Christian criticism, Messianic support for Israeli channel run by believers

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Ward Simpson, CEO of God TV, sharing about Shelanu, the first Messianic cable channel in Israel (Photo: screenshot)

Shelanu TV, the first ever Messianic channel in Hebrew, started to air on Israeli cable TV in the beginning of May – and immediately sparked controversy in the Jewish state.

Resistance from the religious establishment in the government and from anti-missionary organizations like Yad l’Achim was expected. But an attack from evangelical TV host Laurie Cardoza-Moore came as a surprise. The founder of Proclaiming Justice to The Nations, a pro-Israel advocacy organization, sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to take the channel down.

“[God TV] have chosen to stand on the wrong side of history, empowering the anti-Semites,” Cardoza-Moore said. “Unfortunately, Christian history is replete with examples of Christians forcing their doctrinal views on Jews; either through torture, or, with a disingenuous smile … Any attempts to convert Jews or downgrade their religion will only sow undue hatred at a time when we should unite in the face of darkness.”

Her main criticism and that of some other Christian leaders stem from a core allegation that the channel somehow promotes replacement theology and anti-Semitism. Other Christian leaders who criticized the channel for “forcing Christianity on Jews” include Mark Biltz, Nathalie Blackham, Lars Enarson, Bob O’Dell, Tommy Waller and Steve Wearp.

However, the channel is not Christian, not produced by gentiles from overseas nor will it air God TV’s regular Christian programming. Shelanu, which means ours in Hebrew, will be run by Messianic Jews with locally produced content. By opposing this channel, these evangelical leaders are essentially accusing Israeli Jews who have served in the IDF of anti-Semitism.

A source close to Cardoza-Moore told KNI that he too was shocked by her statement.

“I could expect this from people like John Hagee, but not from Laurie,” the source told Kehila News. “She has generally loved the Messianic community in Israel. This is not like her. I know that in the past she has been hurt and criticized by both the Christian and Messianic community for not being public enough with supporting the Messianic Jews in Israel. It might be possible that those hurts got to her.”

Ron Cantor, God TV’s Israel regional director and Shelanu TV board member, responded to Cardoza-Moore, calling on her to revoke her request to Netanyahu and to apologize to her Messianic brothers and sisters.

“With all due respect, as a citizen of the nation of Israel, let me say to you, this is not your fight! … How does Israelis sharing Yeshua with Israelis empower anti-Semites? Next time, pick up the phone and get your facts straight,” Cantor wrote in an open letter on Facebook. “Messianic Jews in Israel will not seek to silence you; don’t you seek to silence us. …Israel knows that evangelicals are their best friends. But your first commitment should be to your brothers and sisters in the faith here in Israel.”

Another Messianic leader, who asked to not be named, told KNI that Cardoza-Moore’s mentality actually harms Jews.

“When the gentiles receive the spiritual blessings from Israel, and then try to deny access to those blessings from the Jews – that is incredibly anti-Semitic. I think it often happens out of ignorance, not malicious anti-Semitism, but nevertheless, I imagine that [Cardoza-Moore] has a mentality that maybe comes from dual covenant people who teach Jews have their own redeeming covenant from the Torah,” she told KNI. “But if Cardoza-Moore believes in the New Testament, it says very clearly that we have no access to God except through the Messiah. The whole concept of the Messiah is Jewish to its very core.”

Indeed, very few in Israel’s Messianic community share Cardozo-Moore’s concerns that Shelanu TV will be Christian or anti-Semitic. If it had been, Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry –  known for its strong focus on Jewish identity – would have been the first to refuse to cooperate. But Yehuda Bachana, manager of Netivyah, told KNI the organization has already produced a few programs scheduled to be broadcast on Shelanu.

“We whole-heartedly support the channel,” Bachana said, adding that his only reservation is that the content will be “too gentile.”

“We feel the body of the Messiah at large in Israel has too much of a Christian identity, and the channel might reflect that,” Bachana said. “But of course, as part of the Body of the Messiah, we will participate and carry our share of the load. We are, after all, Messianic, and we do want to preach faith in Yeshua and the New Testament. That is the most important thing for us, and that needs to be at the core.”

Eitan Kashtan, head of the Messianic publishing house HaChotam and elder at Grace and Truth congregation in Kanot, also supports the channel.

“I think that we Messianic Jews should be present everywhere in Israeli society, including on TV,” he said. “I am happy it is produced by local leaders, so I can know that the content will be good, and I won’t have to be embarrassed about having supported it.”

Kashtan questioned evangelicals who object to such a channel.

“They are basically saying, ‘Let’s send the Jews to hell, as long as we get peace of mind,’” he said.

Coincidentally, there is one channel in Israel that has broadcast Christian content (in English) for more than a decade and fits Cardoza-Moore’s description better: Daystar. Daystar also happens to carry Cardoza-Moore’s program.

In a press release from Shelanu TV about the authorities’ threat to shut them down, Cantor asked that the law be applied fairly.

“As Israelis, we request that the law will be applied to us exactly as it is applied to anyone who wants to share their faith view, from Orthodox Jews to Muslims. It will be a sad day if the only democracy in the Middle East prevents the freedom of speech of Messianic Jews in Israel,” he said in the statement. “We pay taxes, our sons and daughters are recruited to serve in the Israeli military, but when it comes to the freedom of speech, some want to silence us. Shelanu TV provides an outlet of expression for thousands of Israeli Messianic Jews and Christian Arabs to express their faith in Yeshua, as 70% of our content is created by Israelis. It was expected that some may disagree with our faith, but this is an issue of freedom of expression. We have an Israeli oversight team that has implemented stringent measures to ensure that Shelanu TV adheres to regulations and that it remains in good standing with the authorities.”

Avi Mizrachi, elder at Adonai Roi congregation and board member of Shelanu TV, was quoted in the same press release.

“We believe there is a serious threat to freedom of expression, in our pluralistic democratic society. The channel ‘Shelanu’ is no different than many channels today broadcasting content to the Ethiopian, Russian and Arab communities in Israel,” he said. “It is absurd that anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist content is broadcast freely every day on cable television in Israel, and a pro-Israel, Zionist channel like ours is under investigation. We should be free to broadcast content of our community as well.”

Meno Kalisher, a pastor at Jerusalem Assembly, was not shocked by the government’s sudden backtracking in issuing a license to Shelanu.

“I am surprised they (at Shelanu) were surprised. What did they expect? Of course there would be objections. Any TV channel that depends on a license issued by the Israeli government cannot expect to be able to freely preach the gospel uncensored,” he said. “When it comes to that part of freedom of speech, we really have a somewhat selective democracy. I really hope they will be able to broadcast. I may not always agree with everything God TV does theologically, but I can put that aside. If the gospel can be conveyed openly in an Israeli TV channel licensed by the Israeli government, it would be a great step forward.”

Mizrachi also spoke with KNI about the channel.

“The channel, Shelanu, is exactly what it is called – it is shelanu, ours. It belongs to us, the Israeli Messianic believers,” Mizrachi said. “After 72 years we finally have our own channel where we can give testimonies, speak the word of God, speak of what Yeshua has done for us, and give every Israeli the possibility to hear the gospel on TV. Shelanu TV is not just mine or yours – it belongs to all the Messianic congregations in Israel. It’s a platform where we can all bring our contents. Our stories, our worship, our experiences, and give hope to the people of Israel.”

Mizrachi asked for prayer to keep this channel open. The station has asked all congregations in Israel to contribute quality programming “and be a witness to the people of Israel,” Mizrachi said.

“I want all sorts of programs. I want the channel to develop. I would be delighted if we can even produce a Messianic satire or humor program as well. Because, why not?”

The first satire might just well be about the gentile evangelical leaders whose attempts at tolerance actually became a type of unintentional anti-Semitism.