher said.

Yad L’Achim believes that when Jewish people place their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they are effectively “killing the Jewish nation,” Kalisher said. “It’s taking the souls of the Jewish nation into idol worshiping. They believe that what we are doing is eliminating the Jewish seed. And they really feel … that they are keeping the purity of the nation.”

Yad L’Achim views evangelistic efforts among Jewish people as tantamount to spiritual genocide and believes that Jewish evangelism must be stopped by any means necessary, Kalisher said.

The views of Yad L’Achim are incorrect, he noted, because a Jewish person who studies the Old Testament should realize that Jesus is the culmination and the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. Rather than killing Jewish religion, belief in Christ takes Jewish faith to its logical extension, he said.

“To believe in Christ Jesus is really to behave like a biblical Jew,” Kalisher said. “Not to believe in Jesus as Savior is admitting that you really did not study the Law and you didn’t really understand it…. If you are really a Jew in your heart and study the Word of God, you’re supposed to run to Jesus.”

Neverthless, Yad L’Achim activists “will come and demonstrate next to your home,” Kalisher said. “They will put pressure at your work against you. They will speak with your neighbors and distort your testimony to make it seem as if you are a bad or dirty person. If you go to do something for the Lord [even if it is in accordance with Israeli law], they will be there to bother you or do something physically to destroy your material.”

Although Messianic believers have attempted to ask law enforcement officials for help, Yad L’Achim enjoys cooperation from many government officials, Kalisher said.

“They have contact in all types of government offices,” he said.

“There is not a law in Israel against us. But this group sometimes does things regardless of what the law says, knowing that although the law is not with them, the people who are supposed to enforce the law have the same mindset as them. They are doing things that people are supposed to go to jail for. And basically, the police will not even bother themselves to discover or to search or to find them or even to call them to tell them to stop what they are doing,” Kalisher said.

Kalisher’s congregation felt the effects of government cooperation with Yad L’Achim when, for example, anti-Christian forces threatened to revoke the kosher food license of a kibbutz from which the Jerusalem Assembly had been renting space, he said. Because no business can survive in Israel without serving kosher food, the kibbutz forced the congregation to find an alternate meeting place, the pastor said.

Another way in which government cooperates with Yad L’Achim is by refusing to prosecute those who destroy the church’s promotional materials, Kalisher said.

“Whenever we buy or rent a billboard from the municipality, they will send people with spray-paint, and they will spray it all over although we have a license to put it up,” Kalisher said. “If you do that, you should go to jail for three months. That’s the law. But they do it on a regular basis, and we really have no one even to call. The police will hear that and basically look at us like we are stupid to have called them.”

Israeli politicians rarely lend assistance to persecuted believers because to do so would represent political suicide, Kalisher said.

“If you should do that [assist persecuted believers], you would be dead politically,” he said. “… A politician won’t take flack just to help believers. They say, ‘Come on. The Messiah hasn’t come yet.’”

Despite the persecution felt by Kalisher and other Messianic believers, he noted that the Israeli government generally protects freedom of religion.

“We really enjoy freedom of faith [in Israel],” he said. “As a citizen, I enjoy that I can say that I’m a believer. I thank God that I’m living in Israel. My problem is people who do not give us the rights that the law grants us…. We do enjoy good democracy and freedom of faith.”

Kalisher also noted that many Southern Baptists have contributed to religious freedom in Israel by supporting the democratic policies of the Israeli government.

“The Southern Baptists that I know are very, very pro-Israel and would do anything in their ability to promote evangelistic projects here and promote the peace of Israel,” he said. “… I see their love of Israel in the way they minister and work.”

American Christians can take several actions to help persecuted Jewish believers in Israel, Kalisher said.

First Americans can pray for their brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Israel, he said.

“If all the born-again, believing churches were focused on this area in prayer, I believe it would be magnificent,” Kalisher said.

Second, American Christians should make sure that any funding they send to Israel is not being used to advance causes that are antithetical to the Gospel, he said.

“Sometimes I’m amazed that Christian groups … will donate money to build synagogues,” Kalisher said. “I really … cannot understand that. I’m not saying they should hate these [Jewish] people. They should pray for them to be saved. But their spiritual brothers need to be supported. And sometimes their support is being given without really examining where it goes.”

Ultimately, the persecution Messianic believers face in Israel is a matter of spiritual warfare more than it is a matter of earthly forces, Kalisher said. The fundamental reason Christians are persecuted is that the Gospel offends those whose hearts are hardened against the Lord, he said.

“Because we put the cross straightforwardly, we are persecuted,” he said. “It is a spiritual war, and we are being persecuted because we love the Lord and we share the Gospel. And they don’t like us. If we would be quiet and not speak, they would be friends with us.”